A Long History
Why Were Americans Interested in the Supernatural?
Industrialism Fuels Americans' Interest in Ghosts
The Industrial Revolution contributed to the increased popularity of the otherworldly. For one thing, the growth of consumption communities provided large markets for a variety of goods, including books on ghosts, especially inexpensive dime novels (1). New, speedier forms of transportation and communication which came into their own after the Civil War allowed mediums and others interested in the the spirit realm to disseminate their ideas to a wider audience than in previous generations (2). Traditional newspapers and magazines, which “flooded homes and newsstands...by 1905,” carried thousands of stories dealing with ghosts, séances, and other aspects of the paranormal (3). These stories, regardless of their biases, “[brought] ghosts to public attention...” (4). Corporations contributed to this trend by mass producing games, such as the ouija board (pictured on the right) that had supernatural themes (5).
Mediums and others whose livelihoods were dependent on public enthusiasm for things that went bump in the night took advantage of the growing power of the print media by advertising in newspapers (6). These people also used relatively time worn methods of spreading their otherworldly wares such as “pamphlets, tracts,...and handbills” (7). They joined with Spiritualists to found churches based around the idea that communication with the dead was possible, and they created periodicals which were dedicated solely to exploring supernatural themes (8). Both its proponents and skeptics offered lectures and demonstrations, often to large crowds (9).
ghost, supernatural, Spiritualism, antebellum,