Publisher: Viking, October 2016
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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 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.
Even if the paranormal isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying a certain mystical element to American history. From the haunted streets of Salem to the plains of the Native American nations, there’s a piercing awareness that we’re not alone. Colin Dickey’s Ghostland was meant to tell this story.
I say “meant” intentionally. Dickey divvied up his book first into different types of ghost stories (graveyards, cities, etc.), then into various locations within each category. I was thrilled. Usually, I’m not a big paranormal fan, but the prospect of combining my recent love for true crime (thanks to My Favorite Murder) and our newfound desire to travel America, I was hooked. The chapter that sealed the deal? New Orleans. I went to the Big Easy a year ago for work, so I can’t wait to go back with M.
But I digress…
I was hoping Ghostland would tell me the ghost stories of America, paired with the unique history of each, and leave me marking my travel map with must-sees. Instead, Dickey dissects each tale with a faintly condescending academia, implying how people are crazy for not looking at these stories in a coherent light.
Sure, finding out the truth about the secret staircase in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, House of Seven Gables, was fascinating. Unique. Defined America’s perception of not only the house but the author. But I wanted the story, not the analytics.
Chapter after chapter, story after story, Dickey analyzed each tale to death (no pun intended) so that I began skipping his critiques and read the short paragraph telling the story, then researching it on Wikipedia.
So why three stars? Because Dickey was honest about the book’s focus. I had built it up in my mind to be more than it was. His versions of the stories were engaging and fascinating, inspiring me to search them out for myself.
If you’re looking for tales about haunted America, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. But if you are hoping for a realistic perception and critical analysis of America’s ghost stories, Ghostland is for you.