Ignore boastful monuments and landmarks, go straight to haunted houses
October 13, 2016 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Colin Dickey has spent a lot of time traveling the country searching for local ghost stories and haunted places, and from those experiences he shares thoughts on the Winchester Mystery House and the spinster trope in ghost stories (Google books preview), the glaring omission in ghost stories about Richmond, Virginia, the origin of the Native American burial ground trope in ghost stories, how a ghost story can evolve and the craziest story heard while researching the book*.

* These links are generally to sites and resources not directly mentioned in the NPR article/interview, to broaden the general context. But specifically on the Bedford, N.Y. story:
if you go to the center of town, there's this great old oak tree. And if you, on Halloween, walk backwards around the tree three times with a dead cat on your shoulder, ghosts will appear
it's hard to find a specific reference to that location and series of events to evoke ghosts, so instead here are a collection of haunted places in New York, some of which include circling a location three times plus haunted places in Bedford, NY, and more specifically a tale of the Boutonville oak tree and the drunkard farmer who carelessly lost his children to a house fire as he drank at a local tavern.

If you want to find more purported haunted locations, Wikipedia has a list of reportedly haunted locations throughout the world, and some countries have their own pages of haunted locations (Canada and the UK, for example), and The Shadowlands has lists for each US state as well as other countries. Haunted Places lets you search the US by a dynamic map of the country, so you can click on a state then get a list and a state map of locations.

If you're looking to start your own legends or myths, this list of superstitions, myths, legends, folklore, omens and lucky sayings are scattered and general enough that you can stitch a few together to get your own Bedford oak tree-like series of steps to call forth spirits. Or if you're looking to write a spooky story, TV Tropes has a long list of horror tropes to harvest.

But if you'd like to come back and haunt someone, the internet also has some guides on how to become a ghost: four ways to become a ghost from WikiHow; Boldsky lists five reasons why people become ghosts after death; Spiritual Research Foundation has a longer write-up on the hows and whys of becoming a ghost, as does Mostly Ghosts, but it looks like they might have cribbed heavily from SRF; and if you want to become a ghost while you're still alive and not just a ghost on the internet, Yahoo Answers has some suggestions, though they might not be grounded in reality.
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

I went to New Orleans a few years ago with some friends, and a couple of them thought it would be fun to do a "Haunted New Orleans" tour. I'm a very skeptical person, I don't believe in anything supernatural, but my friends wanted to do it so I figured I'd join them and go in with an open mind and just enjoy it for fun.

It ended up being the worst two hours of my life, and that includes the two hours I spent getting a cyst cut off from the inside of my eyelid.

First of all, it was late May in New Orleans, so the temperature was about 270 degrees Fahrenheit and humid as fuck. I am a a Teva/Keen wearing nerd and nobody told me the sidewalks in New Orleans are crawling with the world's fastest cockroaches, so I occasionally had to punt one of them into orbit when it crawled across my bare toes.

The tour guide was a failed actor who tried to add drama to his stories by saying stuff like "...and some people say, when the wind blows... you can still hear her walking across the floor... step... by step... by step." with occasionally modifications like "brick... by brick... by brick" but in a way that didn't make the story suspenseful, but only made us feel pity for this poor guy.

To top it off, this wasn't actually a tour of ghost legends from the 1800s like we were expecting, it was mostly a tour of things like "so in 1984 in this house a guy stabbed his wife to death and then shot himself" and other grizzly murders from the past few decades that had nothing interesting about them other then the fact that they were horrible.

I don't know what the point of my story is other than to say that's the last time I'll ever open my mind about anything.
posted by bondcliff at 11:09 AM on October 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Spooky chicken. I enjoy listening to ghostly creepy podcasts this time of year. Anything Ghost and Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast are fairly good. Hometown Tales was also quite good, but appears to be mothballed.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Haunted tours are definitely the kind of thing I appreciate more in theory than practice. So, reading descriptions of the kinds of things that normally end up on haunted tours is a happy medium for me.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:13 PM on October 13, 2016

On the cultural "work" that ghost stories perform, especially in settler societies, I've always been partial to Judith Richardson's Possessions: The History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley. It's certainly informed how I read local ghost stories and the reasons why they're told.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:25 PM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm reading Dickey's book right now, and I've learned a lot from it, including the connection between ghosts and the KKK.
posted by LindsayIrene at 4:41 PM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having read the part of the NPR interview and links dealing with "Native American burial grounds," I have to say I'm not entirely convinced. The '60s land claim cases might be the immediate context of Stephen King's idea of native haunting, but it's a much wider phenomenon than that. When I was researching gothic tropes and spooky stories in colonial New Zealand for an article I wrote a few years ago, I found that the Maori burial place was already imbued with dread and anxiety in the white settler imagination in the Victorian period. It might not have produced ghosts, exactly, but it did produce a sense of horror, of "ghastliness," that certainly has encoded within it the sense of prior possession that indigenous bones provide the concrete evidence of. In settler stories (both ethnographies and novels), this sense of anxiety is bound up in the Maori concept of tapu (cf. "taboo") and the dire consequences that might befall an unsuspecting settler for breaking it by, for instance, trespassing on a burial site.

Of course, later (in the '60s and '70s), stories of Maori ghosts do start to emerge in suburban folklore, and that definitely has to do with anxieties about land tenure and the politics of breaking new ground for suburban expansion in a settler society, but the anxieties had always been there, I'd argue, just inflected differently.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:14 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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