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 historyColin 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 whisper in the dark From the Hardcover edition If you want to understand a place, ignore the boasting monuments and landmarks and go straight to the haunted houses Colin Dickey Ghostland We like to view this country as a unified, cohesive whole based on progress, a perpetual refinement of values, and an arc of history bending toward justice but the prevalence of ghosts suggests otherwise Colin Dickey Ghostland I first became enad of ghost stories when I was a young girl, sitting around the campfire at Girl Scout camp If you want to understand a place, ignore the boasting monuments and landmarks and go straight to the haunted houses Colin Dickey Ghostland We like to view this country as a unified, cohesive whole based on progress, a perpetual refinement of values, and an arc of history bending toward justice but the prevalence of ghosts suggests otherwise Colin Dickey Ghostland I first became enad of ghost stories when I was a young girl, sitting around the campfire at Girl Scout camp There is something thrilling about a well told ghost story and that feeling had never quite left me Colin Dickey, the author of Ghostland An American History in Haunted Places , approaches the telling of ghostly tales and folklore from a different angle He crisscrossed the country, intentionally seeking out places that were reportedly haunted and interviewed local historians, proprietors and employees at purported haunted places of business, psychics and even the ever popular ghost hunters , who have become a part of popular culture in recent years Combining his eye witness observations with research into historical and societal context surrounding these hauntings, Colin Dickey attempts to provide an explanation for why these ghost stories and haunting tales became so fascinating to the American public and have remained so for many years hundreds of years, in some cases He doesn t exactly set out to debunk these ghost stories but providing an historic context does tend to diminish the credibility and mystical quality of such tales.Colin Dickey begins this book by proposing that it is human nature to attempt to make sense of our lives through the stories we tell to ourselves and each other He also proposes that ghost stories have been used throughout history as a way to express thoughts and feelings we are unable to talk about in any other ay He writes ghost stories reveal the contours of our anxieties, the nature of our collective fears and desires The past we re most afraid to speak about in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark With this in mind, Mr Dickey examines the hauntings associated with houses, cemeteries, bars, prisons, mental asylums, retail stores and even entire cities and towns and the book is filled with hauntings from coast to coast I was particularly fascinated by a couple of the examples presented and the first is the Winchester Mystery House , which is located in San Jose, California What I find so interesting about tales of haunted houses is that they seem to capture so perfectly the feelings of unease or that something is off about certain houses I ve experienced this feeling myself a number of times and Colin Dickey describes his own experience with this unsettled feeling while he was looking at houses, with the hope of purchasing one to walk into a home and recognize, even if you can t name the feeling, that someone else not only lived there but adopted patterns of life completely alien to your own, whose daily rituals and marks of wear will never match your own That feeling of something not being quite right has also been ascribed to the Winchester Mystery house If you want to experience the strangeness of this sprawling mansion for yourself, Mr Dickey assures you that tour buses leave every 20 minutes for tours which last about 2 course The story of the Winchester House and there woman, Sarah Winchester, who was responsible for its strangeness has been told and re told since her death in 1922 According to legend, Sarah Winchester s descent into eccentric behavior and madness began with he deaths of her infant daughter and her husband William who was heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company Sarah had been so distraught over these deaths that she began visiting a Boston psychic named Adam Coons, who told her that a seance had revealed to him that her family had been cursed by the ghosts of all the people who had been killed by the Winchester rifle Coon s instructions to her were to begin building a home that would never be completed because engaging in this endless construction would keep the angry ghosts away Consequently, Sarah Winchester purchased an 8 room farmhouse in San Jose and hired crews of workers to begin adding onto her house requiring these workers to labor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, a process that would last the rest of her life The weirdness of this tale is given some credence because the home is so large that it sprawls in every direction, without any logical or observable plan As Colin Dickey describes after touring the home The Winchester House can feel endless, much larger on the inside than it is on the outside The odd selling points of this house which have lingered in legend over the years are descriptions of deadens staircases which were apparently constructed to trick any ghosts which may have been pursuing Sarah Winchester There were also reportedly trap doors and a room with no corners to deprive ghosts of hiding places Although the description of this house sounds bizarre, Colin Dickey points out a number of problems with the legend which he easily discovered with a small amount of research His research uncovered no record of a Boston psychic named Adam Coons and by all accounts, Sarah Winchester had never been particularly interested in spiritualism, although the movement had been quite popular during her lifetime He also found that Sarah Winchester had owned a number of other homes in the area and that she had spent most of her later years in a home just several miles from the Winchester Mystery house Further, Sarah had never expressed having any feelings of guilt or remorse over the Winchester rifle and the deaths it had caused So the question remains if the story that has persisted about Sarah Winchester and her strange house is generally not true, then WHY has it persisted Mr Dickey proposes a couple of explanations and some historical background which may shed some light or at least allow the reader to perhaps consider this haunted tale in ahistorical way Sarah Winchester, who had grown up in New England, left behind a large extended family when she and her husband moved westward Initially, she began adding onto her house with the intention of inviting some of this extended family to live with her in San Jose For various reasons, this never occurred And yet, the building and construction continued why Mr Dickey suggests a simple explanation Sarah Winchester enjoyed designing and experimenting with the architecture of her home At a time when women were discouraged from pursuing careers in architecture, Sarah possessed the wealth which allowed her to pursue her interest and perhaps, she made mistakes which she never corrected such as the deadend stairway What also may have been historically significant in understanding Sarah Winchester was that in 1893, the United States suffered an economic depression which was only eclipsed by the Great Depression in the 1930s Unemployment rose from 4% to 14% and there were hundreds of bank and business failures With the economic and social upheaval that economic depression brings, Sarah Winchester would have been a stark symbol to the people around her of the gigantic gulf separating the haves and have nots in society And as a wealthy, reclusive widow with no real social or family ties, she would have easily become a target of whispered gossip and fantastic tales I found Colin Dickey s explanation as to why this tale has enjoyed such endurance to be most interesting Perhaps the endurance of this tale DOES come down to the source of Sarah Winchester s wealth and society s own feelings of unease and guilt over its own part in the injustices perpetrated in the past The Winchester rifle had been called the rifle that won the west and had figured prominently in the United States s westward expansion and its doctrine of Manifest Destiny and the genocide of indigenous people In a way, Sarah Winchester, as a direct recipient of the wealth associated with so much death, could assume and bear the guilt of a country which often seems unwilling or unable to deal with its past Although I admit that I m partial to haunted house stories such as the Winchester Mystery house , I also found Colin Dickey s tale of a well known haunted village very compelling the village of Salem, Massachusetts It s widely known that Salem is the setting for the infamous witch trials and subsequent executions of 19 men and women in 1692 Historically, the witch trials have always been associated with hysteria and religious zealotry And most of the people executed were thought to be people who didn t have much community support, such as widows or economically impoverished women But Mr Dickey presents the events in Salem in another context It turns out that not ALL of the accused were marginalized members of Puritan society in fact, quite the opposite is true One of the first women to be accused of witchcraft was Sarah Osborne Sarah Osborne, who had been accused by 12 year old Ann Putnam, of appearing to her as an apparition and pinching and pricking her dreadfully , had actually been involved in a lengthy property dispute over some inherited land with Ann Putnam s parents Ann Putnam also made accusations against another well respected member of the community, Rebecca Nurse who also just happened to be in a dispute with Putnam s parents over land So could it be that the roots of at least part of this shameful series of events in American history can be traced to something so common and mundane as a struggle over land and profit It certainly provides another context with which to think about these events.I found this book absolutely fascinating as it appealed to both my love of ghost stories AND history I mentioned just two of the ghostly tales that were discussed within the pages of this book, but the book is packed with tales of ghosts and hauntings from across America, both far in the distant past and the not so distant past from haunted prisons in West Virginia and Philadelphia to the ghostly presence associated with a California Toys R Us to ghostly apparitions seen in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans Examining America s ghost stories through the lens of historical facts does provide a richer explanation for events that seem otherwise murky or unexplainable Perhaps this historical context also attempts to help speak about injustices that have remain unaddressed I think Colin Dickey expresses this idea best Ours is a forward looking country that can have trouble sometimes reckoning with the past and the actions of our ancestors and the spirit world has become yet another arena in which the shameful chapters in American history, including slavery and the genocide of the American Indian, are addressed and relitigated Ghostland gives us a look at some of America s most haunted places It often brings in the receipts and demolishes several rumors surrounding these places For the most part I found this book entertaining It was cool to see him debunk several myths surrounding stories I d heard before The narrator definitely makes you look at these ghost stories from a different angle I ll admit that I found a few sections a bit bland, but for the most part this was a pleasant read I thought going in that Ghostland gives us a look at some of America s most haunted places It often brings in the receipts and demolishes several rumors surrounding these places For the most part I found this book entertaining It was cool to see him debunk several myths surrounding stories I d heard before The narrator definitely makes you look at these ghost stories from a different angle I ll admit that I found a few sections a bit bland, but for the most part this was a pleasant read I thought going in that it would be one that SPOOKED me, but I m leaving it having not been spooked at all Do I believe in ghosts No, but I am afraid of themMarie Anne de Vichy Chamrond, Marquise du DeffandOne summer, around the time I was in middle school, I spent a week at a friend s family farm in central Minnesota The farmhouse was a familiar type, nestled in a copse of trees and surrounded by otherwise treeless fields The house was old and sprawling and had been subjected to several additions over the years, so that the interior was filled with odd nooks and corners, with shadows and strDo I believe in ghosts No, but I am afraid of themMarie Anne de Vichy Chamrond, Marquise du DeffandOne summer, around the time I was in middle school, I spent a week at a friend s family farm in central Minnesota The farmhouse was a familiar type, nestled in a copse of trees and surrounded by otherwise treeless fields The house was old and sprawling and had been subjected to several additions over the years, so that the interior was filled with odd nooks and corners, with shadows and strange sounds And it was haunted Or so I was told before even setting a foot inside The ghost was a woman who I believe vagueness is essential to ghost stories would have been my friend s great grandma She d died many years before In the living room she had a tchotchke cabinet with glass doors that locked with a key The key had disappeared at some point, and the doors were eternally locked No one had touched those knickknacks in decades They were as they d been when the great grandma died, frozen in time like Miss Havisham s furniture But Sometimes at night cue a flash of lighting, a peal of thunder , if you listened closely, you could hear the metallic click of a key entering a lock, and the slow thin squeal of the locking mechanism as it turned I d like to say I felt some otherworldly presence that night That, perhaps, I heard a sound that might have, could have been, a key from a different dimension turning a lock on a cabinet filled with ridiculous figurines I didn t though Never heard a thing That didn t stop me from being terrified I didn t leave my room all night, afraid I d see something in that living room as I made my way to the bathroom I came very near to peeing my pants I m sure most people, whether open to the supernatural or not, have a story like this We live in a haunted world and ghosts or at least their stories surround us Colin Dickey wanted to know why In Ghostland, he embarks on a journey across the United States to give us an American history in haunted places In doing so, he expounds on the reasons these stories exist, and why they have endured Dickey divides the book into four quadrants The first covers haunted homes the second haunted businesses such hotels, restaurants, and brothels the third haunted public places such as prisons and cemeteries and finally, haunted towns where Dickey eschews classic ghost towns in favor of major metropolises He explores places that are both well known, such as the House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, and the Cecil Hotel, in Los Angeles, as well as others that are less famous, like Cathedral Park in Portland, Oregon I venture that most readers will be familiar with many of the places Dickey visits The restless spirits of the Stanley Hotel aka the Overlook, from Stephen King s The Shining and the Queen Mary are no secret, especially if you have ever spent five minutes watching The Travel Channel For the record, I have spentthan five minutes, while drinkingthan five wines Dickey, however, is not out to give you a typical ghost tour He is quite frankly almost disinterested in the purported ghostly occurrences that drew him in the first place There are times when he introduces a location without even bothering to relate the predicate ghostly tale If you are fascinated by the supernatural, I suspect this might be a disappointment Dickey is clearly a skeptic by the end that skepticism has almost become impatience but proving or disproving the paranormal in any methodical way is not his purpose In other words, this is not a literary version of Ghost Adventures Instead, Dickey has acerebral goal He is out to interpret the meanings behind each tale To do so, he utilizes a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses history, psychology, sociology, architecture, and literature Taken on these terms, this is a fascinating book Dickey deftly segues between fields, mining insight and significance from anything from the construction of a house to the factual contours of an alleged haunting Ghostland reads very smoothly Dickey s fluid prose, coupled with his boundless curiosity, makes this very engaging from beginning to end At less than 300 pages of text, it is not a huge investment of time in the first place.There are weighty topics here, weightier than I expected from a book called Ghostland In one chapter he talks about spiritualism and its role as a religion in which women were not placed in a subservient position In another he discusses the role of race, specifically the absence of black ghosts, in the spook stories of the south I enjoyed his handling of this material, which he presents briskly but intelligently I appreciated his look at a familiar topic from a fresh viewpoint That said, I did not love this Ghostland belongs to a genre I call the Historical Road Trip The success of a book in this genre, like the success of an actual road trip, rests largely with the driver Like any road trip, there are good stops and bad Dickey s literary visit to Binghamton, NY, is as dispiriting to read as a literal visit to Binghamton, NY As the driver, Dickey disappears for large stretches, writing mostly in an objective, third person manner That s a shame, because some of the best parts such as his visit to the Lemp Mansion in St Louis come when he relates his experiences in the first person Dickey comes across as a bit of a pedant He states that he s not out to disprove paranormal activity, which is strictly true However, he is out to undercut the historical premises that underlie the ghost stories themselves This has the same effect, and sort of kneecaps his own topic By the end, I thought of Dickey as that friend we all have, the one who is constantly correcting everyone else by saying, Well, actually that s not true For the record, I m that friend in my friend group This book is missing the vital element of fun I like how Dickey engages some heavy topical issues, but that engagement doesn t necessarily require the utter absence of joy I mean, this is a book about ghosts Reading this is a bit like signing up for a cakewalk college course, say Intro to Schwarzenegger Action Films, and then showing up to find out you re in Organic Chemistry Okay, this isn t exactly Organic Chemistry Still, there should be humor here There should be interesting characters Instead, everyone he interviews is dead pun intended this book could ve used some puns serious about whatever they re saying I can only imagine how a different writer, such as Sarah Vowell, might have handled this subject.Because this book is so grave another pun, again intended , Dickey s conclusions as to why people believe in ghosts run the gamut from snarky he posits that some folks have too much time on their hands to farfetched such as lingering guilt over taking this land from American Indians The easy answer, and I think the right answer, is that belief in ghosts comes from the same place as faith in a god It is the hope in life after death Evidence of a ghost means there s evidence that things don t just end with our last gasping breath That s both comforting and terrifying We live in an old house with creaky wood floors and doors that don t quite fit into their frames any Thus, as day settles into night, there are noises galore I ve stopped counting how many times I ve been sent downstairs by my wife weapon free, mind you , to see if anyone is breaking in It s never been fully explained what I m supposed to do if someone actually is breaking in Being something of a storyteller bullshitter, I am fond of telling people that the house is haunted by the ghost of Charlie Charlie lived in the house before us I know this because we still get his mail I also know that he died, though in a hospital Like any good ghost story, this one combines a single thread of truth with a lot of outright fabrications Sometimes, though, when I m sent downstairs to make sure the front door is locked, and it s late at night, and the lights are off, and the house is sighing and slouching in its foundation, I start to wonder if I m going to run into Charlie in the hall, going about his business as he had in life I never do, because Charlie s ghost is something that doesn t exist Just as ghosts don t exist I know this with my head My heart, though, is giving me acomplicated message One, that despite their nonexistence, ghosts are scary And two, that part of me hopes my head is completely wrong That ghosts are real That life goes on, even after death A fascinating analysis of ghost stories, their lore, and cultural significance The book isn t cheesy and doesn t try to prove or disprove the spirit realm On the contrary, it is a historical, literary and sometimes personal analysis of hauntings, iconic haunted locations and noteworthy specters.Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit A well written cross country tour of haunted places some I have heard of, and others that were new that spans over time and even projects us into the future Dicke A fascinating analysis of ghost stories, their lore, and cultural significance The book isn t cheesy and doesn t try to prove or disprove the spirit realm On the contrary, it is a historical, literary and sometimes personal analysis of hauntings, iconic haunted locations and noteworthy specters.Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit A well written cross country tour of haunted places some I have heard of, and others that were new that spans over time and even projects us into the future Dickey discusses colonial ghosts all the way to the ghosts of once thriving Detroit, the 2008 housing crisis, and how haunted houses might look in the era of Alexa Thoroughly fascinating and a great read during this spooky time of year