Ghosts of Chicago Raised the Bar for Books of Chicago Ghostlore

Books about Illinois ghostlore have become a “copy and paste” industry, and literally dozens of paperbacks devoid of original content line the shelves. That cannot be said for The Ghosts of Chicago: The Windy City’s Most Famous Haunts by Adam Selzer. Published by Llewellyn Publications in 2013, The Ghosts of Chicago is a necessary addition to any collection of books on Chicago ghostlore. It retails for $18.50 and is 340 pages in length.

“Professional ghost hunter and historian Adam Selzer pieces together the truth behind Chicago’s ghosts, and brings to light dozens of never-before-told firsthand accounts,” the cover promises. Selzer delivers on this promise, not necessarily by adding new locations to our catalog of tales, but by greatly expanding our understanding of well-known stories. That is what makes The Ghosts of Chicago so great—it takes on a simple task and does it better than it has been done for nearly a decade.

Two examples of this are the chapters on Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery and Resurrection Mary. Both are obligatory inclusions in any book about Chicago ghostlore, and you would think not much more could be written about them. Selzer pushes the stories beyond their usual retelling, however.

In the chapter on Bachelor’s Grove, for example, he goes into detail about the famous “ghost photo” of the lady dressed in white sitting on a broken headstone. Unlike most other accounts, he explains the who, when, and how of the photograph—giving credit to the photographer and telling her story.

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Haunted Colleges and Universities a Good Primer on Campus Haunts

Haunted Colleges and Universities: Creepy Campuses, Scary Scholars, and Deadly Dorms by Tom Ogden is a good place to start if you are interested in learning about campus ghost stories. This comprehensive guide contains information on over two hundred colleges and universities around the United States, but you will have to look in the reference section if you want to find a more in-depth examination of each location.

Published in 2014 by Globe Piquot Press, Haunted Colleges and Universities is 318 pages and retails for $18.95. It is divided into four parts based on regions of the US as defined by the US Census Bureau. Each section is further subdivided into individual states.

When I think of what I look for in a book of ghostlore, well organized content is a plus, and Haunted Colleges and Universities is nothing if not organized. With a clear table of contents listing every college and university in the book by state, it is easy to find any location. Each entry is proceeded by the college’s address, phone number and website. The names of haunted buildings are highlighted in bold, so it is a breeze for your eyes to jump to any location in the body text. All of these features make this book very helpful to its readers.

If Haunted Colleges and Universities has a flaw, it is that it overreaches and cannot devote enough space to any one college (although there are certain colleges in the book that have a lot more space devoted to them than others). The author himself acknowledges this problem.

In his introduction, he wrote: “Readers of Globe Piquot Press haunted books will immediately notice that the format of this one is completely different from others I’ve written for the series. During my research, I wasn’t finding just two or three dozen stories I was finding hundreds. So instead of highlighting just a few hauntings, in this work I’ve tried to include as many legends as space would permit.” He certainly succeeded at that.

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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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Haunted Hoosier Trails Sets a Standard for Folklore

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.

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The Last Laugh by Raymond Moody on Kindle

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.

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Red State Rebels: Smoke Without a Fire?

If Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?  was fodder for a progressive movement desperate to explain their lack of electoral success in the American Heartland, Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, edited by Joshua Frank and Jeffrey St. Clair, was its hopeful response. If you identify as an Antifa freegan living in rural Kentucky, this book will appeal to you. If you are, however, looking for a more well-rounded perspective, you will be sorely disappointed. Red State Rebels is far from a holistic account of “grassroots resistance in the heartland.”

When I opened this book, I expected a digest of radical activity from all sides of the political spectrum. It quickly became clear that, by “Red State Rebels,” Frank and St. Clair meant the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This is a book about only one shade of rebels—pacifists, environmentalists, and anti war activists—fighting against their classic enemies.

Aside from a brief nod to Randy Weaver and various secession movements, nary a word is spent on the colorful variety of Middle American rebels. Constitutionalists, anti-abortion protestors, Alex Jones devotees, 9/11 truthers, militiamen, sovereign citizens, and others are conspicuously absent. Their absence is made even more conspicuous because in Frank and St. Clair’s introduction, they take great pains to portray their work as a non-partisan approach to the subject.

“Neither of us fit in the geo-ideological matrix contrived by the mainstream political establishment,” they write. “Neither do thousands of others, left, right and anarcho-libertarians, who reside in the forgotten midsection of the nation.” But including one essay on Randy Weaver does not help balance things out.

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A Review of Mark Ames’ Going Postal

Mass shootings have been in the news a lot lately, but they are certainly not new. Neither are the debates about what instigates them. In 2005, Mark Ames, an ex-pat and founder of the Moscow-based irreverent rag the Exile, published his controversial explanation in Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.

In Going Postal, Ames compares modern day office shootings to the slave rebellions of yesteryear, and skewers the culture of greed and cruelty that he believes breeds massacres like Columbine. Ames divides his 280-page book into six parts, each dissecting an aspect of the American culture of office and school violence.

The layout takes the reader on an eye-opening ride through the experience of an office massacre, back to the days of slavery, the history of office shootings and their ties with Reagan era economic reforms, the corporate culture that breeds such violent reactions, and finally, how that culture has infected our schools and children.

It is important to examine mass shootings in historical context because they seem so much a part of modern life people forget mass shootings were extremely rare prior to the 1990s. They started in the ’80s, and didn’t become a national phenomenon until the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Guns and violence have always been a part of life in America. What changed in American culture to bring about such dramatic expressions of violence in places long considered “off limits”?

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