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Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

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In this book Tiya Miles explores the popular yet troubling phenomenon of ghost tours, frequently promoted and experienced at plantations, urban manor homes, and cemeteries throughout the South. As a staple of the tours, guides entertain paying customers by routinely relying on stories of enslaved black specters. But who are these ghosts? Examining popular sites and stories In this book Tiya Miles explores the popular yet troubling phenomenon of ghost tours, frequently promoted and experienced at plantations, urban manor homes, and cemeteries throughout the South. As a staple of the tours, guides entertain paying customers by routinely relying on stories of enslaved black specters. But who are these ghosts? Examining popular sites and stories from these tours, Miles shows that haunted tales routinely appropriate and skew African American history to produce representations of slavery for commercial gain. Dark tourism often highlights the most sensationalist and macabre aspects of slavery, from salacious sexual ties between white masters and black women slaves to the physical abuse and torture of black bodies to the supposedly exotic nature of African spiritual practices. Because the realities of slavery are largely absent from these tours, Miles reveals how they continue to feed problematic Old South narratives and erase the hard truths of the Civil War era. In an incisive and engaging work, Miles uses these troubling cases to shine light on how we feel about the Civil War and race, and how the ghosts of the past are still with us.


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In this book Tiya Miles explores the popular yet troubling phenomenon of ghost tours, frequently promoted and experienced at plantations, urban manor homes, and cemeteries throughout the South. As a staple of the tours, guides entertain paying customers by routinely relying on stories of enslaved black specters. But who are these ghosts? Examining popular sites and stories In this book Tiya Miles explores the popular yet troubling phenomenon of ghost tours, frequently promoted and experienced at plantations, urban manor homes, and cemeteries throughout the South. As a staple of the tours, guides entertain paying customers by routinely relying on stories of enslaved black specters. But who are these ghosts? Examining popular sites and stories from these tours, Miles shows that haunted tales routinely appropriate and skew African American history to produce representations of slavery for commercial gain. Dark tourism often highlights the most sensationalist and macabre aspects of slavery, from salacious sexual ties between white masters and black women slaves to the physical abuse and torture of black bodies to the supposedly exotic nature of African spiritual practices. Because the realities of slavery are largely absent from these tours, Miles reveals how they continue to feed problematic Old South narratives and erase the hard truths of the Civil War era. In an incisive and engaging work, Miles uses these troubling cases to shine light on how we feel about the Civil War and race, and how the ghosts of the past are still with us.

30 review for Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

  1. 4 out of 5

    Obsidian

    Wow. Tiya Miles does a very good job of showcasing some of the popular ghost plantation tours in her book and dissecting them. I honestly didn't even get that ghost trails were a thing let alone ghost plantation tours. Miles shows that for the most part, the stories told about slaves were not truthful at all, or if there are some truth to things (Delphine Lalaurie) some parts were embellished. She also gets into looking at how many African American women were portrayed in these stories. They were Wow. Tiya Miles does a very good job of showcasing some of the popular ghost plantation tours in her book and dissecting them. I honestly didn't even get that ghost trails were a thing let alone ghost plantation tours. Miles shows that for the most part, the stories told about slaves were not truthful at all, or if there are some truth to things (Delphine Lalaurie) some parts were embellished. She also gets into looking at how many African American women were portrayed in these stories. They were either Mammies, Jezebels, or Voodoo queens. They were shown to be sneaking, lying, or trying to seduce the poor slave owner and take him away from his wife. I loved that she showed historical evidence and context in her book and showed that many things we believe about the south and plantations is fiction. It wasn't Gone With the Wind, people owned others and treated them terribly. You had to worry about being raped, being forced to "breed", and having your family sold off from you. It's still mind boggling to me anyone would be interested in doing any type of plantation tour. Miles is able to peel back stories told about Molly and Matilda (see Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah), Delphine Lalaurie (see Lalaurie Mansion in New Orleans), and Chloe and Cleo (Mrytles Plantation in Louisana) and have you see them as living and breathing women. If you are interested in hearing about these women, you can Google and include the word "ghost" and see what pops up. I do concur with Miles findings though and don't believe that most of the people described in this stories existed besides Matilda and Delphine. I really loved the writing and there were a lot of passages I highlighted in this book. "African American bondsmen and bondswomen had been transformed into virtual ghosts, absent and yet eerily present in historical tours as invisible laboring bodies that made their owners’ fortunes shine." "Enslaved black women on plantations were particularly vulnerable. Historians of black women in slavery have detailed the pervasiveness of sexual coercion and rape in a system that not only offered no legal protection for black women but also rewarded masters economically for forced sex and impregnation that resulted in the growth of the slave population." I also loved that Miles included some information about Native Americas too. "The enslaved African American ghost is the Indian ghost’s double. While the red ghost keeps alive the memory of Indian removal in U.S. history, representing white “terror and lament,” the black ghost marks the demonic spirit of possession through which Americans transformed people into things." I also never really thought too much about who was behind that whole Mammy thing that many people in the south seemed to talk about. Those that read and saw "The Help" showed that it got pushed into another generation until the Civil Rights Movement. Black women are either supposed to be motherly or we are shown as being "fast", or angry if we dare to speak up for ourselves. It's frustrating to be a black woman in this world right now. "As scholarship on black women’s history shows, the Mammy myth was called into discursive being by defenders of slavery in the 1830s who sought to challenge abolitionist critiques of the sexual abuse of slave women. Mammy’s image was embellished by memoirs of slaveholders’ children published during the Civil War as well as by tributes to her memory in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the Aunt Jemima pancake-mix brand and plans for a national Mammy memorial spurred by the Daughters of the Confederacy." The locations that Miles goes to in order to investigate this ghost plantation tours are Old Savannah, the French Quarter, and Louisiana plantations.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I should admit that I think I feel about ghosts the same way that Dr Miles does. I love a good ghost story, and in particular, I love ghost folklore. But I try to be aware of what the stories also say about society - both the source society and the current society. I love the work of L.B. Taylor Jr., in part, because he does deal equally with history and folklore. That's where his interest lay, and while a Southern, he doesn't whitewash. Miles taps into the question of ghost folklore and tourism I should admit that I think I feel about ghosts the same way that Dr Miles does. I love a good ghost story, and in particular, I love ghost folklore. But I try to be aware of what the stories also say about society - both the source society and the current society. I love the work of L.B. Taylor Jr., in part, because he does deal equally with history and folklore. That's where his interest lay, and while a Southern, he doesn't whitewash. Miles taps into the question of ghost folklore and tourism in the South, in particular, the use of ghost stories about slave to sell tours. She not only digs at the history (or non-history) behind such stories, but looks at how the various places address slavery. IT is a rather enlighting and anger inducing book, but it does make you think and provides you with a reading list. Miles' passion and prose is so clear and engaging that I want to read everything she has written and will write after reading this good book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Critchley

    I bought this book on a whim and I'm so glad that I did. It's clearly an academic text, but Miles' writing style and the content of ghost tours make this book super engaging. It feels a little like a travelogue, as Miles spends time in Savannah, New Orleans, and the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, using her experience taking ghost tours as her fieldwork. Miles does excellent work explaining the overall fascination with ghosts and history, and moves into how this intersection specifically works I bought this book on a whim and I'm so glad that I did. It's clearly an academic text, but Miles' writing style and the content of ghost tours make this book super engaging. It feels a little like a travelogue, as Miles spends time in Savannah, New Orleans, and the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, using her experience taking ghost tours as her fieldwork. Miles does excellent work explaining the overall fascination with ghosts and history, and moves into how this intersection specifically works in "haunted" Southern cities that can allow tourists to engage with the horrible actions of slavery through a glimmer of magic and a safe distance. The conclusion of this book is particularly strong as she details the lessons to learn about completely fabricating stories about African American ghosts for ticket sales (she shows that these tours are based on little historical facts), especially as the cities she visited had a dearth of Black history tours available at all apart from ghost tours. Ultimately this book brings up important questions about the role of public history - to capitalize on the gruesome stories of the ghosts of enslaved people in order to entertain a largely white group of tourists is inherently problematic. As someone interested in history, how to get others interested in history, and how to best understand how the past informs the present, this book was excellent and I would recommend it to anyone!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I have a lot of thoughts about this book, and about southern horror tourism being a convenient (and safe) way for white people to encounter histories of enslavement. This book is full of many, many excellent words. These are a few of my favorites: "The South, therefore, functions like a storehouse for the nation’s historical guilt, a sociocultural archive accessed through stories of haunting. This explains why southern ghosts of slavery remain with us even now, calling us to confront them" (32). " I have a lot of thoughts about this book, and about southern horror tourism being a convenient (and safe) way for white people to encounter histories of enslavement. This book is full of many, many excellent words. These are a few of my favorites: "The South, therefore, functions like a storehouse for the nation’s historical guilt, a sociocultural archive accessed through stories of haunting. This explains why southern ghosts of slavery remain with us even now, calling us to confront them" (32). "Tourists at The Myrtles can therefore flirt with the danger of racial and sexual taboos while never having to really think about human subjection, the corruption of power, and their own voyeuristic complicity in the reproduction of plantation culture scripts" (97). "It would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge that ghost-tour companies are doing the work of making black history visible in some of this country’s oldest places. In contrast to a growing number of haunted tours that actively incorporate African American stories, many plantation heritage tours continue to marginalize black personalities and historical experiences. During my time in Savannah, I saw evidence of urban historian Ella Howard’s observation that “the subset of paranormal tours pay much more attention to slavery than others.” In Charleston, the dearth of black history on offer by established companies was so great that tour guide Geordie Buxton suggested that I, an Ohioan with no special knowledge of Charleston history, should create my own black history tour in the city. Meanwhile, Buxton was interweaving snippets of black folklore and history into his haunted plantations tour. Ghost tours clearly represent a kind of cultural inclusion, but I have to press the question: At what cost? Much of the black history material that I encountered during my ghost-touring journey appeared to me as exoticized, romanticized, or decontextualized. And members of black communities did not seem to control the narratives of these tours or to benefit directly from the commercial success of local ghost-tour outfits. "I came away from my travels with an overwhelming feeling that ghost tourism at historic sites of slavery appropriates African American history in a way that outweighs the value of inclusion. Whether or not they are aware of it or want to be doing it, tourism professionals use black cultural knowledge (stories, beliefs, practices, and histories) to infuse southern ghost tours with a superficial sense of soul. The recuperated black slave in the form of a ghost is presented in caricature on these tours, positioned outside black cultural contexts, and stripped of the historical realities of American slavery. Experiences of black slaves and elements of black culture are thus diminished in this industry—borrowed, boiled down to an exotic essence, and sold for a price" (123). "I also came away with an alarming sense that the representation of slaves as ghosts reproduces intersectional racial and gender norms from the antebellum era, often without context, caution, or critique" (124). But in her conclusion, Miles also points to the histories of African American ghost stories, gathered in the 1930s in WPA interviews. This will stick with me: "”In Emmaline Heard’s astute story, slavery is a monstrous, industrial machine that consumed African American lives and continues to haunt the southern landscape even after emancipation. "Stories told by African Americans who experienced slavery indicate their belief that ghosts were dangerously real and not to be dallied with" (127)." Miles then connects this to Toni Morrison's Beloved, which of course has terrifying ghosts of its own. If only, Miles seems to argue, we let Black people tell these ghost stories how they want to tell them. The ghosts would be even more terrifying. Please read this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ai Miller

    A really fascinating look at ghost tours at various points in the US south and the stories they tell, especially about enslavement. Miles does a great job of offering up the details of the tours and including interviews with guides and docents. Some of the analysis feels a little stagnated--I was left with big questions about the ways these tours not only tell misleading, violent stories about enslavement that re-inscribe stereotypes and misconceptions while offering up avenues for white-settler A really fascinating look at ghost tours at various points in the US south and the stories they tell, especially about enslavement. Miles does a great job of offering up the details of the tours and including interviews with guides and docents. Some of the analysis feels a little stagnated--I was left with big questions about the ways these tours not only tell misleading, violent stories about enslavement that re-inscribe stereotypes and misconceptions while offering up avenues for white-settler moves to innocence, but also the ways that these tours invent ghosts (to make up for a lack of real archive regarding individual enslaved people? Why are we making up stories about extreme violence when real life stories about the extreme violence of enslavement exist?) which Miles herself seems to put aside rather rapidly even though the ghost she was initially drawn into the project with ended up to be untrue. Otherwise though I think it raises a lot of questions about our engagements publicly with haunting and ghosts, and how the history can be elided through engagement--that avoidance of these narratives is not the only way to fail to grapple with history and its afterlives.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kylee Ehmann

    This book was so damn good. Miles analyzes the ways in which dark tourism in the south often recreates the social dynamics of slavery. I had never given much thought to "dark tourism," tourism surrounding tragedy and pain, before. In fact, I hadn't realized that things like ghost tours were such a big draw and such a money maker for local historical organizations. But it is, and the problems Miles raises with these ghost tours, especially those that are based on a premise of reproducing the pain This book was so damn good. Miles analyzes the ways in which dark tourism in the south often recreates the social dynamics of slavery. I had never given much thought to "dark tourism," tourism surrounding tragedy and pain, before. In fact, I hadn't realized that things like ghost tours were such a big draw and such a money maker for local historical organizations. But it is, and the problems Miles raises with these ghost tours, especially those that are based on a premise of reproducing the pain of enslaved women, are incredibly troubling. Miles is a phenomenal writer, and she draws you onto this tour of haunted tours with her. She doesn't go out of her way to condemn the people leading these tours. In fact, she tries to understand them and their patrons in order to understand why they're so popular. It's really compelling. By far one of the best history books I've ever read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    This was such an excellent and thoughtful read, especially as we start moving into Halloween season. All of these familiar themes in ghost stories and tours-the perennial "Native American burial ground" and "the spirits who linger after experiencing extreme trauma"-belie the violence undergirding Southern memory (and U.S. memory, as a whole). When does the line between history and entertainment become too thin to countenance? Dr. Miles takes on these questions to trouble the commodification of t This was such an excellent and thoughtful read, especially as we start moving into Halloween season. All of these familiar themes in ghost stories and tours-the perennial "Native American burial ground" and "the spirits who linger after experiencing extreme trauma"-belie the violence undergirding Southern memory (and U.S. memory, as a whole). When does the line between history and entertainment become too thin to countenance? Dr. Miles takes on these questions to trouble the commodification of tragedy while simultaneously working through those who self-report that the promise of the supernatural draws them into difficult historic truths with which they might not otherwise grapple. I really want to talk with students about this book, especially the chapter on New Orleans.

  8. 4 out of 5

    ZSR Library

    Tiya Miles brings us into the stories of souls preyed upon by white supremacy, even after death. While we look into the historical experience of African Americans in the south, we find in this book that we might be the ones doing the haunting. This book is a page turner- Miles deftly cuts into the heart of our ideas about the gothic south with vivid and honest re-tellings of our past. - Celeste Holcomb, ZSR Library Staff

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I think this is an important read for anyone who's interested in or involved in the dark tourism industry. Miles explores how ghost tour companies in the South can and do fabricate or embellish narratives that commodify the traumatic memories of enslaved people. The only reason I'm giving this four stars rather than five is because I would've liked to have read a more in-depth exploration of the subject. I think this is an important read for anyone who's interested in or involved in the dark tourism industry. Miles explores how ghost tour companies in the South can and do fabricate or embellish narratives that commodify the traumatic memories of enslaved people. The only reason I'm giving this four stars rather than five is because I would've liked to have read a more in-depth exploration of the subject.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tylyn

    As a tour guide in New Orleans, who has always tried to be respectful and honest - yes, even in ghost tours - this book has given me so much more history, and theory, to the incorporate into my work as it begins to open up again. Would recommend to anyone interested in dark tourism or ghost stories, and would consider it required reading for anyone in our profession.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chaotic Archaeologist

    Reflective and thought provoking, this book examines one facet of how tourism has grown in the last two decades.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    Very informative and entertaining for a historical work

  13. 5 out of 5

    Demens Rosa

    Truly insightful. This is an excellent read that I recommend highly!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Tuttle

    I feel like the author could have dug a bit deeper in her analysis of the fascination with, and exploitation of ghosts of enslaved people. I wish she had talked a bit about the lack of writing yielded from enslaved people, which might be one of reasons for the romanticism and ideology of slave ghosts. Modern tourism might be using these tools to conjure up stories and meanings that the record does not provide, because most enslaved people were illiterate, and even if they could write, the docume I feel like the author could have dug a bit deeper in her analysis of the fascination with, and exploitation of ghosts of enslaved people. I wish she had talked a bit about the lack of writing yielded from enslaved people, which might be one of reasons for the romanticism and ideology of slave ghosts. Modern tourism might be using these tools to conjure up stories and meanings that the record does not provide, because most enslaved people were illiterate, and even if they could write, the documents typically don't survive in the record. Otherwise, this was a fun and meaningful read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Xanthe

    Thought provoking and specific, this book give much to chew on regarding history-as-tourism, how we choose our ghosts, and why so many people are drawn to tales of hauntings that focus on tragedies of women in slavery. I appreciated the analysis and thoughts on the future of southern ghost tourism.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    Enjoyed Miles's layering and insights on "haunting" and history via ghost tourism. Enjoyed Miles's layering and insights on "haunting" and history via ghost tourism.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christy Jones

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dani Massaro

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mindy Windholz

  20. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kris

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kristyn Scorsone

  23. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Allison Mansour

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Haddock

  26. 5 out of 5

    Reilly Torres

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Dear

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anubis

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  30. 4 out of 5

    The Feather

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