I’m revisiting Judith Richardson’s Possessions: the history and uses of haunting in the Hudson Valley as I start thinking about nineteenth century spiritualism for a new book project, and this time I’ve been struck by her emphasis on place. The tangled and broken landscape of the Hudson Valley, full of cliffs and culverts and sharp bends in the river, makes for an ideal habitat for the unquiet dead. But just as powerful is the cultural landscape, marked since the seventeenth century with the sudden rise and fall of cultures and peoples, so rapid that the monuments and homes of previous generations still stand: the Dutch landscape silently accusing the British and Native Americans still lingering in the spaces between American-built roads and factories.
Jared Farmer’s wonderful On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American landscape is a ghost story, in a sense, exploring the long afterlife of the Native American tribes the Mormon settlers clashed with in the minds of contemporary Utah Mormons – but equally true, it’s a ghostbusting story, recounting how those Mormons domesticated, rehabilitated, and laid to rest their memories of that clash. The Mormons even invented a ghost, in a sense, the fake Indian princess Timpanogos, whose entirely typical (for a ghost) behaviors – wailing in the night, mourning her lost love – are decidedly harmless. [Read more...]