I came across a news story (link broken) about “haunted” Lafayette, Indiana.
It’s a typical soft news story about local authors and their new book of collected yarns. It also provided a little Fortean kick since, according to Mysterious America by Loren Coleman, place names that include “Fayette” or “Lafayette” have unusual activity or bad luck associated with them. I won’t go into depth about how that is totally selective cherry-picking and uninteresting. But, it is both.
In Lafayette, the authors rightly thought that a combination of interesting stories and local history would be winner. “I thought people would read about history if a ghost story was attached.” The article notes that the authors are “not ghost hunters, but writers who decided to document people’s stories about supernatural folklore.” They use the usual disclaimer, “We leave it up to the reader to decide whether they believe it or not.”
There’s a problem with that idea. These stories aren’t categorized outright as fiction. They get shelved under “local interest” or “travel”. The concept of ghosts as genuine entities lacks scientific validity. The stories, however, can fall nicely into folklore as suggested. So, file ghost stories under “fiction” or “folklore” and quit treating them as “true stories”.
I notice that pop culture products tend to make a giant leap from a personal experience to explaining what caused that experience. I’m not going to deny that people have had awful, terrifying experiences but I will not leap to the conclusion that something supernatural is the root cause. Ghost stories do this. It’s their template – otherwise they would not be “ghost stories” but just “stories” and that wouldn’t make the merchandise move. Or help with local tourism dollars.
The “Weird US” books are popular and highly entertaining reads. I own the “Weird Pennsylvania” and enjoy recalling the stories as I pass through a featured town. But, it’s a story. Stories are embellished to be ultra-interesting, to evoke an emotional response, to get you to remember. I’m not one for making a pilgrimage to one of the locations. Yet, many do.
This is big business. Ghost tours are springing up in many tourist towns. Advertisements always including a teaser that you might experience the ghost yourself or capture an anomaly in a photo. Nonsense. The tour guests are primed to have an experience. If the wind gusts after the guide speaks, they will call that a sign from the spirit world.
Haunted America Tours presents stories about America’s scariest places, the very best ghost tours and searching for ghosts in airports. I won’t even click on a link to Haunted American Tours (not gonna link to it…) because that page burns my eyes with its high-contrast amateurish layout, advertisements and fictionality. Their content is just plain silly.
Thanks to Tonya K for this most excellent new skeptics vocabulary word: hauntrepreneur. It’s perfect to describe the rather obvious goal of ghost-themed establishments, books, tours and events around the US – making money. These books and events suggest to folks that ghosts are real and verifiable as long as you convincingly tell a good story. Tonya did a review of a Gettysburg ghost tour.
I was FLABBERGASTED at the number of ghost tours offered for Gettysburg. I’m still not sure why they have proliferated but I think it may have something to do with the human need to hold sacred the area where so many dramatically died. Oh, and money from tourists. Gettysburg is a classic example of using history as a legitimate front for a hauntrepreneurship.
I reviewed a ghost tour in Cape May, New Jersey. You can read that here.
The act of drawing tourists with claims of the paranormal also is common at lake resorts. Check out this story about the profitable lake monster business plan. Your story needs no evidence whatsoever to back it up. It just needs promotion. Design a stylized creature (cute or scary works), the merch to sell at the visitors center, the fancy sign and then start up an annual festival.
I’m OK with the fiction as long as it isn’t presented as fact. Who doesn’t love a good tale. Yet, the line is crossed in many cases. The people visit these places anticipating an experience because they are led to believe others have had such experiences. They may outwardly admit it might be fiction but still lay their money down and count on being impressed. I say they want to believe the ghosts and monsters are real. All the hype makes it feel real. It makes the place even more “special”. If this draws tourists and causes them to spend more money, the locals think that’s OK. I just think it’s a sham.