The Bookworm Sez: The stories behind the bumps in the night

The Bookworm Sez: The stories behind the bumps in the night

Everything seems a little eerier lately, doesn’t it?

Maybe that’s because the days are shorter and nights throw shadows. The wind blows a little differently. Newly-bare branches look like skeletal fingers and pumpkins guard the house next door, making things feel a bit unsettling. ‘Tis the season — or maybe, as in the new book “Ghostland” by Colin Dickey (c.2016, Viking, $27, 320 pages), history is to blame.

Do you believe in ghosts? If the answer is affirmative, you’re in good company; says Colin Dickey, nearly half of all Americans say they do and almost a third of us claim to have seen one. And if we believe in ghosts, it’s natural to tell stories about them; Pliny the Younger did, which means ghost stories have been around awhile.

For “several years,” Dickey traveled the country looking for such tales, and they weren’t hard to find: nearly every town of any size lays claim to some sort of haunting. The real stories, however, are where those legends originated.

Take Salem , Massachusetts, for instance. As the tale goes, a small group of teenage girls accused some townspeople of witchcraft, and residents were put to death for it. What’s missing from the legend, says Dickey, is money.

Or take the Winchester House in San Jose. Yes, it’s sprawling and weird, but the myth of the spirits of gun-murder victims is not quite right. Sarah Winchester had purchased an unassuming farmhouse and undertook the vast project to make room for visiting family. Says Dickey, “At some point, the perpetual building seems to have become a pretense to keep her family away.”

In his quest for the creepy, Dickey spent the night in a mansion once owned by a cursed family (and slept well). He examined a haunted toy store, and a hotel that spawned a novel. He noted that all the ghosts in one haunted area were white, despite that slave auctions happened just down the road. He looked at Indian burial grounds — and, indeed, many moldering old cemeteries and churchyards — including both in Louisiana, where hauntings are frightfully common. And yes, he found unexplainable things.

“The dead are watching,” he says, “whether or not we choose to listen to their stories.”

No two ways about it: things go bump in the night. But according to author Colin Dickey, there might be a perfectly good reason for that. Maybe.

And that’s what makes “Ghostland” so darn fun to read: the maybe inside the stories we love to tell on dark, quiet nights. That maybe here leaves the door open for possibilities — and on that note, Dickey strikes a great balance between too much examination and just-right, between debunking old stories and letting readers decide what’s a haunt and what’s not. He informs us with sometimes-surprising stories-behind-the-story, then leaves us to stew in our own fears.

Best of all, you can still take this book to bed with you: it’s factual and even educational, but not so much that it fails to thrill. For readers of erudite eeriness, that makes “Ghostland” a just right fright.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

More in Life

Frenchy Vian, who posed for many photographs of himself, was acknowledged as a skilled hunter. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 2

In fact, Frenchy’s last name wasn’t even Vian; it was Viani, and he and the rest of his immediate family were pure Italian

File
Minister’s Message: Share God’s love even amidst disagreement

We as a society have been overcome by reactive emotions, making us slow to reflect and quick to speak/act and it is hurting one another

This image shows the cover of Juneau poet Emily Wall’s new book “Breaking Into Air.” The book details a wide array of different birth stories. (Courtesy Photo)
A book is born: Juneau author releases poetry book portraying the many faces of childbirth

It details “the incredible power of women, and their partners”

Lemongrass chicken skewers are best made on a grill, but can be made in the oven. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion
On the strawberry patch: Tangling with waves

Lemon grass chicken skewers top off a day in the surf

This photo of Frenchy with a freshly killed black bear was taken on the Kenai Peninsula in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 1

The stories were full of high adventure — whaling, mining, polar bear hunting, extensive travel, and the accumulation of wealth

File
Seeing God’s hand in this grand and glorious creation

The same God of creation is the God that made me and you with the same thoughtfulness of design, purpose and intention

Chewy and sweet the macaroons are done in 30 minutes flat. (Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Sophisticated, simplified

When macarons are too complicated, make these delicious, simple macaroons

Michael S. Lockett / capital city weekly
Gigi Monroe welcomes guests to Glitz at Centennial Hall, a major annual drag event celebrated every Pride Month, on June 18.
Packed houses, back to back: GLITZ a roaring success

Sold-out sets and heavy-hitting headliners

Michael Armstrong / Homer News 
Music lovers dance to Nervis Rex at the KBBI Concert on the Lawn on July 28, 2012, at Karen Hornaday Park in Homer.
Concert on the Lawn returns

COTL line up includes The English Bay Band, a group that played in 1980

Marcia and Mary Alice Grainge pose in 1980 with a pair of caribou antlers they found in 1972. The sisters dug the antlers from deep snow and detached them from a dead caribou. (Photo provided by Marcia Grainge King)
Fortune and misfortune on the Kenai — Part 2

In Kasilof, and on Kachemak Bay, in Seldovia and later in Unga, Petersen worked various jobs before being appointed deputy marshal in 1934