First published by Guild Press Emmis Publishing in 2002, Haunted Hoosier Trails: A Guide to Indiana’s Famous Folklore Spooky Sites by Wanda Lou Willis has quickly become a genre classic. Everything, from the paper it’s printed on, to its layout, maps, and illustrations, is of the highest quality. It is (to put it bluntly) a beautiful book, but it is the stories within that are most important.
Willis does a wonderful job retelling ghost stories and legends from all over the Hoosier State. Like the rest of the book, the quality of writing is superb—clean, and polished. The only things this book lacks are proper citations and an index. Otherwise, it should be the standard that authors in this genre seek to emulate.
The tales in Haunted Hoosier Trails are organized by region and county. Willis divides Indiana into three regions: North, Central, and South. A short history introduces each county, and each location or story is given one or two pages—just enough to explain the background and strange happenings without losing the reader’s interest. In fact, an incredible 78 tales are featured in this 180 page book, but none of them feel rushed or incomplete.
A map pinpointing their exact location accompanies many of the tales. Unlike the poor quality maps featured in other books in this genre, the maps included in Haunted Hoosier Trails are clean and easy to read. They were created by the book’s illustrator, Steven D. Armour. Armour’s ink sketches are a wonderful addition to the book and come at the beginning of each section. They illustrate a handful of that region’s most notable stories.
Aside from its regrettable subtitle, one of the main shortcomings of Haunted Hoosier Trails is its lack of sources or citations. This absence is all the more surprising because of the academic credentials of its author. According to her bio, Wanda Lou Willis is a notable folklorist who has received recognition from National Geographic Magazine and the Smithsonian Institution.
She acknowledges many individuals who supplied information about local ghost stories, but fails to cite exactly what documents, books, or articles the information came from. This is important because other researchers need to be able to verify the stories and trance their origins with some degree of accuracy. Willis does not even provide a basic bibliography. It’s an omission that harms an otherwise outstanding book.
The other thing this book lacks is an index. It is very difficult to find a specific story or location, since each story is given a generic title. For example, readers familiar with “Stangle Bridge,” but not its folk-name, “Purple Head Bridge,” would not be able to find it without a time-consuming search through the text. One story, titled “The Point of Death,” is about Mooresville Bridge, but you would never know that looking at the table of contents. It would be helpful to be able to look up Mooresville Bridge in an index.
Despite these limitations, Haunted Hoosier Trails remains one of the finest examples of a collection of folklore and ghost stories to come out in the past fifteen years. Written just prior to the latest explosion of interest in ghost stories and the paranormal, this book retains the folksy, historic quality that a lot of the more recent books in this genre lack. Whether you are studying the folklore of Indiana, or just looking for a few interesting stories to read, Haunted Hoosier Trails should be at the top of your list.