An Indication that Newspaper Ghost Reports Truly Were More Prominent in the U.S. than in the UK

Spectral Connections

Lately, I’ve been stumbling upon interesting connections between my various projects. Last week, for instance, I mentioned how some of the ghost stories I’ve written or anthologized depict residual hauntings — also known by the name “Stone Tape Theory” — which connects with the special interest of recent Ghost Hunter Hall of Fame inductee Robert Hugh Benson (see Honorable Mention). Meanwhile, as I was searching through British newspapers for ghost reports to add to my Railroad Hauntings You Can Still Visit project, I came upon an article that supports a claim made in my introduction to Spectral Edition: Ghost Reports in U.S. Newspapers, 1865-1917.

My claim there is this: the odd wave of ghost reports published in American papers between this country’s Civil War and its involvement in World War I grew from grief. It was a coping strategy following an unprecedented and still unequaled loss of life in the War Between the States. After all, ghost reports offer evidence — contestable yet rooted in the observable — of an afterlife and of a chance to rejoin the multitude of war dead. In my introduction, I refer to a telling news article from 1865, saying that it gives

a decidedly Yankee perspective on the end of the American Civil War: “Beaten, flying, disorganized, falling into pieces with every mile it moved, . . . the once proud army of Lee had become a mere rabble and rout, and its commander, when he could not save it, surrendered it. In that surrender the rebellion committed suicide. Its ghost may still haunt us for a time, but its life is gone and its deeds are things of the past.” Though speaking figuratively about ghosts, the reporter literally predicted one means Americans used to cope with the terrible loss of life incurred by that rebellion and the war to quell it.

In other words, the ghost reports I present in Spectral Edition were, in part, a product of a specifically American experience. This isn’t to say similar ghost reports didn’t appear in other countries. They did. But probably not to the extent they did here in the States.

Evidence That I Wasn’t Wrong

Struggling to find railroad-related ghost reports in UK papers, I found an article there suggesting that ghost reports were much more an American phenomenon. The article was reprinted in several papers in March of 1873, the original source being the London Globe. Titled “American Ghosts,” the article begins:

   Ghosts seem to have transferred their favours from the suburbs and police-courts of London to a still more credulous country than our own (remarks the Globe, and thus proceeds):–
   In America they are becoming a daily nuisance, and the columns of leading journals are continually devoted to chronicling their movements. The latest accounts speak of six notorious cases, all contemporary, and in full force up to date. . . . 

It goes on to summarize the six stateside hauntings. Some I recognize, and some are new to me. Some of them are railroad related, and I’ll be looking into those.

Speaking of railroad hauntings, this Friday’s episode of Tales Told When the Windows Rattle is my reading of “At Ravenholme Junction” (1876).* This short story was probably influenced by Dickens’ “The Signal-Man” (1866), though it’s distinctive enough and creepy enough that I included it in After the End of the Line: Railroad Hauntings in Literature and Lore. On that page, you can see my progress-to-date on the Railroad Hauntings You Can Still Visit project.

West Virginia’s Hempfield Railroad Tunnel was reported to be haunted in 1869 — and is still said to be so today.

You can read the whole “American Ghosts” article here for free. (Thank you, Lyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales!) Learn more about Spectral Edition here, and kindly let me read you an eerie tale or two at the Tales Told YouTube channel. If so inclined, you might even consider subscribing to the latter.

— Tim

* “At Ravenholme Junction” was published anonymously and is now sometimes credited to Mary E. Penn. Richard Dalby appears to be the first to contend that Penn wrote it, doing so “on stylistic grounds.” Dalby was certainly a great and admirable scholar, but I get nervously cautious when I see an author given credit because a work seems like — or even smacks of — other works by that author. I want to see the specific reasoning behind this attribution before I repeat it. And — until I’m sweet-talked into selling the movie rights to my Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries — the book that might or might not present Dalby’s reasoning is beyond my price range.

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