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?

Why Americans Turned to the Supernatural for Entertainment

The rapid economic expansion and development of new technologies allowed post-bellum Americans, at least those with money, to enjoy luxuries and entertainments in quantities and varieties that their ancestors could have only dreamed of. They could procure “fresh meat...anywhere anytime...” (1). They could use electricity to warm their homes and light bulbs to brighten their nights. By the turn of the century, A woman working in the kitchen.  The image is located in Erika Simpkins, University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gender and Women’s Studies' homepage: http://www.uic.edu/depts/wsweb/people/alums/erika%20simpkins.htm (accessed 7/27/04). Americans could record noises onto disks, thereby allowing them to replay a familiar song again and again or to retain the voices of important people for posterity (2). However, they had to pay a price for these newfound abilities.

Daniel Boorstin summed up this cost in his book, The Americans: The Democratic Experience:

Americans...were in danger of depriving themselves of the unexpected. “Everyday miracles” added immeasurably to life, but they also subtracted something that could never be measured; Democratizing...meant thinning...Attenuation summed up the new quality of experience. Attenuated experience was thinner, more diluted, its sensations were weaker and less poignant. It was a life punctuated by commas and semicolons rather than by periods and exclamation marks (3).






Last update 

September 8, 2004










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