The Ghostly and the Ghastly
Selections from the ArchivesOctober 31, 2023
When we think of being haunted — whether by the living or the dead, the past or the present, things we didn’t do or things we wish we hadn’t — we confront life’s more pressing questions of morality and meaning.
In this month’s interview [“Local Haunts,” interview by David Mahaffey], historian Colin Dickey weaves together history, architecture, and personal narratives to examine why certain locations become associated with the supernatural, and he relates these stories to our fear of death and our unresolved national traumas, including the colonization of America and the slave trade.
We’ve highlighted archive selections that explore the ghostly — and the ghastly — through shades of a graveyard, the horrors of Jaws and embarrassing parents, and email spam from the other side.
Take care and read well,
Your friends at The Sun
As the night of my school’s fall carnival approached, Mom was frantically sewing big white pillows into triangles to make them look like shark’s teeth for a Jaws-themed haunted house. She’d read the novel several times and had gone alone to see the movie at a drive-in. We kids couldn’t come, she’d said. “It’s a horrible story about being all by yourself in a huge ocean, and something just comes up from out of nowhere and rips you to pieces. It’s not suitable for children.”July 2011
What remains of the woman who gave me life lies just below me. Strange, what we do in our culture: claim a small piece of real estate for that part of us that is decidedly not “us,” that which lasts after our essence passes. And what about that essence? Is it ephemeral? Or a soul that survives? I don’t know.
Some Asian Buddhists make a practice of sitting in charnel grounds, dead bodies all around, to confront life’s impermanence. I suppose this is my Midwestern version of that. . . .
My mother, the Apostle of Normal, would surely have marveled at my behavior: What the devil are you doing? Why are you sitting in a cemetery in the dark? We do not do these things. Why aren’t you home in bed? Her credo was simple: Don’t be a weirdo.
Sorry, Mom.October 2020
I cannot verify that I’ve ever encountered a ghost. Others in my family have had the experience — it’s practically a requirement of a rural Southern Baptist upbringing steeped in stories of death and life everlasting. I remember long, shadowy summer evenings when I’d hover by my grandmother’s side in her unlighted living room as first one relative and then another spoke.
“Do you remember —” someone on my grandmother’s sofa would begin, their face hidden by darkness.
Yes, I remember. I remember that story and all the others of the summer evenings of my youth. Listening to the voices of those I loved, I strained to see spirits stalking the wood’s edge, beyond the window sash. But no spirits ever appeared to me, no intimations of powers greater than the grown-ups clustered on the sofa and chairs.July 1994
And two months after the cancer finally ate through / the last tissues that separated him from death, / I get a message from his email address, / urging me to click on a link I know I shouldn’t,
though I’m tempted, I really am, / to see where it takes me, to see if ghosts / haunt the Internet the way we kind of wish / they haunted our livesMay 2021
Has something we published moved you? Fired you up? Did we miss the mark? Send A Letter