Book Review: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Once again, we have an author lifting up the language and unspoken stories of the oppressed; examining the perspectives and circumstances of the alternate embellished—often compelling—history to the voices and narratives silenced; scrutinizing the actual ghost tale told by the oppressors or the oppressed, the victims or the perpetrators; anecdotes transformed over time—made mythical by their troublesome and often exploitative and dehumanized actions—for entertainment purposes and to make the injustices feel more palatable about horrific actions and the absolution that may or may not be solved on our converged histories and cultures, and ultimately, our humanity.

“The Forbidden history.” Or from the voices silenced, the retribution denied them exercised through supernatural vengeance. Maybe?

“Uncomfortable truths, buried secrets, disputed accounts: ghost stories arise out of the shadowlands, a response to the ambiguous and the poorly understood.”

“Perhaps it’s true that ghost stories arise from an injustice unavenged, but perhaps it’s also true that part of what keeps such injustices alive in our consciousness is the titillating possibility that they were not entirely unjust.”

“Our ghost stories center on unfinished endings, broken relationships, things left unexplained. They offer an alternative kind of history, foregrounding what might otherwise be ignored.”

The author examines occurrences at the heart of specific places; their architecture and anything culturally and historically related to the tales constructed over time that have morphed into something other.

It’s a fascinating book—one of my favorites—and one that I hope can be replicated on other venues and tales.

“Most cities commemorate their pasts, often with statues, plaques, renamed streets, or even parades. But cities that are haunted don’t just try to keep the past alive; they seem to straddle past and present, as though two versions of the same city are overlaid on top of each other. To paraphrase Hamlet, hounded by the ghost of his father: time in these places is “out of joint.” The past seethes in the streets, always on people’s lips, always at the edge of one’s vision. In such places the past may be dead but it isn’t past.”

― Colin Dickey, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

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