Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

Last year, I horrified someone.  I didn’t mean to.  She asked me why I was in Old Alexandria, and I said that I had read the Ghosts of Virginia series and was interested in the history.  She gave me that disappointed look, that the one that says you are stupid.


                What she didn’t understand or know is this – I like ghost stories because in part, I like to know the stories behind the ghost stories.  To me, they are folklore and interesting because of that.  True Joel Chandler Harris presents tales that can be seen as trying to make slavery less bad.  That is until you realize that figures like Brer Fox and Wolf are, in fact, the slave owners who get it handed to them every single time.  Don’t believe me, read his version of three little pigs that he took down from a former slave.  The pigs are not pigs, and the wolf is not a wolf.


                So, folklore, in particular when it is good, can interest people.  Taylor Jr. who wrote the Ghosts of Virginia series didn’t hide the disturbing aspects of VA history.  The stories he told were also done to get people curious about history. 


                Dickey seems to feel that way too because his Ghostland is, in part, a look at the real stories behind the ghost stories.  At times, he examines why there are some type of ghosts and not others.  He does this by visiting and writing about some famous, and not so famous, haunted places.  Then he dismantles the story in some cases.  This isn’t to say that Dickey totally disbelieves in ghost.  I don’t know.  At times, he seems conflicted.  I guess he is like me.


                While Dickey does cover the well-known ghost places, like the Winchester Mystery House, and does tell the truth about such places, the best writing is in the analysis of ghost stores from the southern states.  Dickey’s comments about why there are so few stories about vengeful slave ghosts as opposed to the standard “concubine” or white people ghost are actually really well thought out and worth the price of the book alone.  Truly.