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.
The Springer Opera House, at 103 E 10th Street in downtown Columbus, a few blocks from the Chattahoochee River, is Georgia’s oldest and most famous theater. It’s unassuming exterior conceals the elegance within. Patrons love attending its world-class plays and musicals, but some see more than they bargained for, as Springer is also believed to be home to several ghosts.
Francis Joseph Springer, a German immigrant and prosperous grocer from the Alsace region of France, opened the Springer Opera House on February 21, 1871. During construction, a worker named John Prince died when a scaffold fell and struck his head. A second balcony, hotel rooms, restaurants, and office space were added in 1900. It was a jewel of the Georgia stage for decades, until the growing popularity of motion pictures compelled it to transition to a movie theater.
Hard times hit downtown Columbus in the 1950s, and Springer closed in 1958. It stood vacant for five years until a determined group of citizens saved it from the wrecking ball. The Springer Opera House once again opened its doors for live performances in 1965 and has continued to operate ever since. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter named it State Theatre of Georgia in 1971.
An interest in folklore and ghost stories encourages reading, travel, interest in history and historical preservation, and tourism.
We often hear of negativity surrounding places associated with legends and lore: vandalism, trespassing, breaking and entering, drug use and underage drinking. The media loves to associate criminal activity with amateur ghost hunting, such as the break in at Ness Church in Litchfield, Minnesota.
Interest in folklore, ghost stories, and legend tripping, however,
can have many positive effects. Those subjects can be (and usually are) a
gateway to developing interests in other areas. These areas include,
but are not limited to:
Reading: Reading was my first introduction to ghost stories.
When I was a kid, I devoured every book I could find on the subject and
spent countless hours at the library as a result. While there are plenty
of reality TV shows devoted to the paranormal these days, literature is
still the primary means of preserving and transmitting ghost stories. A
child should be encouraged to pursue his or her interest in legends and
lore through reading.
In the early 2000s, I stumbled on a book that radically changed the way I thought about ghost stories and the paranormal. That book was The Last Laugh (1999) by Raymond Moody, Jr. Today, it is only available in digital format on Amazon Kindle. After all these years, I still recommend it to my readers interested in having a more well-rounded perspective on this subject. You might be surprised at what you discover about yourself and what it means to be human.
Raymond Moody, Jr. is the doctor who first publicized the phenomenon of near-death experiences in his groundbreaking book, Life After Life (1975). Much to his chagrin, his work re-invigorated the New Age movement and he was thrust into the limelight as someone who had “proven” the existence of life after death.
This misconception, he reveals in The Last Laugh, came as a result of his publisher’s deletion of a crucial final chapter in Life After Life in which he argues that these personal experiences, though incredibly meaningful and sometimes life changing, actually do not prove the existence of life after death. They just “moved the goalpost.”
The Last Laugh was meant not only to be a post-script to Life After Life, but to also serve as that final missing piece. The premise of The Last Laugh is simple but deeply insightful. Throughout recent history, there have been three main players in the discussion of the paranormal: parapsychologists, professional skeptics, and Christian fundamentalists.
Not only have these three perspectives not advanced our knowledge very much on the issue, but Moody contends that neither actually wants to resolve the debate, because in resolving the controversy they would eliminate their reason for being in the spotlight and also lose a source of fun and entertainment in the process.