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?

The Industrial Revolution in America

The United States' economy expanded tremendously after 1865—spurred on by the development of new technologies and by industrialization; Eric Foner, a noted historian stated that, “Between the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century, the United States underwent Chicago's State Street, circa 1905. The image comes from a phostint card made by the Detroit Publishing Company, and is located in Pat Sabin, “Old Chicago: History & Architecture in Vintage Postcards” (1999): http://patsabin.com/illinois (accessed 7/25/04). one of the most profound economic revolutions any country ever experienced...” (1). This phenomenon had an impact on the lives of almost all Americans by 1919. Millions of people left their farms and moved to the cities where they landed low paying factory jobs. “[M]illions more...emigrated to the United States from abroad.” (2). By the early 1900s, most of these urban workers had become wedded to the national market; they worked for companies run by others and purchased goods from stores instead of creating what they needed (3). Even those remaining in the rural sections of the country found themselves increasingly tied to the national economy as a result of things like the mechanization of farm equipment and the extension by the Postal Service of mail delivery to farmers’ homes in the late 1890s and early 1900s (4).

Daniel J. Boorstin, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, provided an apt description of this process in his book, The Americans: The Democratic Experience:

A New civilization found new ways of holding men together—less and less by creed…more and more by common effort and common experience, by the apparatus of daily life, by their ways of thinking about1995 U.S. Postal Service stamp depicting RFD delivery person, which is located in the United States Postal Service website: http://www.usps.com/images/stamps/95/series.htm (accessed 7/25/04). themselves. Americans were now held together…by their wants, by what they made and what they bought, and by how they learned everything. They were held together by the new names they gave to the things they wanted, to the things they owned, and to themselves. These everywhere communities floated over time and space, they could include anyone without his effort, and sometimes without his knowing. Men were divided not by their regions or their roots, but by objects and notions that might be anywhere and could be everywhere. Americans lived now not merely in a half-explored continent of mountains and rivers and mines, but in a new continent of categories. These were the communities where they were told (and where they believed) that they belonged (5).






Last update 

September 8, 2004










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