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
























Why Were Americans Interested in the Supernatural?

Laughing at Ghosts

Ghost stories did not always have to be scary or even serious; writers found that the supernatural world could be humorous as well. Their narratives encompassed many different forms though most of their plots relied on their readers’ cognizance of supernatural shams, such as faked séances, to create the comedy. One short essay first appearing in the Lincoln Journal was representative of this type:

[Speaker 1] Do you believe in ghosts? [Speaker 2] I do nowadays, but I didn’t formerly. [Speaker 1] What made you change your mind? [Speaker 2] Since you moved in the house next door to me my wood pile has gone down wonderfully. [Speaker 1] Sir! [Speaker 2] Yes, and I looked out last night and saw a white-robed spectre carrying an armful of wood toward your place, but I have bought a gun and I’m going to see to-night how buckshot and phantoms act together. So you must be going? Well, good-bye (1).

This piece relied on the public’s knowledge of supernatural scams to generate laughter, or at least chuckles. The séance scene in Petroleum Nasby was effective because most of its readers were familiar with the newspaper accounts of fraudulent mediums (2).





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