In GHOSTLAND: An American History in Haunted Places, Colin Dickey takes readers on a road trip of the most famous haunted places in America. Discovering legends and unpacking vital histories cloaked in superstition from the haunted brothels of Reno, to the industrial ruins of Detroit, to buried treasure in the uneasy lands of the Mississippi Delta, to a Portland park famous for murder, Dickey searches these infamous spaces for a better understanding of what hauntings mean to us and what they say about our nation’s complicated history.
Dickey has made a career of understanding culture by investigating its peripheral elements—everything from mourning practices to conspiracy theories about musical tuning. While house-hunting for a fixer-upper in Los Angeles, Dickey was fascinated by the derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes” he encountered and inspired to investigate the relationship between ghosts and physical space in America.
In GHOSTLAND, we find fringe characters and stories that rub up against conventional narratives about American life and expose important currents of discrimination, suffering, and disenfranchisement. A prison, once infamous for its squalid and inhumane conditions and now closed, is repurposed as a tourist attraction for ghost seekers, and a desperately needed source of income for a fading Southern town fallen on hard times. A wealthy widow moves at the turn of the century to the relatively new outpost of the Santa Clara Valley, and with her inherited fortune builds an architectural masterpiece, a permanently unfinished, massive Victorian with dazzlingly illogical design. She was shunned by her community as a crank and a recluse during her life, only to become the ghostly overseer of the most famous haunted mansion in America after her death.
Dickey’s approach to the supernatural is agnostic; as he explores the known facts and larger implications of legend, he even investigates his own skepticism. With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living, 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. GHOSTLAND is the amazing story of how ghosts have shaped how we view our country’s past, and how we can use them to make sense of the present and the future.
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