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?

Comfort to the Bereaved (con.)

The popularity of these books also demonstrated that people turned to the supernatural world in order to help them relieve their anxieties. In The Dead Have Never Died, Randall tried to assuage readers’ concerns about the fate of deceased loved ones by depicting the exact process by which the soul left the body. He hoped that, by providing his audience with this information, he could remove the uncertainty which surrounded the death process (3). A July 5, 1882 article in The Washington Post attempted the same feat. In it, the medium Myra Carpenter recounted the last moments of her mother’s life (and new birth) in minute detail. The Spiritualist A spirit photo of Mary Lincoln and her deceased husband. It was taken by William Mumler and is located in Troy Taylor, “Spirit Photography: Its Strange and Controversial History,” The Haunted Museum website: http://www.prairieghosts.com/ph_history.html (accessed 7/27/04). was probably motivated to give this information to the public in part because she hoped to assuage the fears of those left behind. Carpenter’s mother represented the ideal: “Her failing health admonished that her end for this life was near, but she viewed it with calmness, for her thoughts were full of the life to come and her hopes placed on her Father in Heaven. Death had no terrors for her” (4).

Many Americans were not content with simply proving that their deceased parents or children lived on in spirit form. They wanted to communicate with these apparitions. They attended séances, or used a ouija board, or tried other methods to contact the otherworldly because they wanted to sustain the emotional ties that existed when the decedents were alive. Historian Geoffrey K. Nelson explained this phenomenon in his book, Spiritualism and Society:

The majority of the members of the movement [Spiritualism] are attracted for reasons which [Charles Y.] Glock defines as ethical or psychic deprivation...Glock believed that psychic deprivation is “primarily a consequence of severe and unresolved social deprivation.” In the case of Spiritualists, it appears that the social deprivation is in a high proportion of cases of one particular type. It is the deprivation that arises from the death of a close relative, or more rarely, of a friend (5).






Last update 

September 8, 2004










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