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 (con.)

D. Wendell Newhall, though referring to his experiences in the 1850s, nonetheless captured the feel of post-bellum gatherings when he wrote: “It was an association of congenial minds, and what a phenomena we were witness of...Asa we did live, I cannot say fast, as that term is used, but there was a fullness, a joyfulness, we reached a point of satisfaction...” The strength of the bonds that were formed at these meetings was evidenced by the fact that Newhall still corresponded with Asa thirty years after they both took part in the séance (6). Sometimes the relationships that were formed became A circle of spirit rappers in session by N. Orr.  The image is located in “Trying the Spirits,” the Spirit History website: http://www.spirithistory.com/matter.html (accessed 7/27/04). quite intimate indeed, and the friends became lovers (7).
Spiritualists and their supporters formed churches which allowed members to commune together in prayer and fellowship with both the living and the dead (8). Believers formed church clubs and other similar social units; they also performed missionary work like their Protestant and Catholic peers (9). These groups were loosely organized and often tolerant of a variety of beliefs, thereby providing an outlet for worship and fellowhip for men and women who were not comfortable with the tenets of traditional faiths: “It [Spiritualism] is open to all-Christian, Pagan, Jew, or materialist—and is not confined to those who have already some faith in the matter” (10). Proponents of the supernatural realm relied on other methods, such as conventions, to provide outlets develop a sense of community. These official meetings could go on for days and include lectures, séances, and other events. In the early 1890s these people organized a national convention which provided yet another opportunity for members of the various Spiritualist clubs and churches to interact with each other in both formal and informal ways (11).






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