Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Whether told around a campfire or as cautionary tales, ghost stories persist in American discourse despite a lack of conclusive evidence for the hauntings in question. In Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, Colin Dickey (Cranioklepty; Afterlives of the Saints) travels the country to investigate possessed locales and gain insight into their spooky legends. But rather than assembling a mere compendium of the nation's scariest anecdotes of the supernatural, he takes a savvy turn into the sordid annals of American history and discovers truths far more unsettling than phantoms in the night.

Salem, Mass., thrives on tourism dedicated to its infamous 17th-century witch trials, a legacy Nathaniel Hawthorne borrowed for his novel The House of the Seven Gables. While religious scapegoating makes for tragic history, and magical curses make for great fiction, Dickey analyzes how property disputes contributed to many of the accused being sent to the gallows. He considers the squalor and abuse rampant in an Ohio asylum that allowed one patient to disappear into an abandoned wing during the winter and die of exposure--leaving a stain, "a ghostly outline in chalky white," likely the result of her body fat decomposing.

Touring the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif., and the uncanny everything in New Orleans, La., Dickey artfully demystifies overgrown frights, revealing the injustices and atrocities that gave birth to them. While truth may be stranger than fiction, Ghostland's greatest chills come from traversing the eerie landscape in between. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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