1. Ghostland

“This book is not about the truth of falsity of ghosts.”

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, Colin Dickey

Told you I was on a big ghost book kick.  This is a fascinating read - a history of American “haunted places” and a rumination on what ghost stories mean to us.  As Dickey says, right up front, it’s not about whether ghosts are real or not, but rather a think piece on places that are considered haunted and what that says about those places and about us.  I really enjoyed reading - maybe not enough to have purchased it in hardcover (which I in my enthusiasm did), but definitely enough for paperback or kindle. 

Dickey breaks haunted areas into four categories - haunted houses, haunted commercial spaces (bars, pubs, hotels), haunted public spaces (jails, prisons, asylums, parks), and then haunted cities and towns.  I’m not sure I really got the distinctions between the meanings of the groups, but I loved the individual stories and what he pulled from them.  For example, writing about a neighborhood in Richmond, VA that is known for its various hauntings - but noting that all the alleged ghosts are white, despite the fact that the neighborhood was, in reality, the site of one of the most horrific slave markets in United States history.  That a place of terrible black suffering should only have silly white ghosts sure says something about America.  Or a rumination on ghostly asylums (including Danvers State in Danvers, Ma - the scary asylum of my youth, now condominiums), and how the buildings went from places of civic pride to sites of horror, real and imagined.  Or, one last example, the notion that the city of Bingingham New York is haunted - that white people who leave have to return - a mordant joke, but one that has its roots in a history of maltreatment of Indian people at that site.

In sum, while I didn’t really feel the book had an overarching thesis (or least a compelling one), the individual places discussed and analyzed were very interesting and thought provoking, and if you ever wanted to think a bit about what haunted rumors mean, and why people attach them to certain places, I think you’d enjoy this.  Plus, it has some zany ghost stories, and that’s always fun, too.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017