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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

October 27, 2021: GhostStudying: Haunted Sites

[For this year’s installment in my annual Halloween series, I’ll be AmericanStudying ghosts in American society and popular culture. Boo (in the best sense)!]

First, no post on American haunted sites should fail to acknowledge Colin Dickey’s wonderful book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016). Dickey’s book is the gold standard for all things haunted sites and AmericanStudies, and you should check it out! Here, I just wanted to highlight briefly three examples of representative, telling such haunted American spaces:

1)      San Diego’s El Campo Santo Cemetery: No post on haunted sites should fail to include at least one cemetery, and San Diego’s El Campo Santo is a good choice, not only because it’s old (first used in 1849) and reported to be haunted, but also and especially because those hauntings, like San Diego itself, reveal the region’s and nation’s truly multiethnic history. Both Native American and Hispanic ghosts have been reported in El Campo Santo, and that would only be fitting for a city in which the multi-century multi-cultural histories that include those among other cultures are both officially minimized at times and yet ever-present and impossible to escape. Nothing scary about that, unless you find yourself in El Campo Santo after the San Diego sun has set…

2)      Savannah’s William Kehoe House: Savannah has long been known for its mysterious and supernatural sides, as illustrated by the popular 1994 John Berendt book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (and its successful 1997 film adaptation). The city has lots of supposedly haunted sites to choose from, but the 1892 William Kehoe House is certainly a good example: haunted by the apparently friendly apparitions of Irish immigrant turned iron magnate (and, yes, Confederate veteran—this is postbellum Georgia we’re talking about) William, his wife Annie, and a few of their ten children; and now turned into a popular bed and breakfast, because who wouldn’t want to spend the night amongst the ghosts? If El Campo Santo is the yin of haunted sites, the Kehoe House certainly seems like the yang.

3)      Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary: And then there’s Eastern State, which is kind of a combination of those two types: a ruined prison that’s supposedly haunted by the lost souls of many of its former inmates; and yet a commercial enterprise, one that particularly makes money come Halloween season by marketing those haunted souls as a tourist attraction (although it seems that that tradition has come to an end this year). The line between history and tourism, supernatural and commerce, is always somewhat blurry when it comes to these haunted sites, but Eastern State just steps all over that line and asks us to cross back and forth freely to explore these different American histories and stories. Which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound scary at all, so much as important and fun!

Next GhostStudying tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other ghost stories or histories you’d share?

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