A Long History
Why Were Americans Interested in the Supernatural?
The Supernatural as a Means for Restoring Lost Faith
Many Americans living in the latter half of the 19th and in the early part of the 20th centuries believed in the supernatural because this action helped to reinforce their religious convictions. This prop was especially useful in counteracting the materialist and amoral influences of science and technology (1). J. H. Hyslop, a professor at Columbia University and head of the American Center for Psychical Research in 1909, echoed the sentiments of others when he stated that, "[e]very institution connected with social, moral, and religious life must be profoundly affected, whether for good or ill, by such an assurance as may be given by psychical research of a future life, the doubt about which has turned the aspirations of modern civilization from the moral to the economic ideal" (2).
Academics were not the only ones who held out the hope that people would regain their moral footing if science was able to validate the claims of mediums and of witnesses to hauntings. The Atlantic published articles in its December 1874 and in its January 1875 issues which lauded the claims of Katie King, a medium who supposedly conjured up spirits for her audiences.
ghost, supernatural, Spiritualism, antebellum,