American Ghost Pamphlets of the 1860s and 1870s

I doubt that, what I’ll call, ghost pamphlets were ever nationwide conduits of American ghostlore. But they were interesting ones, even if only regional. These were booklets — cheaply produced and cheaply purchased — written to capitalize on alleged hauntings popular at the time. For example, a haunting reported at Memphis’s Brinkley Female College in 1871 sparked debate between the city’s newspapers and became a case afterward referred to by papers across the country. (I discuss this in the Appendix of Spectral Edition: Ghost Reports from U.S. Newspapers, 1865-1917.) J.R. Robertson, whose daughter had been the chief witness of the ghost, quickly wrote a 36-page account of the case and sold it for 30 cents. But I doubt it sold very far outside Memphis itself.

Another example is The Haunted House: A True Ghost Story, a 59-page pamphlet from 1879 that recounts Walter Hubbell’s investigation into the Esther Cox/Amherst poltergeist case. Though this was later expanded and re-released by a prominent publisher in New York, the original was published by “Daily News” Steam Publishing in Saint John, New Brunswick. I wonder how far that little first edition traveled beyond the east coast of Canada.

Before those, Henry Johnson Brett wrote about his spooky experience in Boston’s Bussey’s Woods. This 1868 publication might be better described a small book rather than a pamphlet since it’s 143 pages long and cost a whopping 75 cents. However, the same publishing company — named Loring, Publisher — went on to print The Haunted Schoolhouse at Newburyport, Mass in 1873. The latter is only 21 pages long, costing 20 cents.

Ghost Pamphlets

After years of researching this stuff, I’ve only come across these four examples of pamphlets used to distribute non-fiction about ghosts. Well, the contents is presented as “non-fiction,” but the writers are clearly using the verbose prose and selective reporting that suggests their primary goal is to make money, not to get the facts right. Never underestimate the lure of “revenent revenue.”

If anyone has a lead on any similar pamphlets, especially from around the 1870s, I’d appreciate hearing about them. There’s a long, long history of books that compile several “true” ghost stories, but these pamphlets — which zero in on individual cases — might be considered earlier examples of works such as Martin Van Buren Ingram’s An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch (1894) and Ada Goodrich-Freer and John Cricton-Stuart’s The Alleged Haunting of B– House (1899). Links to all of these pamphlets along with several of those compilations can be found on the Victorian Ghost Hunter’s Library page on this site.

— Tim


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