Title: Ghostland: A History of America in Haunted Places
Author: Colin Dickey
2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book with an eccentric character
Thoughts: Here, dear readers, is another entry in “The Midnight Series”, the books I read to my husband in the middle of the night while feeding my beautiful little nugget of a daughter. I started this book around the end of September and wanted to read it initially because I am all obsessed with Halloween. I don’t get down on costumes, but I love a spooky story and a little Are You Afraid of the Dark? in my life. Side note: I don’t care what anyone says. That show holds. up.
Anyway, the funny thing is, this was NOT what I was expecting. I have a very vivid memory of being a girl in elementary and middle school, very into the macabre and searching the library for every ghost story collection imaginable. I just loved being creeped out. There was one specifically, and I wish I could remember the title, that scared me so much I couldn’t read it at night. I read The Little Princess at night to balance it out. I thought this book was going to be like that.
I was wrong.
But that’s ok!
What I got was the history of places that have birthed some of the best ghost stories and hauntings in America. Colin Dickey is well researched and a wonderful writer. He grabs you and pulls you in like a great history teacher who wraps his lessons in an amazing story so you forget you are learning. Among the eccentric characters he covers (see, I pulled it back to the book challenge entry) are Freelan Oscar Stanley of the Stanley Hotel the basis for the moving The Shining, two of the most famous brothel owners in the old west in Nevada, and ancestors that supposedly haunt the Appalacian Trail. But my favorite story, my favorite eccentric character, is Sarah Winchester.
So the story that goes around is that following the tragic death of her daughter, Sarah’s husband, firearm mogul William Winchester dies and she flees her east coast home and buys a ginormous house in San Jose, California. She was running from the ghosts in her own life! Upon getting the house, she consults with a medium who tells her that she needs to build onto the house and when she stops building, she will die.
No, I’m sorry what?
Long story short. She never stopped building. There were contractors on site working 24/7 in shifts. There are stairways that lead to nowhere. Giant doors that lead to closets and small skinny doors that open to ballrooms. The number 13 shows up all over the house in various forms. The place is just begging to be haunted and for people to write about it. So that’s what happened. The truth of this woman and her house is much less terrifying than legend would have you believe.
Here’s the thing though. Although the truth was less scary than I was looking for, it was still fascinating! Dickey manages to dash all my dreams of Halloween creepiness while simultaneously making me jump for joy at the amazing history he is able to uncover in these locations.
Oh! Another good one? Lemp Mansion. It’s in St. Louis and Eric and I visited there on our minimoon right after our wedding. Tell me whatever you want about the actual history of the house, I have never peed so fast and gotten out of a bathroom with more vip in my life.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in history and looking for a good read. It is history though. Don’t get it twisted. There are some bits that might take some effort, but it’s worth it. Sometimes, you go into a read with certain expectations, great expectations even, (see what I did there. #blahblahdickens) and though they might not have been met in the way you anticipated, you are still pleasantly surprised.