Author: Colin Dickey
TANTALIZING, bewitching, captivating and intriguing are only a few adjectives to describe the fascinating master piece of Colin Dickey’s must read “Ghostland”. It’s not altogether a sensational blood curdling, spine chilling or horrendous account of Ghosts rather it uncovers the hidden ideologies, guilt, and whatever it is from which we try to escape, our not so clean past, in the book’s case, America’s past. The existence of ghosts is not the core issue of the book rather it investigates the meaning of ghosts in history and contemporary American culture and society. Dickey doesn’t deviate from his usual themes of eerie studies of history and anatomical oddities and in this book he traverses the territory of haunted places in order to find out his answers and to appease his always curious eye.
Immensely fascinated by ghostly lure, he digs out the stories behind every haunted place and elaborates his viewpoint by saying that America’s ghost history, “is one of crimes unsolved or transgressions we now feel guilty about.” For many years he probed deeply and scrutinized critically the ghost stories but he only discovered an apprehensive, fidgety, and agitated America with its past.
In succession of chapters, he travels and investigates numerous speculative haunted places. As he says, “Our brains are hardwired to think in terms of place and to associate psychic value or meaning to the places we inhabit”, a few of them being well known, as the Winchester House in San Jose. The rumors about the expansion craze of its widowed owner doesn’t reveal what it explicitly represents rather it implicitly tells about the possible interest of Sara Winchester in architecture but thus conjectured story will not be sold much.
According to him, it unfolds an uneasiness about women living isolation, an uneasiness about wealth and most importantly about the sheer violence of white Americans, in the name of civilization. He visits St Louis’ Lemp Mansion, New Orleans’ Lalaurie Mansion, heard of being haunted by niggers who had been tortured cold-bloodedly, alleys devastated by Hurricane Katrina and a bridge in Portland being haunted by the spirit of a woman wrongly murdered and many more including Nevada brothel.
He concludes his account of ghost stories by claiming that the ghost stories do not reveal much about the ghosts rather they expose us, our inner selves, bares us of our so-called civilized clothing and unveils our vicious evil natures which we always conceal even from our own selves. It awakens us from our drowsy slumber of escapism and makes us stand in the bright sunlight to make our hidden selves appear in full daylight from the dark recesses of our concealments.
He strengthens his argument by giving examples from history that the unlawful and undeserved executions of minorities in Salem, the abuses of slavery, prejudiced social identities, conventionalized roles of women, and the obvious discrimination resulting in tension between rich and poor, can’t explain our atrocities and wrong doings so in order to avoid and escape from the guilt and the blame, we have coined this metaphor for the supernatural which is not the least relevant to our history of inhuman behaviors rather we have just manipulated language to defend ourselves.
Questioning our very beliefs, guiding us to our not so glorious past to make us see our misdeeds, Dickey’s “Ghostland” doesn’t teach us like a conventional preacher rather it just revises the history and leaves the reader to infer himself. As said by The Atlantic’s Citylab that Ghost land is “a stunning work of architectural theory and a spell-binding collection of true-crime tales and historical drama.”