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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 collecti 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 whisper in the dark. From the Hardcover edition.


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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 collecti 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 whisper in the dark. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jesse (JesseTheReader)

    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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “Do I believe in ghosts? No, but I am afraid of them.” - Marie Anne de Vichy Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand One 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 str “Do I believe in ghosts? No, but I am afraid of them.” - Marie Anne de Vichy Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand One 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 spent more than five minutes, while drinking more than 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 a more cerebral 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 also 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 anymore. 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 a more complicated 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Justin Tate

    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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 An overview of some of the places in America that are said to be haunted and the stories behind them. Often debunking some of what we think we know about them, such as the myth behind the Winchester House, Amityville, and Danvers asylum, all well known. Different movements such as spiritualism and the notorious Fox sisters. Haunted graveyards, battle grounds, plantations and other places where spirits are said to be restless, appear to visitors. This book is not so much scary, though if I sa 3.5 An overview of some of the places in America that are said to be haunted and the stories behind them. Often debunking some of what we think we know about them, such as the myth behind the Winchester House, Amityville, and Danvers asylum, all well known. Different movements such as spiritualism and the notorious Fox sisters. Haunted graveyards, battle grounds, plantations and other places where spirits are said to be restless, appear to visitors. This book is not so much scary, though if I saw any of these apparitions I would probably be terrified, as it is an explanation for why these things may happen. He never really states whether be does or does not believe in ghosts, haunting or spirits, he just presents both sides and does it very well. Interesting read for October and for those who have a fascination for such things, as I do.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Ghostland is a not-spooky, but thoroughly entertaining, examination of ghost stories and haunted locales throughout America with the express intent of debunking the paranormal and better understanding how ghost stories reflect on our past and present. Given the book's dark cover and the timing of its release, it seems necessary to reiterate that there's nothing particularly creepy about this book. The author dug through family trees and historic records until he unearthed every inconsistency or Ghostland is a not-spooky, but thoroughly entertaining, examination of ghost stories and haunted locales throughout America with the express intent of debunking the paranormal and better understanding how ghost stories reflect on our past and present. Given the book's dark cover and the timing of its release, it seems necessary to reiterate that there's nothing particularly creepy about this book. The author dug through family trees and historic records until he unearthed every inconsistency or blatant lie associated with famous ghost stories or well-known haunted locations. He actively debunks one ghost story after another. The author posits that ghost stories are malleable, changing throughout the years to accommodate society's various needs: Paying attention to the way ghost stories change through the years -- and why those changes are made -- can tell us a great deal about how we face our fears and our anxieties. Even when these stories have a basis in fact and history, there's often significant embellishment and fabrication before they catch on in our imagination, and teasing out these alterations is key to understanding how ghosts shape our relationship to the past. In addition to stories of ghosts, the author examines several haunted locations, revealing details spanning from the evolution of their (sometimes) bizarre construction to their rise in popularity as a notorious haunt. The more unusual the house, the author states, the more likely it'll cause unease among its neighbors and the more we seem to require some kind of story to explain its construction. Additional locations explored include haunted bars and brothels, hotels and restaurants, asylums, graveyards, and more. Though it doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the book, it sometimes feels as though the author drifts off on a tangent. For example, a chapter that begins by introducing a notoriously haunted house eventually segues to a discussion of Spiritualism, which ultimately leads to an examination of a woman's right to vote. These shifts in narrative are never a point of contention for the reader, because all of the information is well-researched and tied together seamlessly. This is how ghost stories are born, after all: not from a complete story so much as from bits and pieces that don't quite add up, a kaleidoscope of menace and unease that coalesce in unpredictable ways. Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places is a skilfully crafted and compelling book that will appeal to fans of American history, trivia, haunted locales and ghosts.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Ghostland by Colin Dickey is a 2016 Viking publication. I picked this one out on audio, but the way my mind wanders when an audiobook plays, I was worried I would lose interest quickly with this one, but surprisingly, I enjoyed listening to this book while I worked around the house. Before you decided to check this book out, please be aware this work of non-fiction is not scary in the way the title might suggest, although I did love hearing those deliciously chilling ghost stories, some of which Ghostland by Colin Dickey is a 2016 Viking publication. I picked this one out on audio, but the way my mind wanders when an audiobook plays, I was worried I would lose interest quickly with this one, but surprisingly, I enjoyed listening to this book while I worked around the house. Before you decided to check this book out, please be aware this work of non-fiction is not scary in the way the title might suggest, although I did love hearing those deliciously chilling ghost stories, some of which I had not heard of before…. Until the author takes great pleasure in debunking them. However, I enjoyed the history behind these myths and urban legends, the architecture, the locations, and on occasion, I agreed with some of the psychological musings the author offered up for why we love these stories, why we are drawn to paranormal activity, and why we feel compelled to believe in ghosts, but mostly I felt the urge to de-bunk HIS theories. Right now, there is a plethora of ‘reality’ shows that feature paranormal activities, hauntings and ghost hunters. Ghosts are highly sought after, and are endlessly fascinating. The author is very thorough, covering every possible location for hauntings, including houses, hotels, hospitals, notoriously haunted cites, prisons, tragedy markers, and Indian burial grounds, among many others. The legendary haunts explored in the book cover the Myrtle Plantation, The Winchester Mansion, and Amityville, as well as the notorious LaLaurie House, and a few off the beaten path, as well. The author often pauses after setting up the story he is about to teach us about, to explain the era of time, the history behind the story, the people at the heart of it, and the real, logical explanation for the hauntings, which of course takes the fun out of it a little. But, the true story was also interesting. At times the author’s tone takes on a chastising note, as he admonishes the reader for believing in these stories, having fun with them, while a family has suffered a loss. There are modern day legends and I suppose the author is right about how a family may feel if their loved one becomes the subject of these modern -day ghost hunters, or if they become an urban legend, with people ‘having fun’ retelling the story of a murder or suicide for kicks and giggles. On the other hand, I personally think these stories, true or not, help to preserve history, maybe even preserve a memory, so that a person is remembered, and sometimes they are a cautionary tale, and sometimes they seek justice for those denied it in life, or sometimes it can be a tender story that brings peace to a grieving loved one, and frankly, I don’t see the harm in it. The author obviously is not a believer, although at times he grudgingly admits he has found himself in a place that seemed to have an aura around it, although he seems unable to call it a haunting. On a personal note, I don’t discount the possibility of ghosts, and I don’t suffer from a conscience prick if I share a ghost story around a campfire. I’ve never encountered a ghost and probably never will, and like the author I’m more of a skeptic than a believer. But, these stories are interesting, and okay, they are entertaining too. So, while the author does slap our wrist for enjoying them, he doesn’t seem to mind making of a buck off them himself. Touche’? Overall, I found this book fascinating and interesting for the most part and enjoyed hearing my favorite haunted stories and the history behind them, and even enjoyed hearing the truth or the more plausible and logical explanation for them, but the author’s personal take on why people relate to these stories didn’t appeal to me most of the time and his attitude was a little over the top. So, if you are looking for a scary, chilling group of ghost stories to enjoy at Halloween, this may not be the book you are looking for. But, if you are interested in learning the history behind these alleged hauntings and seeing how the author discovered the truth about them, then you will find this book to be quite interesting indeed. 3.5 stars

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    GHOSTLAND is a stirring and expertly written historical account of our ghosts, the ones we celebrate and the ones we hide. This is not a cheesy ghost hunters TV show in book form. Dickey deconstructs the folklore and myth surrounding the US's most famous/notorious hauntings. This is a book about how ghost stories happen, how they are created, how they evolve, how they reflect our history and how they often bury the history we don't want to face. His chapter/essay on Salem is one of the most astu GHOSTLAND is a stirring and expertly written historical account of our ghosts, the ones we celebrate and the ones we hide. This is not a cheesy ghost hunters TV show in book form. Dickey deconstructs the folklore and myth surrounding the US's most famous/notorious hauntings. This is a book about how ghost stories happen, how they are created, how they evolve, how they reflect our history and how they often bury the history we don't want to face. His chapter/essay on Salem is one of the most astute I've ever read. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    Incredibly scary and a perfect read for the month of October, Colin Dickey examines ghosts, haunted buildings, and other urban legends throughout the United States. But, it's not just about ghost stories, he also delves into the true histories of everything from cemeteries to asylums. When I picked up Ghostland I thought: how creepy can the US be, it hasn't been around all that long, comparatively speaking. And I found out: really, really creepy. You don't have to believe in ghosts to enjoy this Incredibly scary and a perfect read for the month of October, Colin Dickey examines ghosts, haunted buildings, and other urban legends throughout the United States. But, it's not just about ghost stories, he also delves into the true histories of everything from cemeteries to asylums. When I picked up Ghostland I thought: how creepy can the US be, it hasn't been around all that long, comparatively speaking. And I found out: really, really creepy. You don't have to believe in ghosts to enjoy this book. Here's what the author had to say in the intro: "Even if you don't believe in the paranormal, ghost stories and legends of haunted places are a vital, dynamic means of confronting the past and those who have gone before us. Ultimately, this book is about the relationship between place and story: how the two depend on each other and how they bring each other alive." loc 23, ebook. I learned a lot of quirky, historical details about the United States. For example, did you know that Spiritualists were a huge part of the suffrage movement?: "Early suffrage meetings were heavily populated with mediums and trance speakers; in some places it was difficult to find suffragists who weren't also Spiritualists. Spiritualism had given many of these women practice and confidence in speaking to groups with authority; by allowing others (the dead) to speak through them, American women began to speak for themselves in greater numbers. Spiritualism was only one of many factors and social movements that drove women's suffrage, but it was a vital and important one." loc 961-978, ebook. One night, my ride home from work was late and I found myself alone in the library with all of the lights off and it was so spooky. I felt like I was being watched and jumped at every little creak in the stacks. In this passage, Dickey explains why: "Few things are more unsettling than being somewhere emptied out, after everyone else has left. If you've ever worked a closing shift, or as a security guard, you know the way a place can change after the doors are locked and the lights are dimmed, when the lighting so carefully designed to spotlight the latest gadgets goes slack, when the mood lighting gets moodier. It's as though you don't belong there." loc 1250, ebook The most disturbing moments, for me, were the true history portions of the narrative: "Early madhouses were often revealed to be nightmares of abuse and neglect. Reports of incontinent patients hosed down with icy water, naked women chained haphazardly to the walls, fleas and rats rampant, and other horrors gradually prompted a desire for something more sanitary and humane." loc 2205, ebook. Eeeek. Is it any wonder that these places are haunted? Dickey includes a poem by Goethe in his examination of the "ruins" of Detroit: "Goethe wrote in 1827: "America, you have it better Than our old continent, You have no ruined castles And no ancient basalt. Your inner life remains untroubled By useless memory And futile strife." That was then. Now, almost two hundred years later, we've started to catch up to old Europe. We have plenty of ruined castles now, plenty of wasted strife to call our own." loc 3217, ebook. I would have disagreed with that sentiment but then I read Ghostland. Now, I know better. Recommended for folks who are looking for a spooky, non-fiction read for Halloween or any other time that you're looking for a good scare. Pick this one up with a hot drink and a warm blanket... you're going to need it. Some read alikes: Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah by Colm A. Kelleher (one of the scariest books I've ever read) or Mysteries and Monsters of the Sea by Fate Magazine (similar to Ghostland but nautically themed). Thank you to Viking Publishing and NetGalley for a digital copy of this book for review purposes!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    Ghostland is a thoughtful, in-depth, look at not only some of the most famous haunted places in the U.S., but also why we have the need for ghosts in the first place. The history of ghosts in the United States also leaves out a lot of actual history and tends to be the story of white ghosts. There are very few ghosts of color on hand. Some times Native Americans show up because of development on their burial grounds. Overwhelmingly the ghost stories that have to do with real people tend to have a Ghostland is a thoughtful, in-depth, look at not only some of the most famous haunted places in the U.S., but also why we have the need for ghosts in the first place. The history of ghosts in the United States also leaves out a lot of actual history and tends to be the story of white ghosts. There are very few ghosts of color on hand. Some times Native Americans show up because of development on their burial grounds. Overwhelmingly the ghost stories that have to do with real people tend to have a lot of made up stuff added to their stories. Time and time again, the true story of a person's demise has been exaggerated to create more interest for ghost hunters. One thing that would have made the book more interesting for me would have been some photos. I spent a great deal of time looking up pictures on the internet to get a feel for these places.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆

    I tried but I really couldn't stand this one. For me personally, it was the tone that the author took. The chapters are divided by different famous ghost stories and the author proceeds to debunk them all. In that vein, there really is only so much of a 'people capitalizing on someone's tragedy for fun', 'smearing an innocent person's name', or 'no proof of said event ever happened' refrain that is repeated before the reading gets dull. The author doesn't believe in ghosts and does pretty much ev I tried but I really couldn't stand this one. For me personally, it was the tone that the author took. The chapters are divided by different famous ghost stories and the author proceeds to debunk them all. In that vein, there really is only so much of a 'people capitalizing on someone's tragedy for fun', 'smearing an innocent person's name', or 'no proof of said event ever happened' refrain that is repeated before the reading gets dull. The author doesn't believe in ghosts and does pretty much everything in his power to explain every single case. That's cool, but I didn't pick up a book like that. I wanted a history and something a bit more vague. This is written as a history but the "history" is quite weak and upsupported. The conclusions are very narrow in scope. Such like, the author posets that the reason why we love ghost stories is because dead relatives don't say in our houses for three or four days after their deaths anymore. This is the only reason why and he never shows any proof. On the other hand, humans have always had a very strong interest in this subject matter. Hello Religions, I do believe these were created for this. He doesn't even bother with things such as the Black Plague or any of the other plagues (I realize that the Black Plague was before the time of the US but that truly sparked much of the macabre in Europe and the first colonies weren't far removed for that time.) This narrow minded reasoning and no depth left other areas a bit annoying. Such like, the author states that people state that ghosts are created via suffering of the individual or guilt or feelings of wrong doing. So, says the author, why no black ghosts in the South? It must be because Southerners didn't see blacks as humans and he leaves it there. And I'm thinking 'expound on this further'. White people don't think they did anything wrong and the South is full of people who still believe the North is a vile place. I just got into an argument with a Southerner over how he felt Lincoln was worse than Hitler. I know these are petty. It was just the repetition and vague histories plus disappointment. I was looking forward to this book. =/

  11. 5 out of 5

    Darlene

    "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 enamored 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 enamored 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'. Furthermore, 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 a more historical 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."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Punk

    Trigger warning for nearly every -ism you can think of because this guy's a lazy asshole. In addition to racism and sexism, my review mentions slavery, sex work, grave robbing, and rape. Dickey's thesis is that the United States is haunted not by ghosts but by its history, anxieties over what it means to be American, and questions of whether Americans can ever really own the land they live on, since the majority of the population willingly came here from somewhere else and displaced, removed, and Trigger warning for nearly every -ism you can think of because this guy's a lazy asshole. In addition to racism and sexism, my review mentions slavery, sex work, grave robbing, and rape. Dickey's thesis is that the United States is haunted not by ghosts but by its history, anxieties over what it means to be American, and questions of whether Americans can ever really own the land they live on, since the majority of the population willingly came here from somewhere else and displaced, removed, and killed the people already here. Sounds good, but with his language choices Dickey repeatedly sides with the colonizer, the slave owner—the oppressor rather than the oppressed. He writes that the French "found" Louisiana in the early 1700s. He describes a slave owner as taking "a shine" to a young slave girl, a "light-skinned mulatto" whom he "brought into the house and made his concubine." In 1968, when a prison guard located a burial site of the Tunica tribe and plundered the land and over a hundred graves, including that of Chief Cahura-Joligo, Dickey uses the word "excavated"—a neat, clinical, almost scientific word for what is nothing less than grave robbing. Instead of acknowledging how disgusting this is, Dickey writes, "He excavated hundreds of objects from the fields of the Trudeau Plantation and, having nowhere else to put them, began stockpiling them in his house." This guy likes the sound of his own voice over any other. He talks of the "tragic mulatto" and "octaroon mistresses" with "exotic charm." He refers to the "defeated Southern culture" in the aftermath of the Civil War. He appropriates and then misuses a concept from the Kiswahili speakers of east and central Africa who distinguish between the recently dead who still have people who remember them and the dead who are no longer part of living memory. In the chapter on brothels, he uses the phrase "ghosts of ill repute," terms like "working girls," "prostitutes," "pimped out," and though he eventually acknowledges the huge amount of emotional labor the job requires, he only once calls these women "sex workers," the preferred term of many in the industry. He gets it wrong more than he gets it right. His text is racist, ableist (I'll spare you the example; it's way gross), and while not outright misogynist, not at all interested in the idea that women are as important as men. For example: All the times he describes white slave owners as having—in his words—an affair with a black slave or taken a black mistress, as if that was ever anything other than rape. I agree with his thesis that America is haunted by its history. That our ghost stories often reflect our fears and anxieties about the past. The introduction—which was straightforward and easy to read, unlike the overwritten slop of the text—described a book I was excited to read, but the execution is deeply flawed. The specifics aren't so specific, or illuminating. Of course a mental hospital is going to be haunted as fuck. Same goes for a prison, or an old mining town, or Salem, Massachusetts. Basically he gives us a list of places that are likely to be haunted, a very brief description of a haunting in one of those locations, and then a ham-handed history of the area and the anxieties it represents, mostly for white people. Black people are only really referenced in association with slavery. The chapter on Richmond, Virginia, opens with a list of neighborhood ghosts: the gunsmith's apprentice, a woman in period dress, a knife-wielding fishmonger, more spectral sex workers. On the second page, Dickey wonders why, in what was "the most heavily trafficked slave trading area in the United States," are there only white ghosts? The answer, of course, is because that's how he wrote it. Eight pages later, he admits, "Once you start looking for ghosts that aren't white, they're easy to find." So obviously the next question is: Who else did he ignore? Native Americans are mentioned but only as a source of anxiety rather than a people with their own set of ghosts. There's no talk of the countless Chinese and Irish immigrants who died building the railroads. No discussion of the Japanese incarcerated during World War II. So when the author says America is haunted by its history, he's talking about, and to, a very specific color of America, with a very limited sense of the horrors this country has inflicted, on others and itself. Dickey, who I maintain is a lazy asshole, writes: "the kinds of ghosts you look for, and the kinds of ghosts you see, depend on your frame of reference." He actually addresses the likelihood of his own bias, and then does nothing to challenge his perspective. That failure to look beyond his own experience is readily apparent in this book. He's missing some ghosts.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    There’s no shortage of love for Colin Dickey’s Ghostland here at Book Riot. I listened to this on audio and found it to be a wonderful book that’s part architectural history, part anthropology, part travelogue, and part folklore study. Dickey does a great job blending scholarly arguments about cultural memory, trauma, and place-making with contemporary takes on urban legends and ghost stories. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking book that manages to ask all sorts of big questions about importan There’s no shortage of love for Colin Dickey’s Ghostland here at Book Riot. I listened to this on audio and found it to be a wonderful book that’s part architectural history, part anthropology, part travelogue, and part folklore study. Dickey does a great job blending scholarly arguments about cultural memory, trauma, and place-making with contemporary takes on urban legends and ghost stories. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking book that manages to ask all sorts of big questions about important topics without being overburdened by dry prose. It’s a fun, smart analysis of what makes a place haunted. –Ashley Bowen-Murphy from The Best Books We Read In November 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/12/01/the-be...

  14. 5 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    This book is NO FUN! He debunks everything! At least he visits the hotel that inspired King's The Shining. He has sections on houses, institutions, public houses, graveyards; nothing is left unturned, it's just that everything is left unhaunted. 2.5 stars 2017 Lenten Buddy Reading Challenge book #29 This book is NO FUN! He debunks everything! At least he visits the hotel that inspired King's The Shining. He has sections on houses, institutions, public houses, graveyards; nothing is left unturned, it's just that everything is left unhaunted. 2.5 stars 2017 Lenten Buddy Reading Challenge book #29

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jaya

    Ouch! Myths busted. Legends debunked. As the title is self-explanatory, the book tells us the history of America's (most popular?) haunted places. Some were familiar to me, some were not. It did make for an interesting and at times compelling read, with all the background and history behind the so-called haunted places, be it old mansions of nineteenth century, business areas like Toys R US, hotels, bars, brothels, bookstores (I would definitely like to visit one of those), prisons etc. However, t Ouch! Myths busted. Legends debunked. As the title is self-explanatory, the book tells us the history of America's (most popular?) haunted places. Some were familiar to me, some were not. It did make for an interesting and at times compelling read, with all the background and history behind the so-called haunted places, be it old mansions of nineteenth century, business areas like Toys R US, hotels, bars, brothels, bookstores (I would definitely like to visit one of those), prisons etc. However, the dispassionate, at times dry and sometimes digressing narrative took the fun out of reading this one. Underwhelmed 2.5 stars. I rather enjoyed my ignorance about the "haunted places" sans the reasoning/justification/explanations behind them being so.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stacey Cotter

    This book is probably not what you are expecting... I was excited to get this novel and couldn't wait to read it. I was disappointed though as it was written by a seemingly very skeptical Author. Coming from a semi-skeptic, I was looking forward to the history of the various places and possible proof to support the claims. However, I found it to be more of a forum for the author to bash believers and individuals working in the field. It would seem that his goal is to take away belief of the para This book is probably not what you are expecting... I was excited to get this novel and couldn't wait to read it. I was disappointed though as it was written by a seemingly very skeptical Author. Coming from a semi-skeptic, I was looking forward to the history of the various places and possible proof to support the claims. However, I found it to be more of a forum for the author to bash believers and individuals working in the field. It would seem that his goal is to take away belief of the paranormal. The history was done well, but I didn't care for how the Author tore everything (and everyone) apart in the end leaving you wondering if you just wasted your time. He could have just as easily said, that in his opinion, it is all fake and saved us the time...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    *Book received through the Amazon Vine program* For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with ghost stories. Then to see that this book hooked stories of ghosts with American history, I was ready to engrossed with this book. "Ghostland" features the author, Colin Dickey, exploring some of the ghost stories and urban legends featuring ghosts around the country. In the end, I was a little disappointed in this book. The book advertises ghosts but Colin pretty much doesn't believe *Book received through the Amazon Vine program* For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with ghost stories. Then to see that this book hooked stories of ghosts with American history, I was ready to engrossed with this book. "Ghostland" features the author, Colin Dickey, exploring some of the ghost stories and urban legends featuring ghosts around the country. In the end, I was a little disappointed in this book. The book advertises ghosts but Colin pretty much doesn't believe in ghosts and makes a point to disprove all of the stories he features. If you've read any ghost books, you'll be sure to recognize some of the stories, like the Winchester Mystery House. There were some interesting bits of the book but then there were some more boring parts that I skimmed somewhat. If you are looking for a book that features just ghost stories, this isn't the book you want to read. But if you are a skeptic and want to read a book that disproves some ghost stories, then you might like this book

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This was an interesting take on hauntings. The author did not discuss whether the hauntings were true or not (though he seems to have his doubts) but rather what they say about us as a society, as a country. He discusses how some ghost stories may have a glimmer of truth in their origin but have been embellished to suit our purposes. The purpose may be to whitewash our history, to assuage our guilt about events that have happened. The purpose might be to draw attention to something in our past th This was an interesting take on hauntings. The author did not discuss whether the hauntings were true or not (though he seems to have his doubts) but rather what they say about us as a society, as a country. He discusses how some ghost stories may have a glimmer of truth in their origin but have been embellished to suit our purposes. The purpose may be to whitewash our history, to assuage our guilt about events that have happened. The purpose might be to draw attention to something in our past that needs to be addressed. The purpose might be to divert ourselves from more serious issues such as racism. The purpose might be as simple as drumming up tourism or scaring children into being good. Colin Dickey traveled throughout the states, gathering these stories. Some I am very familiar with, others I had never heard of. He did put a good perspective on our hauntings, made me think about some new ideas. I never thought about our ghost stories as being part of our national mythology like this. (I still like to be scared, so I think I'll stay less of a skeptic than he is.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    I was not necessarily looking for a book that explained "hauntings" or took a biased opinion one way or the other. In fact I'm not sure why I read this but it was fairly enjoyable. The author is ambivalent about the presence of ghosts and pretty much sticks to the facts of famous haunted places....what caused them to become famous as a home for the spirits, what form did the hauntings take, and what might be the explanation. He takes a very negative view of the professional ghost hunters and the I was not necessarily looking for a book that explained "hauntings" or took a biased opinion one way or the other. In fact I'm not sure why I read this but it was fairly enjoyable. The author is ambivalent about the presence of ghosts and pretty much sticks to the facts of famous haunted places....what caused them to become famous as a home for the spirits, what form did the hauntings take, and what might be the explanation. He takes a very negative view of the professional ghost hunters and the "reality" programs on television that are basically made to titillate the public. He feels that this and the once popular practice of seances and spiritualism which in most cases turned out to be scams have influenced a large audience of believers in the supernatural.And through searching the supposed reason that a place is haunted (a murder, child abuse, etc.) he seldom finds anything that supports it. But he doesn't totally discount the presence of ghosts and suggests that some individuals are more sensitive to the environment of a haunted place than others. One really can't draw any conclusions about his research since it is often a bit vague but this is a fairly interesting book to read between more serious tomes.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Review to come

  21. 4 out of 5

    Obsidian

    I read this for the "Haunted Houses" square. "Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places" by Colin Dickey. I don't know what to say. This was a really well researched and thought out book by Colin Dickey. He provides enough information that made me want to do my own digging and research into some of the homes and other locations he mentions in this book. What I really do enjoy that there is something of an anthropologist/historian in Dickey's work that I really enjoyed. Besides looking at I read this for the "Haunted Houses" square. "Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places" by Colin Dickey. I don't know what to say. This was a really well researched and thought out book by Colin Dickey. He provides enough information that made me want to do my own digging and research into some of the homes and other locations he mentions in this book. What I really do enjoy that there is something of an anthropologist/historian in Dickey's work that I really enjoyed. Besides looking at the supposed hauntings, he goes into backstories that would have led to a person or persons to believe a haunting was occurring. This book goes into what I would call typical hauntings of homes, to hauntings of cemeteries, hotels, brothels (Mustang Ranch), cities, battlefields, and even a bridge. And the book wraps things up about how our next form of being haunted can be via social media. I personally remember being surprised one day when Facebook popped up with a memory of me with a friend who had passed away. I remember flinching and just feeling sad and hurt all over again about her passing away. It didn't even occur to me that one day, I too could be a ghost of sorts, haunting my friends and family via social media. He also mixes in popular culture (American Horror Story) along with horror books that reference some of the hauntings that he provides more details on for readers. I already said that I loved Dickey's look into the Salem Witch Trials by looking further at the "House of Seven Gables". I also loved his foray into Richmond, VA and it's ugly history of selling slaves. Heck, I loved Dickey for calling out the fact that it's weird in locations with a huge minority population or slaves, most of the ghosts were white. And or most of the hauntings surrounding women who were slaves, made them the aggressors (stealing a white man who was married) from the poor unsuspecting wife. Dickey writes a book that is unflinching about what was, what is, and what could be our future as a country when it comes to how we all will be portrayed after our deaths. He also turns a cynical eye towards so called ghost hunters who have morphed from an eclectic group of people who were interested in the history of a place, to people who are trying to gain some fame through reality television. And I loved that Dickey also debunked some of the hauntings in the book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

    I'm a fan of Eric Weiner, recently tackling his latest work The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. That book and this one struck me the same way: great content and narration, but likely more suited for print reading. Here, the chapters utilize specific examples of hauntings to make larger points. The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, though more eerie than specifically haunted, starts off the book's overall examination of Am I'm a fan of Eric Weiner, recently tackling his latest work The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. That book and this one struck me the same way: great content and narration, but likely more suited for print reading. Here, the chapters utilize specific examples of hauntings to make larger points. The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, though more eerie than specifically haunted, starts off the book's overall examination of American history and culture with a look at motivation behind the 1692 accusations, including the land on which the house stands. The author moves on to the Winchester Mystery House in California, which is more in the nature of a debunking of its myths. I don't have a print copy for reference and it took me nearly the whole three=week loan period to finish, so my recollection of all that's covered isn't perfect. However, there's a chapter on places where ghosts were contacted by Spiritualists, leading to a focus on Victorian gender issues. Later, the author asks "If the non-white experience had much tragedy, why are so many ghosts white?" to launch into a discussion of slavery (later re-visited in a chapter on New Orleans). I wasn't all that interested in the section covering prisons, so tuned out much of that one I admit. The chapter on haunted buildings gave a shout out to the local mental hospital where I was raised: Greystone Park - yay for the home team! (I had been sent there to attend commitment hearings for a while when I worked in the local court system.) I guess if I had to really boil down a synopsis: "What do the living 'get' out of hauntings?" Dickey structures the book well, with each chapter a good story on its own, but as a whole it was work for me to get through it. I'm left feeling that was from listening to that much essay-style nonfiction at a go, as opposed to the print edition? Again, the narration was very good, quite well-suited to the work, so in that regard, Your Mileage May Vary (as they say).

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Ghostland was a fascinating read but not for the original reason I checked out the book. I wanted to be spooked by various haunted locations throughout the country. Instead, I learned of the facts behind the stories and how they evolved into their modern day telling along with the various purposes that the stories serve, besides just for entertainment value. Most of the locations If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Ghostland was a fascinating read but not for the original reason I checked out the book. I wanted to be spooked by various haunted locations throughout the country. Instead, I learned of the facts behind the stories and how they evolved into their modern day telling along with the various purposes that the stories serve, besides just for entertainment value. Most of the locations are well known to anyone with an interest in the paranormal - Myrtles Plantation, The Biltmore Hotel and the Winchester Mystery House to name a few. For each location, he relates the most famous ghost story and then delves into some of the history of the city, building or events that occurred in the area. He then makes a very convincing argument for how the ghost story has functioned as an aid to the community. The functions all differ. In some cases, the stories help to sugarcoat or downplay an historical atrocity (of which there are many) or perhaps the story has been souped up to increase tourism of the area or it may be used as a cautionary tale to the community. In many cases: Hauntings keep alive neglected spaces and make them relevant to the communities once again. The author keeps a pretty even keel in his tone and treatment of the ghost stories and locations. The only time he seems to get a bit irritated is when writing about ghost hunters for profit or fame and the "dark tourism" industry, which he feels is disingenuous and potentially harmful to the scientific field of the paranormal and to the landmarks themselves, which can become vandalized due to thrill seekers. The very last section of the book incorporated technology as potential ghost makers. His examples included such things as Facebook profiles that live on after a person dies or in one case, a house that had been rigged for appliances and lights to turn off and on via computer program that was never turned off after the owner died and others moved in. I found it an interesting take on technology and one I hadn't considered before. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves both history and the paranormal. 5 enthusiastic stars!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    With an objective eye on the nation's sordid past and the observant diligence of an anthropologist, Colin Dickey removes the veil from America's ghost stories. Sure, there are some creepy retellings of legends and the inexplicable eeriness in haunted places, but the focus in this deft and engaging work is on the living—those who continue to give life to people and circumstances long dead. Dickey intermingles the characters of ghost stories with the people who continue to tell them and the histor With an objective eye on the nation's sordid past and the observant diligence of an anthropologist, Colin Dickey removes the veil from America's ghost stories. Sure, there are some creepy retellings of legends and the inexplicable eeriness in haunted places, but the focus in this deft and engaging work is on the living—those who continue to give life to people and circumstances long dead. Dickey intermingles the characters of ghost stories with the people who continue to tell them and the historical & physical context in which they reside. He unabashedly confronts the errors of these tales and dredges up long buried history that the very nature of the ghost stories attempts to keep covered. Reading this book was revelatory and surprising and I really enjoyed it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    TheYALibrarian

    Rating 3 Stars I decided to pick up the audio of this book when the amazing Caitlin Doughty (AskaMortician) highly recommended it in one of her YouTube videos. But, I was disappointed in how lack luster this book was. It didn't bring the creepy factor for me in better terms. Also, I was already aware of most of the history in this book and that was also a let down. I think what really contributes to why I did not enjoy this book much was because of the terrible narration of the audio. I thought I Rating 3 Stars I decided to pick up the audio of this book when the amazing Caitlin Doughty (AskaMortician) highly recommended it in one of her YouTube videos. But, I was disappointed in how lack luster this book was. It didn't bring the creepy factor for me in better terms. Also, I was already aware of most of the history in this book and that was also a let down. I think what really contributes to why I did not enjoy this book much was because of the terrible narration of the audio. I thought I was listening to Aaron Menke from the Lore podcast it was so monotone. So needless to say I was bored most of the time and zoned out. I might go back and read the book at some time to see if my feelings for this book is different. The format seemed a little over the place too. The chapters weren't focused on one thing and one area of the country it just jumped around. The only thing that was organized was that it went with one part being about graveyards, parks and another on hotels etc. But I think those could have also been spread out more and more organized by area like I already mentioned. I guess the only good thing I could say is that there were some interesting stories that I was not aware of and therefore enjoyed learning about it. I'm hoping that I find a better book on ghost stories I still have a huge knackering for that shit and so far I'm yet to be satiated. My quest continues I guess.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    2017: I think this book was mismarketed. It was way more academic than I was expecting and didn't supply many ghost stories that it didn't immediately disprove. In the middle section, the themes seems to get away from the author, as though he was trying to talk about too many things at once. There are many references to literature in here, which is great, but he spoiled twists to a few of those works, which is not so great. Overall I liked this and am glad I own it. I'd definitely be interested 2017: I think this book was mismarketed. It was way more academic than I was expecting and didn't supply many ghost stories that it didn't immediately disprove. In the middle section, the themes seems to get away from the author, as though he was trying to talk about too many things at once. There are many references to literature in here, which is great, but he spoiled twists to a few of those works, which is not so great. Overall I liked this and am glad I own it. I'd definitely be interested in reading more from this author in the future! 2020: I definitely got more out of this upon rereading. I do, however, think the author's note is misleading when it says "This book is not about the truth or falsity of any claims of ghosts." I consider a ghost story to be a "claim of ghosts," and this book does point out the historical inaccuracies of ghost stories when possible. However, the statement is true in that this book does not go into whether ghosts exist. This is actually interested in what the ghost stories Americans tell each other say about American culture. I do still think the theses of the chapters became less distinct in the middle of the book. Overall, though, I had a much better grasp of what Dickey was arguing. This time around I don't think it felt academic, though I am still annoyed it unnecessarily spoils plot twists in both King's Pet Sematary and Bronte's Jane Eyre. This was very thoughtful and entertaining of a read. I recommend!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marianna Neal

    This was great! Thoroughly enjoyed the book, would honestly be 100% OK with it being twice as long. Highly recommend this to anyone interested in how ghost stories and haunted places come about in the US, and how people shape them over time. It's obvious the author did a ton of research, going for facts over urban legends, and I just loved the historical/anthropological perspective here! Unfortunately, the publisher decided to not include any photos. Not. A. Single. One. This is a HUGE missed op This was great! Thoroughly enjoyed the book, would honestly be 100% OK with it being twice as long. Highly recommend this to anyone interested in how ghost stories and haunted places come about in the US, and how people shape them over time. It's obvious the author did a ton of research, going for facts over urban legends, and I just loved the historical/anthropological perspective here! Unfortunately, the publisher decided to not include any photos. Not. A. Single. One. This is a HUGE missed opportunity in a non-fiction book that gives specific examples and constantly refers to actual locations, architectural oddities, and even describes some particular photos. But the text itself is fascinating!

  28. 4 out of 5

    K Aust

    Extremely smug. I'm surprised other reviewers don't know whether Dickey believes in ghosts-- he most certainly does not, treating each legend with overt contempt. Even stories that are truly scary and unresolved, like Elisa Lam, he covers in a few dismissive words. The description had me expecting a book of, well, ghost stories. The reality is much, much more boring - a mention here and there about a legend, sprinkled among pages and pages of pontificating about history and culture. All with a ch Extremely smug. I'm surprised other reviewers don't know whether Dickey believes in ghosts-- he most certainly does not, treating each legend with overt contempt. Even stories that are truly scary and unresolved, like Elisa Lam, he covers in a few dismissive words. The description had me expecting a book of, well, ghost stories. The reality is much, much more boring - a mention here and there about a legend, sprinkled among pages and pages of pontificating about history and culture. All with a chip on his shoulder. Case in point: the never-ending chapter about the evils of slavery. Um, yeah - I'm pretty sure we all agree slavery is wrong. For heaven's sake. It was a mercy to reach the end.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Milka

    When it comes to all things supernatural or religious, I am a skeptic. If I can see it, then I can perhaps believe it. But before that, I will have a lot of questions. While I might not be a believer, there are a lot of them out there. Dickey states at the beginning of his book that, "According to one poll, 45 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts, and almost 30 percent say they've witnessed them firsthand. Though this believe lies outside the ways we normally explain the world -- cont When it comes to all things supernatural or religious, I am a skeptic. If I can see it, then I can perhaps believe it. But before that, I will have a lot of questions. While I might not be a believer, there are a lot of them out there. Dickey states at the beginning of his book that, "According to one poll, 45 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts, and almost 30 percent say they've witnessed them firsthand. Though this believe lies outside the ways we normally explain the world -- contradicting science and complicating religion -- it's a difficult belief to shake. That we continue believing in ghosts despite our rational mind's skepticism suggests that in these stories lies something crucial to the way we understand the world around us. We cannot look away, because we know something is important there." Colin Dickey's Ghostland is not the kind of book I would usually pick up, but for some reason, I felt myself gravitating toward it after reading a multiple reviews for it during the Halloween season. Though I don't necessarily believe in ghosts, I have always liked ghost stories and tales of haunted places. I even have my own experience of being on a ghost hunt (more of that later on in this review), which might have provided an extra pull for picking this book up. In Ghostland, Colin Dickey covers quite an impressive array of stories about haunted houses, haunted public places like banks and hospitals, haunted outdoor sites, and even haunted cities. Some were familiar to me beforehand, some were completely new. If you are looking for a list of haunted places in the US, look elsewhere, because while this does cover a number of haunted places around the US, it is not simply a catalog of haunted places, but rather a study of why and how those haunted places have come to be and why people still believe in then. For me, the first half of the book was more interesting than the latter part, but all and all, as a whole, this book was satisfyingly entertaining read. I especially liked the chapters focused on the haunted private properties (houses), which is the very first section of the book, and the chapter that focused on the architecture and hauntings of old mental hospitals. Writing about haunted houses, Dickey says: "A haunted house is a memory place made real: a psychical space that retains memories that might otherwise be forgotten or that might remain only in fragments. Under the invisible weight of these memories, the habits of those who once haunted these places, we fell the shudder of the ghost." He also argues: "The haunted house is precisely that which should be homey, should be welcoming -- the place one lives inside -- but which has somehow become emptied out of its true function. It is terrifying because it has lost its purpose yet stubbornly persists. Neither alive nor dead but undead, the haunted house is a thing in between." Some of the haunted houses Dickey writes about are the Merchant's House Museum in Manhattan and the House of the Seven Gables (also known as Turner House or Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) in Salem. The House of the Seven Gables probably rings a bell for fans of Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novel from the 1850s was inspired by the very house. Dickey also mentions Myrtle's plantation in Louisiana as one of the most famous haunted sites in the US and writes briefly about the ghost of Chloe, a young slave who resided at the plantation. When you google "myrtles plantation" and look for images, it instantly gives you hits featuring Chloe's ghost, images that allegedly feature her. In addition to sites associated with slavery, many locations in the United States have been alleged to be haunted by Native spirits. As you might recall, many horror movies set in the United States involve haunted houses built on Indian burial sites. Dickey writes about these narratives in following way: "The narrative of the haunted Indian burial ground hides a certain anxiety about the land on which Americans -- specifically white, middle-class Americans -- live. Embedded deep in the idea of home ownership -- the Holy Grail on American middle-class life -- is the idea that we don't, in fact, own the land we've just bought. Time and time again in these stories, perfectly average, innocent American families are confronted by ghosts who have persevered for centuries, who remain vengeful for the damage done. Facing these ghosts and expelling them, in many ways of these horror stories, becomes a means of refighting the Indian Wars of the past centuries." I think for me, one of the most interesting haunted places covered in the book was The Winchester Mystery House, which is located in San Jose, California. The house, which does not seem to end, features a number of secret rooms and hideaways. There are so many interesting pictures of it online, and after looking through those, I must admit I would not mind visiting it one day. Also, as I suspected while reading about the house, the name of the mansion was a source for the last name of Sam and Dean of the show Supernatural. I am a massive Stanley Kubrick fan, and The Shining is one of my favorite films ever. I had read about The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado before, but I was happy to see it included in this book. The hotel, which hosted Stephen King at a time, worked as an inspiration for the Overlook Hotel and the 1997 miniseries based on the book was filmed there. While the exteriors for the Kubrick film were filmed elsewhere, the Stanley Hotel as a site definitely interest me. Fun fact: the hotel shows The Shining on a continuous loop on one of the channel's available through guest room televisions. Having an access to the internet is a true blessing while reading a book like this, because you can go online and search for pictures of these places Dickey is writing about. I kept highlighting the names of the different places mentioned in this book while reading, and after I finished with the book, I spent a fair amount of time going through the places I had just read about. As a media scholar, I found the way Dickey was able to bring up the influence of the online culture within the communities who believe in the paranormal quite interesting. He also manages to discuss the fact that with platforms like YouTube, access to alleged paranormal footage has been made easier also for those who are not involved in the paranormal communities in general, i.e. the general public. Viral videos start to circulate and the more they get exposure, the more people start to believe in them. And while many videos with a paranormal nature are proved to be wrong, that information does not reach everyone, which means that there are individuals who hold their belief to what they have seen. A recent paranormal story and one that made rounds online is that focused on the death of Elisa Lam in 2013. Lam, a Canadian student visiting L.A., was staying at the Cecil hotel when she mysteriously disappeared. Almost three weeks after her last sighting, her body was discovered from a water tank located at the roof of the hotel. While her story might otherwise have remained just a tragic mystery, the elevator security video, which circulated online, raised questions about the possible paranormal involvement in her death. The video featuring her in the elevator has been watched millions of times -- it is difficult to say exactly how many views it has got, because it has circulated so widely. I remember seeing it on Facebook at the time, and the version I now accessed from YouTube has almost 17 million views. I won't insert the video here directly, because I am not quite sure how to feel about it, but if you want to watch it, you can see it from here (there is no sound in there and it is not violent or anything, but I think it is tragic that this video, one of the last times this young woman was seen, has become so sensationalized). (The video was originally shared by the LAPD, I believe, to help in the possible discovery of a missing person). If you are a fan of American Horror Story, it's "Hotel" season is based around the Cecil Hotel, which in addition to being the site of Elisa Lam's disappearance and death, once hosted serial killers like Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. As mentioned before, I found the section focused on old mental hospitals interesting. Dickey writes for example about the Danvers State Hospital, which is often named as the birthplace for the pre-frontal lobotomy. A few years ago, I watched a film called Session 9, which used the hospital as a setting -while the story of the film itself wasn't super interesting, the location is definitely very creepy. It is also believed the hospital was the inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Arkham Sanitarium. Dickey relates his discussion about the hospital to the Kirkbride Plan, a design by architect Thomas Kirkbride first implemented in 1848 at the New Jersey Lunatic Asylum. Dickey writes, "The Kirkbride asylum came to be the architectural style most thoroughly associated in the United States with the moral treatment. Rather than terrifying, the new asylum would be inviting, surrounded by lawns and gardens that patients could tend themselves. The defining features of the Kirkbride asylum include the central administration building, stately and elegant, with a central tower and elongated wings, forming a shallow V that extends back farther and farther. Part of the beauty of this architectural model was that wings could always be added farther out indefinitely. As a result, they were often massive, growing to hundreds of thousands of square feet." While the intentions behind these architectural giants might have been good, the asylums ended up presenting something completely different than peace and tranquility. While at first they were private places for the well-off to send their sick family members to, they eventually fell into state hands and began to be filled with increasing numbers of patients. They quickly became understaffed, underfunded, and identifiable as sites of horrible abuse. Dickey writes: "The ruins of the Kirkbride asylums -- and their attendant lore -- reveal how uncomfortable we've become with antiquated methods of "healing the sick". Whatever the intentions behind them, lobotomies, straitjackets, and aggressive shock therapy not strike us as barbaric and unnecessary and hover in the back of our collective consciousness. As a culture we still struggle with unresolvable questions that were once wrongly answered in places like these: Who is crazy? Are we crazy? And what can we do to assure ourselves that we aren't." I mentioned my own ghost hunting experience at the beginning of the review, and I will share that here before I add some photos and quotes to this review. As some of you might know, I studied film and theatre in Edinburgh back in the day. During my second year of studies, I was involved in a short documentary project with a local paranormal investigation group and during one dark November night, they took us for a paranormal investigation to Greyfriars Kirkyard, allegedly a site of a lot of paranormal activity (while I was doing research for this review, I came across a DailyBeast article that called it "The most haunted graveyard in the world"). While Greyfriars Kirkyard is the site from where J.K. Rowling took inspiration for the names of Harry Potter characters and a place to which many body snatching stories locate to, the poltergeist the paranormal group told us about was the one of George MacKenzie, whose mausoleum is prominently located in the graveyard. I will not go into who George MacKenzie was or what he did here (you can find plenty of information online), but I will say a few words about the paranormal investigation itself. Basically, the group had all these gadgets Dickey writes about -- expensive cameras, lights, and so on. They talked to the spirits, trying to call them up, but nothing happened (which wasn't very surprising to me). They talked about their previous paranormal experiences and warned us about the dangers of being possessed and so on. As an experience, it was one of a kind. While I did not believe in the paranormal, it was extremely interesting to hear the group talk and see how they interact together. I only spend a few hours with them, but during that time I was able to make conclusions about the group dynamic. Especially one of the guys would have made an extremely interesting character study, mostly because it felt like he was consciously trying to create this cloak of mystery around himself. If you are interested in the paranormal side of Edinburgh, there are plenty of sites online that focus on those. Here is a list of Top 10 Haunted Places in Edinburgh to start with. There are also a number of organized tours around the haunted places, though those are highly targeted to tourists and probably more for show than actually tales of the paranormal places. To conclude this review, I want to bring up one of the concluding arguments Dickey makes in his book. Throughout, his argues that many ghost stories are often modified according to the time they are told, which means that different world events and historical contexts play a role. This means that we take well-known ghost stories, relate them to something important that has happened, and create stories of our own. While the basics might remain, the unconsciously or consciously come up with something new. Writing about the prevalence of ghost stories, Dickey states: "Part of the reason that ghosts stay with us is that they remain a compelling mechanism to explain so much that is unknown in our lives. They enter and reenter our lexicon to explain the explainable, to represent the unpresentable, to give a word to that which we don't understand. " Whether you are a believer or a nonbeliever like me, I believe Ghostland has something to offer for every single reader out there. For me, it was an interesting study of the stories humans have chosen to believe in, and a look into the history of those stories. In addition, Dickey writes extremely well, which makes Ghostland an entertaining, thoroughly satisfying reading experience.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Melora

    Readers hoping for a collection of ghost stories related to American history may well be disappointed with this, but I enjoyed it very much. Dickey doesn't actually tell many ghost stories, and certainly never with the level of detail that make them fun. What he's interested in is the why of ghosts. Why certain places and circumstances inspire ghost stories, what ghosts and their stories give us that we need. This reminded me some of W. Scott Poole's Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession Readers hoping for a collection of ghost stories related to American history may well be disappointed with this, but I enjoyed it very much. Dickey doesn't actually tell many ghost stories, and certainly never with the level of detail that make them fun. What he's interested in is the why of ghosts. Why certain places and circumstances inspire ghost stories, what ghosts and their stories give us that we need. This reminded me some of W. Scott Poole's Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting, which explores historical/social developments as possible backgrounds for supernatural beliefs, except that Dickey focuses only on ghosts. His style is somewhat breezier, also, but both authors see communal guilt or discomfort with actions taken against overpowered minorities, generally native Americans and African-Americans, as an underlying “itch” which inspires many American stories of victims who refuse to permanently disappear after their deaths. Stories of murdered slaves and vengeful native American spirits reflect anxieties with histories which don't fit our preferred narratives. Also, though, Dickey regularly points out the profit motives, both financial and otherwise, which may motivate ghost stories. As well as selling tickets for ghost tour guides, ghost stories can offer cautionary tales for potentially wayward children (“don't hitchhike!”), satisfactory resolutions in cases where the wicked are indicted by their victims from beyond the grave, entertaining explanations of why particular buildings or other settings which should be mundane feel, instead, oddly unsettling. Ghost stories can accrue to many types of locations, and, section by section, Dickey explores ghosts connected with homes, hotels, brothels, asylums, cemeteries, cities, etc. Since his interest is not so much in particular stories as in the reasons that ghosts may “arise,” he tends to jump around quite a bit, bringing in stories as they support or illustrate his points. While not a “debunker,” Dickey does tend to expose most of the stories he conveys as, at least to a large extent, fictions. His interest, again, is not in the reality of the ghosts, but in why their stories are compelling enough to be told and retold. Stories which are verifiably false, though, do, particularly, invite the question of what it is that keeps them circulating. For example, he tells the story of the ghost of George D. Mason, who supposedly haunts Detroit's Masonic Temple, from the roof of which he jumped to his death due to financial woes. Dickey says, ”A popular story, yes, but among the most patently false and easily disproved ghost stories out there. Mason was eighty-eight at the time of his death, from natural causes (as any quick Google search will tell you), which took place more than twenty years after the Masonic Temple was finished. And yet the story has cachet in part because it reflects a narrative that many have about Detroit: one of ostentatious overreach, folly, and death from financial ruin. So even though it's obviously false, it still gets told and retold.” Dickey really summarizes his book nicely right up front in his “Author's Note,” when he says, ”Even if you don't believe in the paranormal, ghost stories and legends of haunted places are a vital, dynamic means of confronting the past and those who have gone before us. Ultimately, this book is about the relationship between place and story: how the two depend on each other and how they bring each other alive.” Dickey's exploration of why ghost stories are told, what they tell us about ourselves, why we enjoy them is entertaining reading.

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