Book Review: Ghostland by Colin Dickey

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Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

America is a haunted country. Through the 300+ year history of European settlement on this continent, we have amassed an army of restless spirits. Certainly more than can be contained in a 300 page book. Fortunately, Dickey isn’t looking so much at the individual ghosts. Rather, he is looking at our ghostly archetypes, and what our national ghosts can tell us about our evolving history.

Dickey takes us to haunted houses, businesses, cemeteries, prisons, asylums, and towns. We march over familiar ground such as The House of Seven Gables in Salem, and the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. But Dickey shines light in the hidden corners of our collective psyche. Perhaps the Winchester House isn’t a labyrinth to entrap vengeful spirits, but rather the overblown publicity paid to a fiercely independent woman who felt no desire to conform to society’s mores.

Dickey brings this fresh approach to the Moundsville Penitentiary, and to the Mustang Ranch. To the antebellum ghosts of Richmond, Virginia (why, with a notorious slave market in town, are all the ghosts white?), and to the city of Detroit, where “ruin porn” has turned the city itself into a sort of ghost.

Ghost stories are common, and the most famous legends have been repeated time and again. Dickey spins us away from the well-trod path, and into the darkened forest of our own history and collective psyche. And, as it turns out, that might be all we need for a scary story.

Ghostland is currently available for purchase.

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