What I Look For in a Book of Ghost Stories

Outstanding collections of folklore and ghost stories are rare, but doing these simple things will greatly improve future publications.

In the past several decades, interest in the paranormal has grown, and every year we see more books coming out on the subject. Sometimes it seems like nothing new could be written about it, especially in my home state of Illinois, where there are more than two dozen books on Illinois ghost stories (literally hundreds if you count everything Troy Taylor has written).

Many of these books fall short of satisfying, let alone come close to what I would consider to be a decent book on the subject. There are some gems to be sure, but they are rare. I don’t feel that my standards are too high–what I think is going on is that authors are rushing to meet the demand for these books and they are not putting very much thought into them.

Some authors, under pressure to produce, have taken the low road and plagiarized much of their content. Some authors (like one mentioned above) cannibalize their own work in order to produce book after book with basically the same content rearranged in a different way.

So what would I consider to be a “Class A” book on folklore and ghost stories? In an ideal world, what standards would a book have to meet to be truly excellent? Here they are in no particular order. Keep in mind, I don’t consider this list to be unachievable. Every author out there can produce a book to these standards, it just requires time and effort. These are the standards, by the way, to which I try to hold my own work.

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Hunting Demons a Harrowing Look at the Dark Side

Hunting Demons: A True Story of the Dark Side of the Supernatural by Sylvia Shults was released by Whitechapel Productions Press in August 2015 in both print and digital formats. This survey of demonology is surprisingly human, combining both cultural and religious history with a compelling personal experience. The combination is unique and takes a skilled writer to execute. It is clunky at times, but helps provide context for an incredible tale.

Hunting Demons is 158 pages and informally divided into two parts. The first part examines the history of demons and Satanism in Western and Middle Eastern culture, and the second is a personal tale of a woman from central Illinois who believed demons were tormenting her.

The personal experience is primarily grounded in Catholic theology, although it begins with a paranormal investigation. Because of this, it may have been more helpful for the author to focus on demonology from a Catholic perspective, rather than a more general overview.

In her historical and cultural survey, Sylvia Shults looks at demons and satanism from early human history to the present day. She transitions from the dark side in contemporary TV shows to the evolution of religion and evil spirits.

While interesting, this history is non-linear and has several noticeable gaps. For example, Shults jumps from the Salem Witch Trials to Vatican II in the 1960s. In her chapter on satanic panics, she goes from the heresies of the Middle Ages to the cult scare of the 1980s.

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Der Rathskeller Neon Sign

Der Rathskeller Neon Sign
Neon sign for Der Rathskeller, 1132 Auburn Street in Rockford, Illinois. Fred Goetz opened Der Rathskeller, Rockford’s only German-American restaurant, in 1931. It offers an outdoor beer garden and romantic, candle-lit basement dining. Yes, it’s also supposed to be haunted. According to Haunted Rockford, Illinois by Kathi Kresol, many employees believe Fred still hangs around, making adjustments to place settings after hours and playing little pranks to make sure they know he’s still around.

When She is Mute

When She is Mute
A relief sculpture of a woman and child in Oakwood Cemetery, 940 Comstock Avenue, next to Syracuse University, in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York. This striking neoclassical relief is dedicated to Olive Belden Wigglesworth, who died at the age of 35. The inscription above her head, “Ad Rem”, means “to the point (or purpose)” or “relevant”.

Oakwood Cemetery was designed by landscape architect Howard Daniels and opened in 1859. It is a secular Victorian “rural” or “garden” style cemetery where over 60,000 people are interred in 160 wooded acres.

Student Housing Comes with Ghosts at Illinois Wesleyan University

Several restless spirits are believed to play host at two residence halls and one fraternity house.

Click to expand photos

A group of 30 civic and religious leaders founded Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1850, and construction began six years later. The United Methodist Church partially supports it, but its administration is secular. Its students, primarily focused on the liberal arts, believe several buildings (both on and off campus) are haunted. Fitting, since the university’s namesake, theologian John Wesley, held a strong belief in ghosts after experiencing poltergeist activity in his childhood home.

Bucking traditional dorms, Illinois Wesleyan University has repurposed several local homes to use as student housing. When the lights are low and leaves turn shades of orange and yellow, students whisper that they may share International House and Adams Hall with specters of long-deceased residents.

Also known as Kemp Hall, International House (I-House), at 1207 N. Main Street, was built by A.E. DeMange and his wife in 1907. A few years later, following his wife’s death, DeMange sold the classical revival building to the university. Ever since, students say the house is haunted by a “lady in red”: Mrs. DeMange herself. On certain nights, she is said to appear in a large mirror.

Adams Hall, at 1401 N. Main Street at the corner of Beecher and Main, is thought to be home to three ghosts, each named Frances. One is a middle-aged woman who died in a carriage accident, the other a young girl, and the third and old lady. The sound of footsteps and a rocking chair have been heard. On another occasion, residents heard incessant ringing throughout the hall, even after they disconnected all the phones.

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The Importance of Citing Sources in Folklore

In a properly cited book, the reader is able to check source material if he or she suspects the author is coming to false conclusions, using sloppy research, or simply inventing things.

Over the course of my lifetime, I have read dozens, if not hundreds, of books on folklore and ghost stories from all over the United States and the world. One problem that comes up again and again is the failure of many authors in this genre to properly cite their sources. Otherwise excellent books are tarnished by this simple oversight.

It is an oversight that not only does a disservice to the individual authors and hinders research, but also prevents the study of folklore and ghost stories from being taken seriously. Simply learning to cite sources would go a long way to solving a lot of the problems that plague books and articles in this genre.

Citing sources helps keep authors honest and promotes accuracy. Without naming names, one author in particular comes to mind that perfectly illustrates why this is so important. He has written dozens of books on haunted places in Illinois. While some of his books include a bibliography, his research is sloppy and difficult to verify. I have been frustrated by discovering numerous inaccuracies, errors, and instances of plagiarism in his work.

The only reason I was able to discover these things is because I have read so many other books and articles, and happened to speak with individuals who had firsthand knowledge of the mistakes. Because this author fails to cite his sources, however, the casual reader is forced to simply take his word at face value. There is no way for them to independently verify any of the information in his books. Consequently, no academic or serious researcher will ever use his books as source material. There is just too high of a chance the information will be inaccurate.

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Trump Support Led to Show’s Cancellation: Roseanne

ABC execs fired Roseanne and canceled her comeback because they were afraid she would humanize Trump voters, she recently told Joe Rogan.

A few days ago, actress and comedian Roseanne Barr appeared on episode #1359 of The Joe Rogan Experience. Amidst an often incoherent and meandering interview, Roseanne and Rogan had an insightful exchange regarding the canceling of the popular continuation of her sitcom Roseanne in March of last year.

Roseanne, in which she played the titular character, Roseanne Conner, originally aired on ABC from 1988 to 1997. Roseanne was a sharp, take-no-prisoners working class mother who appealed to a wide audience in Middle America. The show’s realistic portrayal of blue collar life won a legion of fans, and when it returned to TV in 2018, its two-part premier drew over 25 million viewers. There was only one problem, Roseanne Barr was an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, and so was her character on the show.

Roseanne, who has publicly struggled with mental illness and substance abuse her entire adult life, is no conservative. She grew up with gay siblings, and was one of the first television personalities to feature openly gay characters on her show. She was a member of the Green Party, and in 2012 ran for President as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate. Founded in 1967, the Peace and Freedom Party is dedicated to “feminism, socialism, democracy, ecology, and racial equality.”

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