Title: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places
Author: Colin Dickey
Narrator: Jon Lindstrom
Audiobook Length: 10 hours; 48 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 4 October 2016
“Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and ‘zombie homes,’ Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as ‘the most haunted mansion in America,’ or ‘the most haunted prison’; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.
With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living—how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? 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—Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved.
Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we’re most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.”
Thoughts on the Novel: Haunted houses have always fascinated the American public. So much so that they have become tourist attractions across the country. Homeowners brag about the ghostly visitors in their houses. Cities thrive on ghost tours. Millions of TV viewers watch the various ghost hunting shows on cable networks. Ghosts are big business.
Ghostland is not so much another attempt to uncover paranormal activity as it is another way to explore the idea of something haunted. Ghosts may not exist in the physical sense but the stories behind the ghost stories explain much about life at the time of the first mention of a haunting. Whether it is an eccentric and independent woman who felt more comfortable alone than in public, a hospital that was anything but humane, a house built with slave labor, or owners forced to abandon the house they could no longer afford to keep, each of these dwellings comes with a story, and the ghosts lie within that story.
It is an unusual but thoughtful way to consider the idea of ghosts and hauntings. After all, everyone who has ever moved into a new house experiences some lingering trace of the former owners. According to Mr. Dickey, that trace of prior ownership – the joy and sorrow the house has seen – is a haunting. Every owner leaves something behind, whether it is in the form of memories or something more concrete like a bitter note written on a wall. The sorrow and pain from a former insane asylum becomes palpable over time, and the anxiety of an introvert at the thought of hosting family takes shape in constant preparations required to make the house habitable for said family. Ghosts therefore are not spiritual entities but rather something even more nebulous but more powerful.
Through Mr. Dickey’s insight, there is much more than meets the eye about these haunted locations. Sadly, the truth is never mentioned during tours of these sites. After all, no one wants to tour a house in Salem that was built after the witch trials, and no one wants to hear that those witch trials were about land ownership and property grabs than about actual witches. Still, Mr. Dickey’s explanations leave room for a new form of ghost that is equally intriguing and terrifying. After all, the past has its own way of haunting the present.
Thoughts on the Audiobook: Jon Lindstrom is a decent narrator. He is a viable stand-in as the author, as he narrates this first-person exploration of ghostly dwellings around the house. As the subject matter is less spooky and more intriguing, he engages the reader as well as informs him. The entire performance makes for a decent audiobook. However, the lack of images to go along with the descriptions of the dwellings Mr. Dickey describes makes this a book that is probably more effective in print.