What haunted houses teach us Ghost sto­ries are a way to ex­am­ine our past, trauma

Week­end, Oc­to­ber 13-15, 2017

StarMetro Calgary - - TRAVEL - Matt RouRkE/aP THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Haunted houses tell us a lot of sto­ries. But those sto­ries are not just about ghosts.

Colin Dickey, the au­thor of Ghost­land: An American His­tory in Haunted Places, went around the coun­try vis­it­ing haunted houses to see if they “could tell us some­thing about who we are as a coun­try, or as a peo­ple, or how we un­der­stand the past.”

In an in­ter­view for the AP Travel pod­cast Get Outta Here, Dickey said ghost sto­ries help us “talk about things in the past we might not oth­er­wise have con­fronted.”

Places with a dark past Ex­am­ples of places with a dis­turb­ing past that bill them­selves as haunted at­trac­tions in­clude the LaLau­rie Man­sion in New Or­leans, where slaves were treated with ex­tra­or­di­nary bru­tal­ity, or Philadel­phia’s Eastern State Pen­i­ten­tiary, an aban­doned prison.

Dickey de­scribes Eastern State as “a bro­ken-down cas­tle with stone crenel­lated tow­ers” where “it’s easy to imag­ine” a his­tory of “atroc­i­ties and vi­o­lence.”

“Ghost sto­ries in many ways are a way for us to ap­proach our own his­tory,” Dickey said, “and our own his­tory is com­pli­cated.”

Myth of the lonely woman Dickey also no­ticed that haunted sto­ries some­times re­volve around women who never mar­ried or who were wid­owed young. Some­times these women were viewed as hav­ing been frozen in time, liv­ing out their lives in a de­cay­ing house. But he says the facts of­ten tell a dif­fer­ent story, sug­gest­ing that these in­di­vid­u­als may have been viewed as odd or even spooky be­cause their lives as sin­gle women didn’t fit cul­tural norms.

The Winch­ester Mys­tery House, a 161-room man­sion in San Jose, Calif., is a good ex­am­ple. Sarah Winch­ester’s father-in-law de­vel­oped the Winch­ester ri­fle, so she and her hus­band were wealthy heirs. Their only child died in in­fancy, and Sarah’s hus­band died soon after. Dickey says sto­ries of­ten paint her as hav­ing lived out her life in per­pet­ual grief, haunted by the ghosts of ev­ery­one who’d ever been killed by a Winch­ester ri­fle, and “build­ing this labyrinth to keep them at bay,” Dickey said. But Dickey says the truth dif­fers from the leg­end.

“She got on with her life as a widow, but all things con­sid­ered, a rel­a­tively happy widow,” he said. The ghost sto­ries came about, he spec­u­lates, be­cause “a woman liv­ing alone hap­pily just doesn’t fit in our cul­ture.” Us­ing ghost sto­ries to en­gage Dickey also points out that the haunted house in­dus­try has be­come im­por­tant as a way to raise money to pre­serve old build­ings. Many his­toric sites have em­braced haunted tours as a fun way to en­gage vis­i­tors who will gladly pay for a ghost tour, but who might not sign up to learn about 19th-cen­tury cus­toms or an­tiques.

Take for ex­am­ple the Mer­chant’s House Mu­seum on East Fourth Street in Man­hat­tan. The 1830s row house was home to the fam­ily of Se­abury Tred­well. Five of the eight Tred­well chil­dren never mar­ried. Seven peo­ple died in the house, the last of them Gertrude Tred­well in the 1930s. Reg­u­lar tours of the Mer­chant’s House care­fully stick to the facts, telling vis­i­tors only what is known from cen­sus records and other re­search about who lived in the house and when, or what can be gleaned from phys­i­cal ev­i­dence, like dents left in the floor by fur­ni­ture rou­tinely laden with heavy plates of food.

But the Mer­chant’s House also ad­ver­tises haunted tours, which are es­pe­cially pop­u­lar dur­ing the Hal­loween sea­son. For decades, Mer­chant’s House staff was warned against re­peat­ing ghost sto­ries, ac­cord­ing to spokes­woman Emily Hill-Wright. But in the last 10 or 15 years, the mu­seum has em­braced the op­por­tu­nity to use the tales as “a won­der­ful way to bring in new au­di­ences. Peo­ple will come in be­cause they hear that we’re haunted. Once we get them in­side, they re­al­ize what a spe­cial place this is.”

Eastern State Pen­i­ten­tiary in Philadel­phia took in its first in­mate in 1829, closed in 1971 and re­opened as a mu­seum in 1994. the Winch­ester Mys­tery House in San Jose, Calif. has a dizzy­ing num­ber of rooms, 161 in to­tal.

MaR­Cio JoSE SanCHEz/aP

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s a hy­brid com­muter air­craft Seat­tle-based startup Zunum Aero has plans to launch a plane with a hy­brid en­gine by 2022.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.