American history and haunted places are two of my favorite things! What a treat to find them both together in one book.
Dickey has this to say in his introduction:
If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses…Tune out the patriotic speeches and sanctioned narratives, and listen instead for the bumps in the night.
That is so true! The haunted places in a town or city are where you find the dirty secrets, the underbelly, the stuff nobody wants you to know about. Stories of ghosts are usually stories of some kind of trauma or betrayal or tragedy–and these stories also give these tragedies some meaning after the fact. There can be justice or understanding where there wasn’t any in life. A community can make sense of a terrible occurrence through weaving tales of hauntings.
Ghostland is a tour of haunted places which never delves into whether ghosts are real or not. The fact that ghost stories endure is real enough, and that is what matters to Dickey. The focus is on what ghosts do for the living, what purposes they serve to individuals, communities, and cultures.
The tour travels all across the United States, from houses to hotels to restaurants to prisons to graveyards to whole towns. Dickey is a wonderful tour guide. He’s informed and passionate and a great storyteller. The atmosphere he creates makes you feel that you’re traveling along with him.
The book also addresses the fact that we live in a changed world. What do the ghosts of the digital age look like, of the information age? He mentions how digital lives on social media continue after death, and how that’s a kind of haunting. But in the end, we’ll always need ghosts, because we’ll always need a way to deal with death and mortality. The guises and trappings might change, but ghosts and haunted places will always be with us in one way or another, and they’ll always adapt to meet our needs.
Only four days to go until the big day! Plenty of time for some ghostly armchair travel to get you in the mood.