I had no plans of writing a blog post this week. I said my piece on ghost tours last year. This Halloween, it was the next generation’s turn to share their opinions on the matter. Jules and Jen both did a spectacular job on the subject, and I commend them even though our perspectives differ. But when I learned that my stance had come under fire from another blog, I eagerly leapt from the comfort of my editing armchair and returned to the front lines to compose this piece.
Now, I should clarify that I’m not rejecting folklore as a valid form of making sense of suffering. I firmly believe that it is a core component of Gettysburg’s heritage. I am only rejecting ghost tours as an authentic expression of folklore. It is true that spiritualism has long predated the emergence of the ghost tours industry. But I believe it is problematic to confound folklore with the stories told by ghost tours. Continue reading “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts”
Whether you believe ghosts exist or not, I think most visitors would agree that if they did in fact exist, there would be a whole community of them living in Gettysburg. Upon entering the stores downtown and looking at the merchandise, it becomes very clear that store owners feed this fascination. Any visitor is bound to see the typical “got ghosts? Gettysburg does” t-shirt or similar merchandise elsewhere in town. The Gettysburg Tour Center even features a selection of books ranging from The Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories to I Met a Ghost at Gettysburg. Just a few aisles over, next to the “Heritage Not Hate” mugs, there are mouse pads, shot glasses, and even snow globes with “Gettysburg Ghosts” printed all over them.
While many historians ardently oppose the ghost tour industry for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events and trivialization of atrocities, paranormal tourism remains ubiquitous in Gettysburg. What explains this industry’s success? I decided to go out into town and ask employees and visitors why they believe it is so successful, for they, not the historians, are the ones fueling it. Continue reading “GettysBOOrg, PA: Complicating the Ghost Tour Debate”
Many moons ago, I visited Gettysburg as part of the CWI Summer Conference High School Scholarship Program. One night, though exhausted from our daily lectures and tours, a group of us decided to continue indulging in the history around us in a method only a band of curious teenagers would compile: a self-led ghost hunt of the College campus.
The night served to unite us as we exchanged stories of the Blue Boy and the mysterious basement of Penn Hall. We didn’t have fancy equipment for our hunt, but led one another through the dark, unfamiliar paths, intermingling fact and fiction. We didn’t catch sight of any ghosts on Stine Lake, but we made lifelong friendships.
This anecdote leads to a question: where does the concept of Gettysburg’s spookier past fall in a landscape dominated by history? On that night, that group of kids found a way to incorporate it, innocently and with as much truth as we knew. Why, then, is it so difficult for many to reconcile it with the tales of Lee and Meade that haunt this hallowed ground?
The story I am about to tell is entirely true. Several weeks ago, as I departed Musselman Library after a long night of intensive research, a sudden presence roused me from my intellectual exhaustion. I was chilled to the bone as they appeared before me: shadowy figures silhouetted against the dimly lit façade of our beloved administration building. Now, I had, of course, heard of the campus’ hauntings. Tales of the ghostly field hospital in Penn Hall’s basement, the spectral sentry watching from its cupola, and the Blue Boy of Stevens Hall are well known stories throughout our campus community and beyond. But I had never expected that night to encounter one of the most frightening entities known to frequent our campus: ghost tour groups. As I passed between two separate tours – one sitting audaciously on the steps of Penn Hall – I tensed.