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?

Ghosts: Transcending the Real (con.)

It is probably no coincidence that some supernatural From the cover of “The Haunted Lake,” 'The Boys of New York,' October 23, 1885; it is located in the Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls website. tales were set in exotic locales or buildings. This action further separated the stories from the real world and allowed readers’ imaginations even greater play. English castles represented one favorite setting for these stories because of their storied pasts as well as their imposing forms (3). An article from the June 12, 1887 issue of the New York Times provided another such juxtaposition. It discussed a haunting in an Arizona mine. Supposedly, the ghost of a Tonto Indian woman who was killed by “a party of whites” in 1868 haunted the cave (4). Authors who focused their plot in cemeteries, old houses, or in the dark of night could engender the same effect. These were times and places that were surreal; for instance, who knew what the night might hide form prying eyes. One of these stories expressed this belief:

One night, when I had been about a fortnight at the Tower, I sat up rather later than usual at my studies. A new vista was opening before me, and I seemed to be on the point of reaching over that indefinable barrier that separates us from that world in which spirit is the known reality... (5).

Ghosts’ abilities to perform superhuman feats also allowed them, and their authors, to satisfy Victorian America’s need for novelty.






Last update 

September 8, 2004










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