American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest

For decades, stories have circulated that the historic La Posada Hotel in Santa Fe, N.Mex., is haunted. Part of the hotel was once a private home, and the ghost is supposed to be its former resident, Julia Schuster Staab, great-great-grandmother of  journalist Hannah Nordhaus (The Beekeeper's Lament). In American Ghost, Nordhaus juxtaposes an investigation into her own family history with her adventures in modern-day ghost hunting, both of which she undertakes in an effort to understand this mysterious ancestor.

Nordhaus's German Jewish great-great-grandparents were prominent among the early white settlers of Santa Fe. Thanks to that prominence, their public lives were reasonably well documented, but personal records are sparser and she was unable to find any left by Julia Staab herself. A diary kept by Julia's daughter, Bertha, fills in some of the blanks, but is frustratingly vague about what Nordhaus is interested in. Much of what she encounters suggests that Julia was deeply unhappy in Santa Fe; if this was true, why would she linger after death in a place where she was so miserable in life? Nordhaus's research on hauntings leads her to consult an assortment of psychics, mediums and operators of ghost-hunting enterprises. Some of them know about the ghost of La Posada, and what Nordhaus learns from them helps her sort legend from fact.

The supernatural elements are entertaining, and Nordhaus's chronicle of her unlikely pioneer ancestors is fascinating and frequently surprising. Ultimately, American Ghost is a reflection on how the unresolved questions in our own histories can be even more haunting than ghosts. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading. 'Riting, and Randomness

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