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






















BACK                 NEXT


Why Were Americans Interested in the Supernatural?

The Supernatural as a Means for Restoring Lost Faith (con.).

They "...cited her materializations as the proof of immortality capable of halting the religious and moral decline of the nineteenth century” (3). A Spiritualist writing in The Washington Post reminded his readers that, contrary to the beliefs of some materialists, evil did exist. He claimed to know this fact from his firsthand experience with malevolent spirits: “But I have also had other experiences which show that evil spirits can do great harm. [sic] If we are not protected...I haveNasby communicating with the spirit of Andrew Jackson from David Ross Locke, “The Struggles (Social, Financial and Political) of Petroleum V. Nasby” (Boston: I.N. Richardson, 1872) 102, in Indiana University’s Library Electronic Text Resource Service (LETRS). http://www.letrs.indiana.edu.. seen evil spirits making well-intentioned people devilish furies and obsessing weaklings to become drunkards and criminals” (4).

Many works of fiction used the supernatural world as a means of disseminating a set of values to their readers. For instance, David Ross Locke’s fictional character, Petroleum V. Nasby is representative of the racist, post-bellum South, which the author detested. Locke used this character to help him hammer home themes which were antithetical to the Southern ones (5). At one point in the story, Nasby hired a medium to perform a séance for himself and his friends in order to contact the spirits of important pro-slavery supporters who had passed away. He asked these apparitions whether or not slavery should be outlawed; he did not feel that the ghosts would answer in an objective or amoral manner. Rather, he believed that they would take his side and proclaim that the enslavement of African Americans was defensible on ethical grounds: “I HEV bin for many years disposed to bleeve in speritooalism. Ther is suthin pleasant in the idea uv bein in communicashen with them ez hev gone before, as it may be rezuably supozed that from their stan-point they kin see things in a more clearer lite than we who is encumbered with clay (6). Much to Nasby’s chagrin, each and every one of the spirits came out against the institution of slavery (7). This authorial action tied morality to the spiritual at the same time that it argued for a transcendent set of values.






Last update 

September 8, 2004










ghost, supernatural, Spiritualism, antebellum, medium, materialization,
apparition, gothic, post-bellum, phantom, paranormal, 1800s, 1900s, Anthony Hopper, literature, growth,
industrialism, needs, psychical, psychic, afterlife, non-material, spirit, American, United States