Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Book Review: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Published: October 4th, 2016 by Viking
Genre: History, Nonfiction
Format: Kindle, 320 pages, Own
Rating: 4 stars

Publisher's Summary:

An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget. 
With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living--how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made--and why those changes are made--Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whis

I really enjoyed Dickey's thoughts on why places are "haunted." He makes no claim about the reality of ghosts, one way or another. He only takes us through various places that are considered haunted in America. He talks to local historians. He rummages through old stories and newspaper clippings to get the real scoop on the stories behind the hauntings. He stays in places that are supposedly haunted to get a feel for the place.

He also asks why so many places that are considered haunted have only "white" ghosts? Why in Richmond, Virginia where you'll find the Devil's Acre (where slaves were kept and tortured and sold) are there only stories of haunted saloons and bars? Dickey writes: "We typically think of ghost stories in terms of the remnants of a terrible tragedy, a past we cannot escape, or a justice unavenged. Why, then, in a place that should be so haunted but the legacy of such a terrible injustice, the scene of the countless deaths, should there be nothing but white ghosts?"

Ghost stories are a way to reconcile with the past, to face our fears. But what happens when the storytellers whitewash the past and don't tell the stories that are apart of who we are and how this nation was built? He says: "Does an absence of these ghost stories suggest that there is still, over a century later, a lacuna in the culture's memory, a taboo about its past, a refusal to discuss certain things?" Definitely.

His final thoughts sum up the book perfectly: "Ghost stories are about how we face, or fail to face, the past--how we process information, how we narrate our past, and how we make sense of the gaps in that history."

My only complaint is that he probably took on too much for such a short book. It's a great start to diving into the psychology of haunted places and ghosts and why and how we as humans continue to see or don't see certain types of ghosts. There's a lot more here that could take on volumes. But I loved the start and I loved his approach.

*Part of the R.I.P. XIV and FrightFall Horror Challenge