A Long History

Rise of Spiritualism

Industrial Revolution

Industrialism and Ghosts

Post-bellum America

Supernatural and Hope

Supernatural Restores Faith

Ghosts Build Communities

Comfort to Bereaved

Why the Supernatural was Entertaining

Transcending the Real

Ghosts and Mystery

Ghosts and Thrills

Entertainers Cash In

Laughing at Ghosts 

Anthony Hopper






















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Why Were Americans Interested in the Supernatural?

The Supernatural: A Long History

Humanity’s love affair with the supernatural goes back millennia. This remains the case even if one narrowly defines the term to include only the spirits of deceased human beings. Western cultures as diverse as that of ancient Greece and Elizabethan England contained references to the spirit world" (1). People in other parts of the globe have also shown an interest in apparitions and similar manifestations. In the Tale of Genji, composed by a Japanese woman in the 11th century A.D., Genji's first wife is attacked by the souls of dead individuals who are tied to the family in some way (2). A number of African American cultures have made the belief in Hamlet sees the ghost of his father from Act I, Scene IV of “Hamlet“ by William Shakespeare. Eugéne Delacroix, “Hamlet Sees the Ghost of His Father,“ in Emory University's Index of English Classes website: http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Shakespeare_illustrated/dh.html (accessed 7/25/04). ghosts an integral part of their religious practices (3).

Early Americans did not differ from their forebears when it came to this topic. Antebellum material is dotted with discussions of the spirit world (4). Famous authors such as Charles Brockdon Brown and Washington Irving wrote stories with supernatural themes (either depicting the paranormal as a sham or as a reality) (5). It is quite likely that the various localities in Colonial America could boast of their haunted houses and cemeteries. Parents probably passed well-worn ghost stories on to their children. However, interest in the otherworldly remained largely a regional and local affair until the middle part of the 19th century.






Last update 

September 8, 2004










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