At the crossroads of folklore and pop culture

22 09 2010

A few days ago, in preparation for the impending fall television season, I finally watched the spring finale of Supernatural. For the uninitiated among my readers, it’s a show on the CW network about two brothers traveling around the country in their 1967 Impala, battling ghosts and monsters and angels and demons. Unsurprisingly, Sam and Dean Winchester are a couple of good-looking guys who are handy with one-liners and a myriad of weapons. And, since it’s the CW, there are plenty of improbably pretty girls in impractical footwear. But what’s really great about the show is how deeply it delves into the richness of American folklore. Instead of fixating on the cosmopolitan surroundings of big cities like New York and LA, Supernatural intentionally places itself in out-of-the way towns inhabited by largely unremarkable people. These places, often unlovely and raggedy-edged, still contain vestiges of bygone eras when old-country gods held sway.

Supernatural‘s creator, Eric Kripke, has cited the work of author Neil Gaiman as an inspiration for the show – specifically his novel American Gods and his graphic novel series Sandman. (Observant readers will perhaps have noticed that I, too, have been influenced by Gaiman’s work.) Gaiman, a British writer who makes his home in rural Minnesota, has an amazing knack for drawing out the intricacies of the American tapestry. In Gaiman’s world, even un-worshipped gods brought here long ago on the backs of immigrants still inhabit the cellar of our collective consciousness. His body of work constantly reminds us that we came to this country with our own traditions and deities – so where are they now? They, too, have been changed by American culture, have been forced to carve out niches in roadside motels and run-down bars. It’s those gods and legends, jaded by time and neglect, that the Winchesters seek out.

Yesterday, James A. Williams posted an in-depth article on the site American Ghost Towns and the Anti-Apocalyptic Road Trip of Supernatural. What struck me most in Williams’ article, and what I think is also true for Gaiman’s writing, is the premise that these vestiges of quaint, idyllic Americana are not always so benign.¬† Our society might yearn for a simpler time, a Golden Age of American growth and optimism, but these works of fiction remind us that our collective history is rarely as pure and innocent as we imagine it to be.


Bits of stuff

31 08 2010

A couple of months ago I was at the natural history museum in New York and saw a book in the gift shop that looked right up my alley – Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach. Since I have become moderately addicted to audiobooks in the last few years, I put it in my mental queue and finally downloaded it last week.

I know I’ve mentioned before that the whole ghost hunting/scientific angle doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me, but this book is less a how-to than a how-it’s-been-done. Roach covers the medium craze of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, investigates claims of reincarnation among Hindus, pokes at evidence of ‘ectoplasm’ from the Cambridge University archives, and talks to a myriad of scientists all trying to prove the existence of an afterlife. Or, at the very least, trying to explain the weird phenomenon that people label supernatural. It’s an entertaining read. A few years ago I read Mary Roach’s book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and enjoyed her tongue-in-cheek investigations of weird things. Roach may not give you all the answers, but she does ask very good questions.

And now, some ghost-related news from here and there.

~ My good friend Esther B. passed on this interesting story: The Ghost Story and Mystery of Duffy’s Cut

~ Ghost hunter killed during stakeout for 1891 ghost train. So sad. Here is the NY Times article about the original tragedy.

~ Because it’s a hot August day just like the one on which Lizzie Borden’s parents were brutally murdered, I invite you to review the case.¬† What do you think? Did she do it? And did anyone else’s parents teach them the rhyme about how Lizzie gave her father forty whacks?

The tie-breaker

19 08 2010

Well, it’s come down to a tie between Savannah and the Ohio State Reformatory. Both are worthy, as far as the combination of ghosts and history goes, so I settled it with the completely scientific method of a coin toss. After finding the coin (it went under my desk) I can now report to you that the Ohio State Reformatory has prevailed. So, get ready for tales of an allegedly haunted prison. (Hm. Are there any prisons not allegedly haunted? A question for the ages.)

A couple of links for you, dear readers.

Ghostly Science¬† in Carthage, Missouri. Normally I do not go in for the whole paranormal investigators thing, since they try to quantify something I consider to be inherently unquantifiable. But it’s definitely a good way to draw a new audience into a historic house, and educate them in the process.

Meet the Ghostly Residents of the Historic Hotels of the Rockies. If you’re looking for some eerie ambiance this fall, head out west. The nineteen different establishments that make up the Historic Hotels of the Rockies are offering a wide variety of spooky events throughout October and November. Word of advice: don’t watch The Shining before you go.


I like the variety.

16 08 2010


13 08 2010

How’s your Friday the 13th going so far? I’ve already had my share of bad luck, involving a chewing-obsessed cat and a pair of headphones. At least it wasn’t the black cat doing the gnawing. Then I’d really be screwed.

Friday the 13th apparently goes back a lot longer than I would have imagined. Check out these articles on its origins:

~ Friday the 13th Phobia Rooted in Ancient History (National Geographic)

~ A Brief History of Friday the 13th (Time)

Here’s hoping your Friday the 13th is at least uneventful. Try to avoid any ladders, broken mirrors, etcetera.

Nominations for the next locale?

10 08 2010

Hey, cats and kittens. Happy Tuesday.

I’m taking write-in candidates for the subject of the next ghost post. So, comment with your geographical suggestions. If you know of a particular building/area that’s supposedly haunted, or you’ve heard a spooky story about it, so much the better.

To tide you over, a couple more links:

Geneva, IL History Center Offers Ghost Walks

Hauntings of Arizona

Okay! Bring it on, folks.

Drive-by linking…

7 08 2010

A few ghost/history-related links to pass onto you on this bright and beautiful Saturday morning. (Yes, I’ve had my coffee. You can tell!)

Flint, Michigan citizens asked to contribute their ghost stories

Florida residents can research their ghosts

And a bonus, non-American ghost link: Author finds ghostly inspiration

And away I go.