Friday, July 22, 2016

...Review of America's Most Haunted Hotels: Checking In with Uninvited Guests (October 8, 2016)...

“The house smelled musty and damp,

and a little sweet,

as if it were haunted by the ghosts
of long-dead cookies.”
~Neil Gaiman

In my post, ...ghostly vacation prep, and a new book... , I share that I’m not really a skeptic and I’m not really a believer in all things haunted and ghostly.

We’ve all walked into a space that doesn’t feel right or that explicitly feels creepy. I believe you when you say that you’ve felt something; I believe you when you say that you believe you’ve heard a voice when no one was around to produce one. It’s freaky and weird and the part of the supernatural experience I enjoy. I do not want you to whip out some device and start tracking its presence. Something about that feels wrong. This was someone’s loved one. Maybe I’ve buried too many friends; I don’t know but isn’t a gentle acknowledgement of the presence better than capturing it on some device?!? Again, probably just me.

Before I discuss Jamie Davis Whitmer’s forthcoming book, America's Most Haunted Hotels: Checking In with Uninvited Guests (October 8, 2016), I want to share where I found it. Sometimes when I’m standing in a bookstore, I quickly do a search on my mobile to read reviews. I don’t care if someone gives a book one star or five; I want to see what they have to say about it. Again and again I kept seeing these lines “I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley for a fair and honest review.” What the heck is NetGalley and can I join?!? Turns out I can.

“NetGalley is a service to promote titles to professional readers of influence. If you are a reviewer, blogger, journalist, librarian, bookseller, educator, or in the media, you can use NetGalley for FREE to request, read and provide feedback about forthcoming titles. Your feedback and recommendations are essential to publishers and readers alike.”

I’ve been running an academic research/ book blog since 2007 that is all book recommendations. I like to read so naturally that part of my life has crept over into this blog. While I do not necessarily get to choose what I read on the other blog (and I am sent books by publishers and authors to read for free), I DO get to choose what I read for fun… and I’m always writing our my thoughts anyway so by joining NetGalley I now get the books that I select for free prior to publication. I’m already in love!

I figured that the books would not necessarily be to my taste. Nope, there are all kinds of books to select! I found America's Most Haunted Hotels: Checking In with Uninvited Guests right before my vacation. And what hotel does the book include? The Crescent Hotel! Yay! Last night I added a little ghost patch from Evil Supply Co. to a tote that I made a few years ago. This is going to be my book tote for all my required reading while I'm on the trip.


Journey into the mysterious world of haunted hotels, where uninvited guests roam the lavish halls, phantom sounds ring throughout the rooms, and chills run along the spine of anyone who dares to check in for a night.
Join Jamie Davis Whitmer, author of Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums, as she explores nine of the most haunted hotels across America. From the Myrtles Plantation in Louisana to the Palmer House in Minnesota, these hotels are discussed in stunning detail, covering everything from the building's history and legends to first-hand accounts of paranormal activity that happened there. You'll also find photos, travel information, and everything else you need to plan your own visit to these haunted locations.
Initially, I planned to read America's Most Haunted Hotels while I was in a haunted hotel. Then I realized that the author could mention something that I would want to see or do prior to the visit. I just finished the book this morning.  

She covers:
The Myrtles Plantation
The  Queen Mary
The Copper Queen
The Kehoe House
1886 Crescent Hotel
Jerome Grand Hotel
Farnsworth House Inn
Lemp Mansion
The Stanley Hotel
The Palmer House

From the start, I did not care for the book. How’s that for honest. I think I was a bit put off. She begins the very first chapter by writing, “New Orleans is the only place I have ever visited and actively felt evil or dark energy”… but wait, then she slams Las Vegas?!? Let me just put it out there (you can search my blog keyword New Orleans), I have only felt light and love from that city. It’s the home I’ve never lived in, and when some folks this time of year ache for the beach, my heart yearns to return to that city. And, the first chapter isn’t even about New Orleans but St. Francisville, which is 112 miles North above Baton Rouge

Even though the opening made me fussy, I kept reading knowing that the book would get better. And, it did.

What I enjoyed most was her research and tidbits on various cultures that helped reading a book about travel become engaging. For example, in the first section about The Myrtles Plantation she explains haint-blue paint that is often used as the color of porch ceilings derives from the Gullah culture. I already knew this because I’m Southern but these are the types of touches that make me feel connected.

I also really enjoyed the back stories of why each place is considered haunted. For example, I had read a bit of history about Norman Baker’s control of the Crescent hotel BUT the author went into great detail about Baker’s preferences for some odd colors of paint in the hotel (okay, I just realized this is the second paint reference but I promise you that isn’t her focus!) including purple. Apparently, Baker wore purple and had a purple car. I would find that awesome in general but Baker wasn’t a nice guy. She also add tips of where to find some of the eccentric touches that Baker made that have not yet been renovated since his time.  I plan to look for these while I’m there; that along with paying attention to the carvings in the fireplaces. Her book includes an owl carving which is very cool.

Because the author and her husband were unable to do any paranormal investigations as they were able in her previous book, I found the inclusion of such details uninteresting. The introduction includes an explanation of why they were unable to control the environments (mostly because of cost) but if they could this is what they would have done, etc. That being said, if you read her last book and picked up this one assuming that you would receive details about various readings you could be disappointed.

Finally, I enjoyed her conclusion because it includes her reflection of what these haunted hotels have in come. I've read several books about haunted places but I've never seen an author make such succinct connections between the places. Not to give away any of her work but one connection that she did find was the similarity between the places with certain geology including limestone to have powerful natural charges.

I think the book is more interesting if you’re traveling to one of these locations (or if you’ve been in the past). Once I return from vacation, I will do some research on some of the hotels she mentions. I'm developing a course on Dark Tourism for the spring semester and will mention this book to my students as a possible resource for their projects. Some of them may have had experiences or have grown up near these hotels. It will make an interesting discussion for sure. 

2016 NetGalley Challenge

Monday, July 18, 2016

...ghostly vacation prep, and a new book...
photo retrieved from Legend of America
I picked up the book, Ghosts from Our Past, this weekend because it looked hysterical and perfect for my vacation. The book, mentioned in the movie, is supposed to be written by Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig's character) and Abby L. Yates (Melissa McCarthy's character) and recounts the fictional characters’s experiences with the paranormal. It also includes a historical overview of ghosts as well as charts for identification. With pictures of imaginary dogs (read that as it is a picture without a dog), the book is completely ridiculous in a funny-don’t-take-yourself-so-seriously kind of way.

I have to note that I have not gone to see the new Ghostbusters (2016) just yet. I’m sure that I will but life has been one bit of hectic after another all in preparation of my road trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to spend a week in America’s Most Haunted Hotel. My mother and I are taking a road trip. She watches all of those ghost hunting shows (and ones about Big Foot), and is completely into them. She’s a believer.

Honestly, I’m not sure what I am. I’m not really a skeptic although if someone shows me a picture of a piece of wood with a face in it I’m going to discount it… that and faces in toast. I’m not buying into that noise. But when I was young and my friends had started to pass, a (living) friend and I believe we heard our (dead) friend’s voice say, “Stop” right before we would have been in a car accident. I was 16 years old and at that point I had already buried two close friends. At 42, I question this and wonder if it wasn’t more psychology and trauma. It’s hard to say because memory has a way of fading and morphing. I *want* to believe; I really do. I think there is magic in the world but with the news lately it is easy to question all of that…but that’s for another day.

When I first moved to Massachusetts for a teaching position right out of grad school, my mother went with me to look for apartments. I was a broke graduate with more student loans than cash so fortunately my school allowed us to stay in the dorm over the summer. There were renovations going on but we were promised that all of the workers would be cleared out before nightfall so that we could sleep peacefully. We went to bed. The next morning, I woke around 5am and saw my mother sitting up in her bed holding a broom. She explained that she had heard noises during the night. More specifically, she heard keys and footsteps that led out onto the roof which was right next to the room where we were sleeping. She believed that someone from the construction crew was trying to break in by accessing the window. She was so scared. Later in the morning, I saw the superintendent of schools and mentioned what had happened. He laughed and said, “No one had a key or access to the building after dark” but that it was probably just Max. 

I had completely forgotten about the ghost which apparently resides behind the 18th-century house-remodeled-into-dorm on campus.

Oops. I mean, even the school’s mascot is the galloping ghosts. Mom wasn't so happy with me but she lived to tell her ghost story of Max who apparently makes all kinds of sounds. It’s probably important to note that this is a residential school for Deaf students so keys and footsteps certainly would not wake anyone who typically slept in the dorm… or folks like me who will sleep through almost anything.  

This is going to be a ghost-focused trip. I've mapped out locations along the way that are haunted including the "Greenbrier Ghost", a woman named Elva Zona Heaster-Shue who was murdered by her husband. There is a historical marker that explains that Elva appeared to her mother explaining what happened and that this is the
"Only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer." We're also stopping by to see the marker of Octavia Smith Hatcher, a woman who accidentally was buried alive. 

I’m not saying that America’s Most Haunted Hotel isn’t haunted but I’m not planning to see anything out of the ordinary. That doesn't mean we are not booking fun tours in hopes of seeing something spooky even if it is just old buildings at night. 

Here's a trailer from one of the local tours we'll be taking. 

I’m viewing this vacation as a bit of research for my course on dark tourism but my mom will more likely end up with a tale to tell while I'll end up having a good night's sleep on vacation.

Whatever happens, we'll be able to log our notes in the back of the Ghosts from Our Past text ;D