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Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  5,410 ratings  ·  1,050 reviews
An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collect
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Viking
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Jesse (JesseTheReader)
Ghostland gives us a look at some of America's most "haunted" places. It often brings in the receipts and demolishes several rumors surrounding these places. For the most part I found this book entertaining. It was cool to see him debunk several myths surrounding stories I'd heard before. The narrator definitely makes you look at these ghost stories from a different angle. I'll admit that I found a few sections a bit bland, but for the most part this was a pleasant read. I thought going in that ...more
Matt
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
“Do I believe in ghosts? No, but I am afraid of them.”
- Marie Anne de Vichy Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand


One summer, around the time I was in middle school, I spent a week at a friend’s family-farm in central Minnesota. The farmhouse was a familiar type, nestled in a copse of trees and surrounded by otherwise-treeless fields. The house was old and sprawling and had been subjected to several additions over the years, so that the interior was filled with odd nooks and corners, with shadows and str
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Justin Tate
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating analysis of ghost stories, their lore, and cultural significance. The book isn't cheesy and doesn't try to prove or disprove the spirit realm. On the contrary, it is a historical, literary (and sometimes personal) analysis of hauntings, iconic haunted locations and noteworthy specters.

Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit. A well-written cross-country tour of haunted places--some I have heard of, and others that were new--that spans over time and even projects us into the future. Dicke
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Diane S ☔
Oct 09, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 An overview of some of the places in America that are said to be haunted and the stories behind them. Often debunking some of what we think we know about them, such as the myth behind the Winchester House, Amityville, and Danvers asylum, all well known. Different movements such as spiritualism and the notorious Fox sisters. Haunted graveyards, battle grounds, plantations and other places where spirits are said to be restless, appear to visitors.

This book is not so much scary, though if I sa
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Hannah Greendale
Oct 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ghostland is a not-spooky, but thoroughly entertaining, examination of ghost stories and haunted locales throughout America with the express intent of debunking the paranormal and better understanding how ghost stories reflect on our past and present.

Given the book's dark cover and the timing of its release, it seems necessary to reiterate that there's nothing particularly creepy about this book. The author dug through family trees and historic records until he unearthed every inconsistency or
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Julie
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ghostland by Colin Dickey is a 2016 Viking publication.

I picked this one out on audio, but the way my mind wanders when an audiobook plays, I was worried I would lose interest quickly with this one, but surprisingly, I enjoyed listening to this book while I worked around the house.

Before you decided to check this book out, please be aware this work of non-fiction is not scary in the way the title might suggest, although I did love hearing those deliciously chilling ghost stories, some of which
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Heidi The Reader
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Incredibly scary and a perfect read for the month of October, Colin Dickey examines ghosts, haunted buildings, and other urban legends throughout the United States. But, it's not just about ghost stories, he also delves into the true histories of everything from cemeteries to asylums. When I picked up Ghostland I thought: how creepy can the US be, it hasn't been around all that long, comparatively speaking. And I found out: really, really creepy.

You don't have to believe in ghosts to enjoy this
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Paul
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
GHOSTLAND is a stirring and expertly written historical account of our ghosts, the ones we celebrate and the ones we hide. This is not a cheesy ghost hunters TV show in book form. Dickey deconstructs the folklore and myth surrounding the US's most famous/notorious hauntings. This is a book about how ghost stories happen, how they are created, how they evolve, how they reflect our history and how they often bury the history we don't want to face. His chapter/essay on Salem is one of the most astu ...more
Beverly
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Ghostland is a thoughtful, in-depth, look at not only some of the most famous haunted places in the U.S., but also why we have the need for ghosts in the first place. The history of ghosts in the United States also leaves out a lot of actual history and tends to be the story of white ghosts. There are very few ghosts of color on hand. Some times Native Americans show up because of development on their burial grounds.

Overwhelmingly the ghost stories that have to do with real people tend to have a
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Darlene
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"If you want to understand a place, ignore the boasting monuments and landmarks
and go straight to the haunted houses."
-Colin Dickey- 'Ghostland..'

"We like to view this country as a unified, cohesive whole based on progress, a perpetual
refinement of values, and an arc of history bending toward justice- but the prevalence
of ghosts suggests otherwise."
-Colin Dickey- 'Ghostland..."


I first became enamored of ghost stories when I was a young girl, sitting around the campfire at Girl Scout camp.
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Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆
I tried but I really couldn't stand this one. For me personally, it was the tone that the author took.

The chapters are divided by different famous ghost stories and the author proceeds to debunk them all. In that vein, there really is only so much of a 'people capitalizing on someone's tragedy for fun', 'smearing an innocent person's name', or 'no proof of said event ever happened' refrain that is repeated before the reading gets dull.

The author doesn't believe in ghosts and does pretty much ev
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Book Riot Community
There’s no shortage of love for Colin Dickey’s Ghostland here at Book Riot. I listened to this on audio and found it to be a wonderful book that’s part architectural history, part anthropology, part travelogue, and part folklore study. Dickey does a great job blending scholarly arguments about cultural memory, trauma, and place-making with contemporary takes on urban legends and ghost stories. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking book that manages to ask all sorts of big questions about importan ...more
Punk
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Trigger warning for nearly every -ism you can think of because this guy's a lazy asshole. In addition to racism and sexism, my review mentions slavery, sex work, grave robbing, and rape.

Dickey's thesis is that the United States is haunted not by ghosts but by its history, anxieties over what it means to be American, and questions of whether Americans can ever really own the land they live on, since the majority of the population willingly came here from somewhere else and displaced, removed, and
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BAM The Bibliomaniac
This book is NO FUN! He debunks everything! At least he visits the hotel that inspired King's The Shining.
He has sections on houses, institutions, public houses, graveyards; nothing is left unturned, it's just that everything is left unhaunted. 2.5 stars

2017 Lenten Buddy Reading Challenge book #29
Jaya
Ouch!
Myths busted. Legends debunked.
As the title is self-explanatory, the book tells us the history of America's (most popular?) haunted places. Some were familiar to me, some were not. It did make for an interesting and at times compelling read, with all the background and history behind the so-called haunted places, be it old mansions of nineteenth century, business areas like Toys R US, hotels, bars, brothels, bookstores (I would definitely like to visit one of those), prisons etc. However, t
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Stacey Cotter
This book is probably not what you are expecting... I was excited to get this novel and couldn't wait to read it. I was disappointed though as it was written by a seemingly very skeptical Author. Coming from a semi-skeptic, I was looking forward to the history of the various places and possible proof to support the claims. However, I found it to be more of a forum for the author to bash believers and individuals working in the field. It would seem that his goal is to take away belief of the para ...more
Rebecca McNutt
I don't know whether ghosts are real or not, but the legends and history within this book of these creepy abandoned places, was definitely interesting and made this book very worthwhile.
Sara
Nov 18, 2017 rated it liked it
This was an interesting take on hauntings. The author did not discuss whether the hauntings were true or not (though he seems to have his doubts) but rather what they say about us as a society, as a country.

He discusses how some ghost stories may have a glimmer of truth in their origin but have been embellished to suit our purposes. The purpose may be to whitewash our history, to assuage our guilt about events that have happened. The purpose might be to draw attention to something in our past th
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Danielle
Sep 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: amazon-vine, ghosts
*Book received through the Amazon Vine program*

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with ghost stories. Then to see that this book hooked stories of ghosts with American history, I was ready to engrossed with this book.

"Ghostland" features the author, Colin Dickey, exploring some of the ghost stories and urban legends featuring ghosts around the country. In the end, I was a little disappointed in this book. The book advertises ghosts but Colin pretty much doesn't believe
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Jill Hutchinson
I was not necessarily looking for a book that explained "hauntings" or took a biased opinion one way or the other. In fact I'm not sure why I read this but it was fairly enjoyable.

The author is ambivalent about the presence of ghosts and pretty much sticks to the facts of famous haunted places....what caused them to become famous as a home for the spirits, what form did the hauntings take, and what might be the explanation.

He takes a very negative view of the professional ghost hunters and the
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Obsidian
I read this for the "Haunted Houses" square. "Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places" by Colin Dickey.

I don't know what to say. This was a really well researched and thought out book by Colin Dickey. He provides enough information that made me want to do my own digging and research into some of the homes and other locations he mentions in this book. What I really do enjoy that there is something of an anthropologist/historian in Dickey's work that I really enjoyed. Besides looking at
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John
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a fan of Eric Weiner, recently tackling his latest work The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. That book and this one struck me the same way: great content and narration, but likely more suited for print reading.

Here, the chapters utilize specific examples of hauntings to make larger points. The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, though more eerie than specifically haunted, starts off the book's overall examination of Am
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Amy
Apr 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses.

Ghostland was a fascinating read but not for the original reason I checked out the book. I wanted to be spooked by various haunted locations throughout the country. Instead, I learned of the facts behind the stories and how they evolved into their modern day telling along with the various purposes that the stories serve, besides just for entertainment value.

Most of the locations
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Sara
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
With an objective eye on the nation's sordid past and the observant diligence of an anthropologist, Colin Dickey removes the veil from America's ghost stories. Sure, there are some creepy retellings of legends and the inexplicable eeriness in haunted places, but the focus in this deft and engaging work is on the living—those who continue to give life to people and circumstances long dead. Dickey intermingles the characters of ghost stories with the people who continue to tell them and the histor ...more
TheYALibrarian
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: meh
Rating 3 Stars

I decided to pick up the audio of this book when the amazing Caitlin Doughty (AskaMortician) highly recommended it in one of her YouTube videos. But, I was disappointed in how lack luster this book was. It didn't bring the creepy factor for me in better terms. Also, I was already aware of most of the history in this book and that was also a let down.

I think what really contributes to why I did not enjoy this book much was because of the terrible narration of the audio. I thought I
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Amanda
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: death, non-fiction
2017: I think this book was mismarketed. It was way more academic than I was expecting and didn't supply many ghost stories that it didn't immediately disprove. In the middle section, the themes seems to get away from the author, as though he was trying to talk about too many things at once. There are many references to literature in here, which is great, but he spoiled twists to a few of those works, which is not so great. Overall I liked this and am glad I own it. I'd definitely be interested ...more
Marianna Neal
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was great! Thoroughly enjoyed the book, would honestly be 100% OK with it being twice as long. Highly recommend this to anyone interested in how ghost stories and haunted places come about in the US, and how people shape them over time. It's obvious the author did a ton of research, going for facts over urban legends, and I just loved the historical/anthropological perspective here! Unfortunately, the publisher decided to not include any photos. Not. A. Single. One. This is a HUGE missed op ...more
Melora
Nov 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Readers hoping for a collection of ghost stories related to American history may well be disappointed with this, but I enjoyed it very much. Dickey doesn't actually tell many ghost stories, and certainly never with the level of detail that make them fun. What he's interested in is the why of ghosts. Why certain places and circumstances inspire ghost stories, what ghosts and their stories give us that we need.

This reminded me some of W. Scott Poole's Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession
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Holly
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads, audio
Impressive and thoughtful book. Hard to classify: it's not a survey of the predictable sensationalized haunted places and their respective ghosts; it's not phenomenology, nor sociology, nor travel writing. While he does travel around America to visit and describe classic haunts and famous ghosts, Dickey's aim is actually to consider why some types of places are conducive to being "haunted," and what does it even mean to be "haunted," and what do these entities we call "ghosts" have to tell us ab ...more
K Aust
Apr 10, 2017 rated it did not like it
Extremely smug. I'm surprised other reviewers don't know whether Dickey believes in ghosts-- he most certainly does not, treating each legend with overt contempt. Even stories that are truly scary and unresolved, like Elisa Lam, he covers in a few dismissive words.

The description had me expecting a book of, well, ghost stories. The reality is much, much more boring - a mention here and there about a legend, sprinkled among pages and pages of pontificating about history and culture. All with a ch
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Colin Dickey grew up in San Jose, California, a few miles from the Winchester Mystery House, the most haunted house in America. As a writer, speaker, and academic, he has made a career out of collecting unusual objects and hidden histories all over the country. He’s a regular contributor to the LA Review of Books and Lapham’s Quarterly, and is the co-editor (with Joanna Ebenstein) of The Morbid An ...more

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“A city obsessed by its ghosts seems to be weighted down by a conflicted view of the past. Something close to melancholy: a weight it can't quite let go of, a lingering sadness. And though we don't often think of the United States in these terms, this melancholy is as much a part of our history as our triumphs.” 6 likes
“Ghost stories are a way of talking about things we’re not otherwise allowed to discuss: a forbidden history we thought bricked up safely in the walls.” 4 likes
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