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Things That Go “Bump”

“Don’t worry, all the hauntings here are friendly,” the curator reassured us at the start of the tour. He felt the need to offer this calming statement because we were just about to be led on a paranormal ghost tour of the Fairbanks House Historical Site in Dedham, MA. The date was Friday October 13th.

Dear readers, your reaction to the idea of a ghost tour of the oldest timber frame structure in North America on the night of Friday the thirteenth is probably similar to the reaction of my friends when I suggested it. For some strange reason, this was the date with the largest block of unreserved tickets – go figure. The tour was very interesting, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an evening with a bit of seasonal atmosphere, a lot of history, and a large dollop of local flavor.

Personally, I love haunted history tours. I will go with friends to a ghoulish jump-out-and-say-boo haunted house every few years, but I will visit macabre historic locations any time of the year, and especially during Fall. From the Lizzie Borden house to Salem to the oldest graveyards in the country, New England has a lot to offer those looking for spooky entertainment. If you’re looking for ideas of local haunted treasures, check out “Haunted New England: A Devilish View of the Yankee Past” by Mary Eastman and Mary Bolté, or the ever popular “Weird Massachusetts” by Jeff Belanger. For thrill and chill seekers looking for something off the beaten path, I also recommend the website, “the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places.”

Or, perhaps you’re more of an armchair explorer? There’s nothing quite like cracking open a scary novel, or better yet a nonfiction book about haunted places and first-hand paranormal accounts, all alone on a dark chilly night, candle lit, the house creaking in far-flung corners…then in your room…then right behind you! Author Colin Dickey is also fascinated with our nation’s ghosts and where to find them. His recent book, “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places,” chronicles his treks to suss out not only some of our most haunted locations, but also how we continue to live with and in these spaces. What stories do we tell ourselves about these ghosts and spaces, how do these stories change in the telling, and how can these ghost stories inform our understanding of our own history?

Why are we entertained by hauntings, monsters, curses, paranormal activity, and the undead? These are all things that, by rights, we should run screaming from every time. Yet culturally and as individuals we are fascinated by death and the dark to the point of seeking it out for entertainment. Literally millions of people spend countless hours and billions of dollars every year scaring themselves. We can’t seem to get enough of horror and the things that go “bump” in the night.

According to Walter Kendrick, author of “The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment,” horror has been part of moral and religious instruction for millennia, but has only been seen as a form of entertainment for about the last 250 years. Fans of the Lore Podcast by Aaron Mahnke, author of the new book “The World of Lore,” will agree that scary stories have long served as cautionary tales and to explain the things in life that can’t otherwise be explained. Two books in particular tackle the question of monsters and the human psyche: “On Monsters: An Unnatural History of our Worst Fears” by Stephen Asma, and “Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting” by W. Scott Poole. Monsters have compelled and repelled us for centuries, embodying our deepest vulnerabilities and anxieties while also representing the obscure unknown beyond our safe, rational thoughts. For a more in-depth discussion of one of the most famous creatures in literature, Frankenstein’s monster, check out “The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpieces,” by Roseanne Montillo.

So how is it we can find fun in horror? Kendrick points out that the growth of horror as entertainment has “paralleled the almost total removal from most Western experience of the aftereffects of death, leaving them to cavort in the imagination.” Ah-ha. When there’s room for our imaginations to play, we will be entertained. In Western culture, horror and the supernatural really came into their own as entertainment in the Victorian era. According to Simone Natale in her new book, “Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture,” cultural fascination with the macabre was strongly tied to the rise of the media entertainment industry in the nineteenth century, including print media and photography.

Once established as a genre for popular consumption, horror has been nearly unshakeable in film and literature. Tastes and trends have certainly evolved over time, from Gothic vampires to stranger slashers to the unquiet undead to unstoppable cyborgs. In his book, “The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead,” author Adam Rockoff discusses our obsession with horrific tales played out on the big screen, and how trends in horror have shifted with our changing culture.

Whether your tastes lie with books, audiobooks, or movies, the library has you covered for thrills, chills, and horror – and just in time for Halloween! Our horror novels are interfiled with the rest of fiction, but feel free to check with a library staff member to help locate books by your favorite authors. Hoopla Digital has a plethora of ebooks, audiobooks, movies, and TV specials about horror, paranormal investigations, and more, all available for instant streaming and download. Be afraid, dear readers. Be very afraid.

Liz Reed is an Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz’s column in the October 26th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Liz Reed

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