Friday, October 1, 2010

The Haunting of America: Ghost Stories From Our Past by Jean Anderson

This was one of my favorite books as a little girl, I checked it out several times from the library before the Internet came along years later and I was able to buy a copy of this long out-of-print book. I always planned if I ever had a child to give her or him this book to introduce them to history and ghost stories at the same time, much in the same way as it happened for me--I became fascinated by the Tudors after reading a book of ghost stories when I was nine or ten years old that had a chapter on Anne Boleyn's ghost haunting the Tower of London, and that was the start of two enduring interests for me--history and ghosts. But that never happened for me, so now I read this book to my fur-baby, my cat,Tabby.

This book is all about historic American ghosts and hauntings. It is not a book that attempts to investigate the various cases, merely to set down the stories and legends associated with them. Tabby's favorite chapters are the ones about Ocean-Born Mary and the Silver Doe. Mary was a beautiful red-haired infant born on a ship bound for America in the 18th century. When pirates attacked the ship, the pirate captain decided to spare the lives of all on board if he could have the honor of naming the newborn after his own beloved mother--Mary. He also bequeathed little Mary a bolt of beautiful green silk to make her wedding gown when she she grew up. The Pirate Captain and Mary crossed paths again many years later when she was a widow with four grown sons, Mary became his housekeeper, and her presence is reputed to linger on in his grand house in New Hampshire. The Silver Doe is a spectral deer that roams the forests of Roanoke and is reputed to be the bewitched spirit of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America, trapped eternally in animal form by the spell of a vengeful Indian medicine man whose romantic overtures she rejected. There are also chapters on the Bell Witch, a spirit that bedevilled a Tennessee family in the early 19th century, driving patriarch John Bell to his grave and tormenting his beautiful daughter Betsy and driving a wedge between her and the boy she loved and planned to marry. And, for those who love bittersweet romance and pirates, there is the Golden Girl of Appledore Island, a white-gowned spectre beauty who is reputed to guard a buried treasure while she waits for her pirate lover's return. And Evelyn Bird, the ghostly Colonial Virginia aristocrat who died of a broken heart, wasting away as she longed in vain for the Englishman her proud American father refused to let her marry. There are also chapters on New Orleans' voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and the ghostly lore associated with President Abraham Lincoln, including his phantom funeral train that hurtles through the darkness every April manned by a grinning crew of skeletons, and the ghost ships that still sail the Great Lakes, including La Salle's Griffin. And there are spirits who warn of impending disasters like the Gray Man of Pawley's Island who appears before a hurricane strikes, and Hawaii's Madame Pele, who appears either as a beautiful woman or a wizened old crone, but always wearing a flame red muumuu, with a little white dog at her heels, before a volcanic eruption. And for those who like their ghostly tales a little more gruesome, there is a headless Mexican vaquero who gallops across the Texas plains on a wild black mustang, his bullet-riddled body upright in the saddle and his severed head replete with a sombrero swinging from the saddle horn. Also on horseback, there is the beautiful spirit of a lady in a green velvet riding habit and feathered hat who gallops along the Oregon Trail near Fort Laramie once every seven years. And no book on ghosts would be complete without a Spook Light--The Devil's Jack-o'-Lantern, an eerily glowing fireball that is seen on a desolate stretch of road known as The Devil's Promenade near Joplin, Missouri, it has been seen since 1866, some believe it is proof of an old legend about a pair of star-crossed Indian lovers who committed suicide rather than be parted, while others believe it is the spirit of a lonely miner out looking for his lost family. There is also one of my personal favorites--the tale of the Winchester Mystery House, the mansion built by a grieving widow to house the spirits of all those killed by the Winchester rifle, the source of her great fortune. And these are just a few of the 25 tales featured in this book.

I had a good time revisiting this childhood favorite with Tabby and thought this would be a good book to kick off this blog's month-long Halloween theme.


CelticLady said...

I love ghost stories and history also... I have started for this month to feature haunted castles of Ireland. This sounds like a fun book!!!

librarypat said...

This sounds like a good collection of stories. I will have to see if I can find a copy of it.