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?

A New, Scary World: Post-bellum America

This image is a copy of an engraving of Colonial Baptist Church in Providence Rhode Island (constructed between 1774 and 1775) done by S. Hill for the “Massachusetts Magazine or Monthly Museum of Knowledge and Rational Entertainment,” August 1789 and is located in 'Religion and the Founding of the American Republic,' a Library of Congress website: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel02.html (accessed 7/26/04). Many, post-bellum Americans attended séances or purchased books on ghosts because these measures reinforced their belief that human beings did not cease to exist when they died. The question of whether or not men and women continued on in some form after their physical bodies expired is not a new one. Socrates remarked in the “Apology” that death may be “…a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness…” (1). However, this issue came to the forefront in the latter half of the 1800s as Americans had to deal with “…[t]he new philosophy of materialism brought about by the Industrial Revolution [which] challenged the rigid religiosity of older times” (2).

Whether they were happy or not, Americans living in the Colonial era and their forebears in Europe and in other parts of the globe did not usually have to deal with massive alterations in their societal structure. Most of these people lived and worked on farms (3). They produced much of what they consumed and what they wore. The rituals and patterns connected with this sort of life did not dramatically change from one generation to the next (4). And while these men and women might sometimes remain aloof from organized religion, most would probably have considered themselves to be Christians (at least in Europe) and would have taken for granted the fact that there was a heaven (5). Industrialism changed this schema.






Last update 

September 8, 2004










ghost, supernatural, Spiritualism, antebellum, medium, materialization,
apparition, gothic, post-bellum, phantom, paranormal, 1800s, 1900s, Anthony Hopper, literature, growth,
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