Category Archives: Books
Originally published in Great Britain in 2012, Ghosts: A Natural History (2015) by Roger Clarke is an exploration of the subject framed by a taxonomy of eight varieties of ghosts. Each chapter is a micro history of one or two prominent ghosts and trends in ghost hunting, from the seventeenth century Tedworth House and eighteenth century Hinton House, to the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall and the Borley Rectory in the twentieth.
Through these locations and events, Clarke traces a history of not just ghosts but the people fascinated by them. With the exception of the haunted German U-boat, U65, all of the discussed locations are in Great Britain. Clarke describes the British Isles as being particularly overrun with spooks and specters.
Ghosts: A Natural History is a wonderful book, rich with fascinating places and characters. Clarke brings to life the people involved in these events, some of whom may surprise you. For instance, I knew Royal Society member Joseph Glanville was convinced of the reality of witchcraft, but I didn’t know he felt the same about ghosts. Likewise, I was amused to read that his contemporary, Robert Boyle, father of modern experimental science, joined Glanville in investigating poltergeist activity at the Tedworth House and what became known as the “Devil of Mâcon.”
Religion is another interesting aspect of this book. According to Clarke, much of England’s ghost belief springs from latent Catholicism or former Catholic sites. When Catholicism was suppressed in England and the Church’s property confiscated, many rectories, graveyards, and monasteries were left to decay–attracting a reputation for being haunted. With one notable exception, Protestant ministers tried to stamp out ghost belief, since ghosts were supposedly souls trapped in purgatory–a thoroughly Catholic notion. However, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, not only believed in ghosts, but poltergeist activity plagued his family home at Epworth as a child.
An old friend from high school, Nick, writes videogame reviews. Recently, however, he wrote an unsolicited review of my latest book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities. I was surprised and delighted that he chose to read my latest offering, since he (by his own admission) rarely reads nonfiction.
The review is fair and generally positive. In response to one of his criticisms, the book is not just a collection of stories–it is meant to be a combination of stories and the theory behind them. That is why I spend so much time discussing folklore and ghost stories in their relation to university culture.
Check out an excerpt of the review below or read it in its entirety.
He doesn’t want to convince me that genuine ghosts haunt the various Illinois universities. Instead, this book would rather discuss the stories that are being told and examine the history that inspired them.
It’s the combination of history and legend that makes the stories that are told interesting. This book focuses on Illinois campuses specifically, so everything begins with the location. The surface level is the story itself. The legend. What people say happened there. Beneath that is the truth, but much like the story itself the truth is fragmented. Partially documented history only tells so much.
The strongest part of the book is the history that it manages to document. It’s interesting to learn about the history of the universities themselves, unrelated to the ghost story that emerged from it. It’s even more fascinating tracking a story from its roots to the glorious legend it is today.
Last week was Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide‘s best week on Amazon.com, with nearly 60 sales in one week!
Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 1: Folklore, Legends, and Ghost Stories.
October 30th, the night before Halloween, has been variously referred to as Mischief Night, Cabbage Night, or Hell Night. In most places, teens celebrate this unofficial holiday with pranks, mild vandalism, petty crime, parties, and fireworks. In Detroit, Michigan, it became known as “Devil’s Night.” From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, arsonists started hundreds of fires throughout the city. In Carbondale, Illinois, students from Southern Illinois University celebrated the weekend before Halloween with riotous parties along the downtown strip.
According to author H.B. Koplowitz, this tradition began in 1974, after political demonstrations on the strip gave way to fun and revelry. “Nobody realized it at the time, but Thursday, Oct. 31, 1974, the bizarre Halloween street party tradition was born,” he wrote. “At about 9:30 [pm] that night, about 1,000 young people, many of them in outrageous home-made costumes that ranged from the abstract to the obscene, took over the street between Merlin’s and P.K.’s.”
The crowd soon swelled to over 5,000, and Carbondale’s mayor ordered the bars to close. Rather than diffuse the situation, this action inflamed the crowd and led to confrontations with the police. By 1977, word of the carnival-like Halloween party had spread and attracted partygoers from elsewhere in the state. “The weekend before Halloween, about 6,000 people, many of them in costumes and from out of town, closed South Illinois Avenue from College to Walnut,” Koplowitz explained. “The city had not granted an extension of the 2a.m. drinking hour, but Saturday night the bars stayed open an hour later because of a time change from Daylight Saving Time. When the bars emptied, a bonfire was lit in the street, rocks and bottles were thrown, and a few people took off their clothes.”
Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 2: Hallowed Halls: The Geography of Campus Ghostlore
Universities are centers of learning where young adults devote two to four years (or more) of their lives to academic study. In addition to attending class, students must also have places to eat, sleep, study, socialize, and find entertainment. To facilitate this activity, a university needs professors, administrators, secretaries, custodians and maintenance, security personnel, and a whole support network operating largely behind the scenes.
All this activity takes place in a physical environment that includes classroom buildings, towering residence halls, libraries, theaters, gymnasiums, open spaces, gardens, and walking paths. Off campus, fraternity and sorority houses, apartments, and other rental properties provide additional student housing. On weekends, students looking for a scare might venture into the wilderness away from the perceived safety of campus to seek out the scene of a local legend. These places are often decorated with curious messages, remnants, and monuments left behind by previous students. Together, these places set the stage for campus lore.
Because every university contains these essential features, it is their architecture and arrangement that makes each one unique. More than physical features, however, it is the invisible landscape of tradition, reputation, history, stories, and other human associations that gives each university its identity. Campus folklore and ghost stories are an important part of this invisible landscape, connecting the present generation to the past.