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?

Using Ghosts to Build Communities

Some Americans were interested in the supernatural world because it helped bolster their faith against the twin "evils" of materialism and scientism. New York tenement housing (1898); the image is located in “Tenement Life,” The Big Apple Journal for Kids (New York Historical Society website, 1999): http://www.nyhistory.org/education/tenement.html (accessed 7/27/04). However, many more people participated in events connected with the otherworldly because these actions helped them to cope with the dehumanizing effects of industrialization. Millions of blue-collar workers living in the United States between the Civil War and World War I worked in low paying factory jobs which in the words of one contemporary “’...degrad[ed] men into the position of mere feeders of machines’” (1). The large numbers of immigrants coming into the country during this period had to deal with being “...uprooted...from the traditional patterns of culture in their homelands and thrown into contact with people of widely differing cultures who were also cut off from their traditional roots” (2). Almost everyone had to contend with a society that became ever more complex and lonely in the years following the War Between the States (3). American culture attempted to provide various remedies to this malaise. Labor unions grew in number during the period. They “...fostered a sense of mutual responsibility...” in contrast to the “impersonal” workplace (4). Fraternal organizations provided another outlet for fellowship, which partly accounted for their phenomenal growth after 1865 (5). Victorian Americans’ need for these types of bonding experiences helped sustain their interest in the supernatural realm. For instance, séances offered individuals a chance to gather together with others of similar mind.






Last update 

September 8, 2004










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