Michael Norman
& Beth Scott,
Haunted America
(Tor, 1994; 2007)

If you have any interest in ghosts and hauntings, you should own Haunted America. This is definitely a book to curl up with on a rainy afternoon. With 556 pages, this one provides several hours of sensational reading and the chapters are short, providing nice stopping points for those who can put the book down.

The authors have really researched their field. One of the most impressive points to Haunted America is the 50-page bibliography, arranged alphabetically by state, which is meticulously detailed and enables a curious reader to quickly locate the supporting documentation of the event.

As a pleasure read, this book cannot be beat, but do not expect to be scared out of your wits. It is much more than simple ghost stories. It is more a reference work that examines all aspects of 62 reported sitings and incidents. Most states have one entry, though a few have two and the various provinces of Canada have six. For an example, I will use the entry for one of my favorite American ghosts, the Jersey Devil.

The Jersey Devil was born to Jane Leeds in 1735. She already had 12 children and when she learned that she was pregnant again, she stated: "May the devil take the next one." When the boy was born, he appeared normal, but soon took on monstrous and snakelike features and grew to 20 feet in length. He flew up the chimney and disappeared. Soon, the slaughter began. The Jersey Devil focused his energies on livestock and children, but none of the villagers of the area felt safe.

The book details each reported incident that involved the Jersey Devil for a period of 241 years. It offers several possible explanations: the original settlers found it easier to accept natural disasters, deaths and crop failures if they could blame them on the work of a real devil; the settlers found this to be an easy way to control their children; a deformed child was born and the mother did away with it; or the settlers were bored and simply created some excitement. Yet, the authors point to the flaws in these theories by stating that many reliable people bear witness to the incidents. They do not attempt to provide a concrete answer. Instead, they provide a thorough account of the Jersey Devil and the witnesses to his actions, along with the superstitious nature of the people of the area, and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

If you are interested in the folklore of an area, check the listings in this book first. The stories are filled with legend and folklore of the people residing around the haunted area. The author usually question how folklore and superstition may fit into the accounts of the hauntings. It is a fascinating examination of the beliefs of the peoples of America. It is a book that you can read over and over without growing bored. It gets my highest recommendation.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 19 July 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.