Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (Viking Press)

In Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, Colin Dickey takes readers on a road trip of the most famous haunted places in America. Discovering legends and unpacking vital histories cloaked in superstition from the haunted brothels of Reno, to the industrial ruins of Detroit, to buried treasure in the uneasy lands of the Mississippi Delta, to a Portland park famous for murder, Dickey searches these infamous spaces for a better understanding of what hauntings mean to us and what they say about our nation’s complicated history.

Dickey has made a career of understanding culture by investigating its peripheral elements—everything from mourning practices to conspiracy theories about musical tuning. While house-hunting for a fixer-upper in Los Angeles, Dickey was fascinated by the derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes” he encountered and inspired to investigate the relationship between ghosts and physical space in America.

In Ghostland, we find fringe characters and stories that rub up against conventional narratives about American life and expose important currents of discrimination, suffering, and disenfranchisement. A prison, once infamous for its squalid and inhumane conditions and now closed, is repurposed as a tourist attraction for ghost seekers, and a desperately needed source of income for a fading Southern town fallen on hard times. A wealthy widow moves at the turn of the century to the relatively new outpost of the Santa Clara Valley, and with her inherited fortune builds an architectural masterpiece, a permanently unfinished, massive Victorian with dazzlingly illogical design. She was shunned by her community as a crank and a recluse during her life, only to become the ghostly overseer of the most famous haunted mansion in America after her death.

Dickey’s approach to the supernatural is agnostic; as he explores the known facts and larger implications of legend, he even investigates his own skepticism. With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living, 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. Ghostland is the amazing story of how ghosts have shaped how we view our country’s past, and how we can use them to make sense of the present and the future.

Praise for Ghostland

“Dickey pops sensationalist bubbles by observing the underlying racism, sexism, and classism associated with many hauntings’ long-told tales. By exposing historical inaccuracies and sociological calumny, the work treats readers to a better understanding of the socioeconomic and political milieu in which these myths gained acceptance, ultimately providing a richer, more nuanced narrative. Sophisticated readers with gothic sensibilities who enjoy literary histories, social commentary, and authoritative travelogs will find this a worthy title.”—Library Journal

“You wouldn’t expect to read about brothels, human psychology, Victorian architecture, even a suburban Toys R’ Us, and come out the other side with an entirely different understanding and appreciation for ghosts. But Colin Dickey’s writing is just that good. Ghostland is strange and un-settling in the best possible way.”—Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

“In his fantastic new book, Ghostland, Dickey hits on all the fascinating things you could want to know about our country’s haunted history. I came away from Ghostland wishing my own house was haunted because he makes it seem so interesting. Colin Dickey is a mad genius, and reading one of his books is as close to a look at his brilliant brain as we will get without use of a bone saw.”—Liberty Hardy, Book Riot contributing editor

As a writer, scholar, speaker, and co-editor of The Morbid Anatomy Anthology, Colin Dickey has established himself as an exciting new voice among American cultural historians. Dickey’s work has been anthologized and published widely, at Lapham’s Quarterly, BOMB, The Paris Review, The New Inquiry, and many others. He is a member of the Order of the Good Death, a collective of artists, writers, and death industry professionals interested in improving the Western world’s relationship with mortality. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Southern California, and is an associate professor of creative writing at National University.

Photo by John Michael Kilbane

Caitlin Doughty is a licensed mortician and death acceptance advocate. She is founder of the nonprofit The Order of the Good Death, author of the bestselling book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and recently opened her first funeral home, Undertaking LA. 

Event date: 
Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - 7:30pm
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Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101980194
Availability: Not in stock. Available To Order.
Published: Viking - October 4th, 2016

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393351903
Availability: Not in stock. Available To Order.
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 28th, 2015