The Field of Spookiness: An Historical Survey 

by Stephen Olbrys Gencarella 

Note: Page numbers from the print version are indicated in brackets and should not be considered part of the text of the article. 

[page 9] Abstract: This essay argues for greater attention to the concept of spookiness in supernatural studies and related fields. It extends recent insights into “the Spooky” by examining the historical development of spookiness and its evolution through various branches of folklore and popular culture in the United States. Special attention is given to its introduction into the American vernacular during the 1800s from Dutch sources relating to ghosts; its relationship both to Spiritualism and to Halloween; and to “spook shows,” a form of entertainment that burgeoned in the twentieth century. Throughout, this essay contends that comic and related lighthearted manifestations of spookiness warrant analysis and appreciation as much as those aligned with horror and variations of the scary. 

Keywords: spookiness, the Spooky, spook shows, ghosts, Spiritualism, Halloween, folklore 

In the history of ideas, spookiness has had a devil of a time earning respect. While related registers concerning the supernatural have long enjoyed robust intellectual attention— witness the Uncanny, the Abject, the Fantastic, the Weird, the Eerie, the Creepy, the Gothic, and even Horror—the Spooky has languished. The reasons for such neglect were never articulated in detail, but may be due to spookiness’s association with experiences considered too juvenile, domestic, or playful for serious scholarship in the humanities and the social sciences.¹ Yet even with the maturation of folklore and popular culture studies—that is, those disciplines willing to examine the ephemeral and the “low” arts— the concept has fared little better as a topic of research.² Recently, Joshua B. Tuttle made an attempt to raise the Spooky as a legitimate subject for literary and social theory in his essay, “Dancing in the Ruins: Toward an Affect-Narratology of the Spooky,” which saw publication in the [page 10] well-regarded Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts in 2020. 

In this essay, I make the case that Tuttle succeeded in dignifying the Spooky but did so by separating it from certain elements that were essential to its conceptualization in folk and popular culture through much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I argue that, although Tuttle accomplishes a significant achievement in contemporizing the concept, there is more to say about the historical Spooky. This article is, accordingly, not a critique of his contribution but a complementary survey of that important history. My aim herein is to establish even more space for spookiness as a resource and constituent of the supernatural, including experiences that are not beholden to seriousness, negative affectivity, or the horror genre. In the pages that follow, I describe a broad field of spookiness in United States history from its emergence in the early 1800s to the 1950s, a legacy that informs storytelling and related traditional practices to this day. 

Spookiness and the Spooky 

Responding to the dearth of theorizing about spooky elements in the arts, especially supernatural fiction, Tuttle provides a compelling argument for their importance. His chief interlocutors were Tzvetan Todorov’s classic The Fantastic—and with it Todorov’s conceptualization of the Uncanny and the Marvelous—and Mark Fisher’s recent but similarly influential The Weird and the Eerie. Tuttle deftly asserts a place for the Spooky among those five others registers. Before discussing his argument, I acknowledge that any such attempt to isolate a particular concept runs certain risks, including the raising of artificial divides between ideas and genres that readily intermingle, and the problem of translatability into languages that do not observe the same semantic distinctions. Tuttle is aware of this potential and careful to avoid collapsing experiences into one another while arguing for a close relationship between them. [page 11]

To review, Todorov defines the Fantastic—a phenomenon that is different from fantasy proper—as the hesitation that occurs when a reader encounters the seemingly supernatural. If the uncertainty of that experience resolves in a rational explanation—that is, a confirmation of the world as it is known—there is a shift to an adjacent genre, the Uncanny (Todorov 41). If the uncertainty resolves with the realization of an actual supernatural event—and therefore a violation of known ontologies—the shift is to the Marvelous (41). In a similar vein, Fisher identifies the Weird as that which does not belong (10) and the Eerie as the failure of absence or of presence (61)—or as Fisher quips, “nothing where there should be something; something where there should be nothing” (65). Although Todorov recognizes that the Fantastic may produce fear or horror, he also argues that it may generate curiosity (Todorov 92). Similarly, Fisher contends that the Weird and the Eerie share a preoccupation with the strange and not with the horrific (8). As Tuttle conceives of their relationships, the Weird aligns more closely with the Uncanny and the Eerie with the Marvelous (367), and hence, all four relate to the Fantastic.

In Tuttle’s conceptualization, the Spooky is the feeling that engenders the Fantastic as the moment that precedes the hesitation. Drawn from layered conventions akin to the Gothic, the Spooky is, fundamentally, the experience of maybe—that is, of haunting possibility. In this manner, the Spooky may extend the Fantastic and the chance of the Marvelous and resists resolution into the Uncanny. In sympathy with the Eerie, the Spooky furthermore offers liberatory potential to loosen ontologies, alter stringent concepts of time, and (re)enchant. Indeed, Tuttle insists that the Spooky stands as a bulwark against the disenchantment of the world, forever raising the possibility that the supernatural may heal a sense of loss or pain as readily as it might exacerbate them. Neither a wholly negative nor a wholly positive register, the Spooky is also never neutral, and hence provides a means of “injecting into the everyday the possi-[page 12]bility of an otherwise” by “restoring access to a powerful psychic resource” (Tuttle 377).

Tuttle’s contribution is at once sensible and admirable. In endorsing the Spooky, he advocates for a phenomenon that may serve both as a continued constituent of creativity in storytelling and a means to resist technical rationality. He provides a signpost to an affect that actively thwarts reductionist modes of thinking which themselves rely upon the denigration of otherworldly experience. He thus revitalizes a means of enacting a shared sense of the social through supernatural discourses, one which even atheists (myself included) could utilize to puncture recalcitrant religious and political pieties or as a therapeutic for identifying and addressing the core anxieties of modern existence. He has, in other words, succeeded in ennobling the Spooky for our contemporary circumstances.

Tuttle accomplishes this, however, largely by severing the Spooky from its historical roots in folk and popular culture practices. His purpose for doing so is clear, and I do not disagree with the outcome, but I also contend that there are important aspects to the historical Spooky—which I will call “spookiness” so as to distinguish it from Tuttle’s configuration—that inform the same ethical and creative advantages of the contemporary Spooky. To unpack the contours of this greater phenomenon of spookiness, we must consider those features that Tuttle omits.

Early in his discussion Tuttle relies upon the OED definition of “spooky” as “[o]f, or relating to, the characteristic of spirits or the supernatural; frightening, eerie” (361). Despite this move and his ultimate endorsement of the Spooky as a means to redress the social exorcism of ghosts which started in the late nineteenth century—a practice that led to a figurative use of the ghostly (such as Derridean hauntology) without actual belief in them or allowance of the special registers of the supernatural (376)—Tuttle’s configuration of the Spooky has little to do with otherworldly beings. They are not wholly absent, but he moves the Spooky well beyond [page 13] its etymological roots in a Germanic word for a spirit, apparition, or ghost.³ For Tuttle, the Ruin, rather than the ghost, epitomizes the Spooky. Even in his case study of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Tomb,” Tuttle’s emphasis lies on the mausoleum, the ruins of a mansion, and the surrounding woods more than the spirits of the protagonist’s ancestors. 

For Tuttle, the Spooky is primarily a cause of disquiet (361), which is certainly not a reach exceeding its historical sensibility. However, in his desire to treat the Spooky as a serious phenomenon, he also rules out its “sometimes-comedic” and jocular sense, as well as its reminiscence of Halloween (362). Instead, he only admits to the Spooky “the darker registers of emotion” (362). Tuttle continues: 

The Spooky, as I’m using it, deals with the preparations or properties of a place or a narrative that function as signs of a possible encounter or threat, characterized by a growing sense of imminence. These could be instantiated as tropes such as dilapidation, darkness, or stillness—or by the sign that says “I’d turn back if I were you.” (362) 

The Spooky moves into locations where there is “forgotten purposiveness” (365). A building becomes a ruin, then, not solely because of its age or its decrepit condition, but when its origins are lost and it is subject to “an accretive process of legend formation” (364). Indeed, one of the key features of Tuttle’s notion is that the Spooky “doesn’t arise from an encounter” (367) and “evaporates as soon as there is an encounter at all, in the sense that we aren’t in the zone of hopeful expectation any longer if the object of the hope, the possibility longed for, has already been fulfilled” (368). 

Those five omissions from Tuttle’s concept of the Spooky—namely supernatural beings; the jocular; Halloween; remembered origins and purpose; and encounters themselves—are precisely the elements of spookiness that animate folk and popular culture history. Tuttle’s more limited scope is in part due to the texts he brings to the forefront for analysis, which are Lovecraft’s The Tomb (1922), [page 14] Karl Edward Wagner’s In a Lonely Place (1983), Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818), and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911). As I will demonstrate in the next section, a farther-reaching notion of spookiness, one that entails and derives from usages in folk and popular culture is plausible. The spatial metaphor that I intend to pursue conceptualizes spookiness as a field that includes all of Tuttle’s configuration plus the additional elements that he omits, whereas the Spooky is a more narrow selection devoid of those elements. 

Spookiness in United States Folk and Popular Culture 

In sketching a history of folk and popular culture performances of spookiness, my aim is to demonstrate the impact such a conception of the supernatural has had in American society, while preserving Tuttle’s insights. Most important, I seek to illustrate how spookiness came to figure as a playful form of entertainment and spectacle. Although a comprehensive historical examination of spookiness in the United States alone would require a tome of considerable size, I offer this survey as a means to contribute to the process. Accordingly, I examine only incidents in which the actual terms “spook(s),” “spookiness,” “spooky” and their derivatives appear in discourse. I have organized this material in roughly chronological order, although it bears notice that certain expressions continued to be used unabated over the course of time as an adaptive folk tradition.

Spooks before Spiritualism

The concept of a “spook”—and the word itself—appears to have entered American English through Dutch enclaves in the Northeast, especially in New York and Pennsylvania. According to the OED, the first usage in print occurs in 1801 in a line of poetry, “By mine dunder I fly so swift as any spook ” (“Spook”). However, the quotation lacks context: that line is found in a poem entitled “Hans’ Letter to Notchie.” It [page 15] is a roguishly saccharine love poem, written to convey a Dutch accent and purportedly composed by a Dutchman in Albany. In the stanza immediately preceding the spook reference, Hans expresses his concerns: 

I fare zum Yankee vull of art

More cunning as de very deel

Vil get away yourn little hart

Zo as da mill our horshes steal (4)

In the next stanza, Hans promises to chase anyone who steals Notchie’s heart with his wagon and horses, as quickly as thunder (“dunder”) and flying as fast as a spook.

The meaning of “Yankee” here is telling. Although it could simply be a play on the Dutch name Jan—elsewhere in the poem there is mention of “Yacob”—the comparison between a cunning Yankee and the devil and their distinction from the earnest Hans the Dutchman speaks to the development in the early 1800s of the Yankee folk character as a representative of English-speaking New England. This poem circulated in many New England newspapers and may have originated there, despite the introductory claim that it was composed in Albany.⁴ In other words, if this is the first appearance of “spook” in English in the United States, it is in the context of a contest between two regional stereotypes.

A more frightening usage animates one of the next early appearances of the word, found in a poem published in a Cincinnati, Ohio, newspaper in 1808, “The Affrighted Bumpkin.” Regrettably, the author is anonymous. As it is certainly among the first—if not the first—“spook stories” in the United States, and one that has not been seen for centuries, I include it here in full: 

As wounded deer, with panic struck,

Swift flies, like lightning, thro’ the wood,

And leaves the yelping hounds behind;

So flies the bumpkin, when perchance,

Thro’ some thick wood oblig’d to pass,

When night’s dark Goddess holds her reign.

Wary he steps along the road, [page 16}

With active fancy—watchful eye—

Painting all grim the horrid sprite,

Wide staring with his saucer eyes!—

Till soft behind his heels, he hears

The ghostly phantom step:—He starts!

His hair erect—(enough to fright

E’en twenty ghosts, had they been there.)

And flies along the winding way,

Nor casts a single look behind,

Lest his affrighted eye should catch

The Spook, full staring in his face;—

’Till bursting ope the cottage door,

He stirs the embers on the hearth,

And strikes a light to calm his fears—

There cooling from his heated chase,

He talks of ghosts and awful sprites. (4)

In a footnote, the author explains, “Spook is a word in the Low Dutch language, and signifies ghost or spirit” (4). That such an explanation was necessary suggests a recent introduction of the term into American English. The essential observation here is that both of these early records demonstrate that “spook” was a ghost, and by extension, spookiness and a spooky situation (albeit terms not yet entered into the language) concerned the presence and activities of ghosts. It is also noteworthy that both represent spooks as part of the worldview of someone—perhaps an ethnic other—who is less educated or lacking in sophistication. 

As the word took root in the first half of the nineteenth century, it increasingly became available for both the supernatural tale and for mockery of presumably foolish beliefs. Space limitations prohibit a detailed analysis of an impressive litany of examples, but with respect to surviving documents that testify to its usage in the first instance, there are rich examples from both folkloric and literary texts, most centered in the Northeastern United States. In 1827, for example, legends circulated about the spook of William Morgan haunting the Niagara River; Morgan, a sharp critic of [page 17] Freemasons, disappeared the year prior and was presumed murdered (see The National Advocate from 30 April 1827 for an example). Later that year, the Greene County Republican reported that fishermen had encountered a spook—“shrouded in white drapery”—in a fish-house on the Hudson River near Coxsackie (2). The newspaper report found their claim incredulous and offered in response a waggish comparison between “his spookship” and Morgan’s ghost, as well as an invocation of Sleepy Hollow further down the river.

With respect to literature and popular culture, copious minor works increasingly revolved around the appearance of a spook or a mistaken identity taken as one.⁵ Starting in the 1830s, three New Yorkers left indelible influence in popularizing the idea. Two of them, James Kirke Paulding and Charles Fenno Hoffman, were members of the “Knickerbocker Group,” authors who frequently contributed to The Knickerbocker, a chief literary magazine in New York City.⁶ The third, Charles James Cannon, was a poet, novelist, and dramatist living in New York City. In 1835, Cannon published Facts, Feelings and Fancies, a collection that includes a poem entitled “The Spook,” a comic romp in which a young lover, Herman, passes by presumably haunted locales and initially mistakes his approaching beloved for a ghost:

Affrighted, for a form appears

That rallies all his scattering fears.

His eyes do not deceive him now.

Forward it comes, solemn and slow!

His hair’s erect—fast are his feet—

Advance he cannot—nor retreat—

He stands, as if by magic bound,

While all the world is dancing round,

Until a laugh his fears subdued,

And lo! It was his own Gertrude. (79)

In 1836, Hoffman penned a series of tales set in the Hudson Valley for American Monthly Magazine, each composed as if it were a well-known legend. One story, “The Spook Visitor,” concerns the ghost of an amicable but hapless Dutchman, [page 18] Ba’ant Van Tromp, who when alive was a welcomed mirthmaker and gossip. While on a sloop near West Point, a freak tornado knocks him overboard and he drowns, awakening in the afterlife to join the “Ghost-fraternity” of all those who perished in the Hudson River. This afterlife is one of charming delights, but eventually, the other ghosts tire of Van Tromp’s tales and decide to amend their supernatural rules to allow him to return and recruit the living, albeit with the condition that he must only materialize as others still alive. He does so with relish, and although he centers his abode on Constitution Island—which Hoffman gleefully asserts that the earlier Dutch settlers called “Spookinsel”⁷ (“Scenes” 16)—he routinely shapeshifts into prominent citizens, travelers, and others in the surrounding communities, stirring up mischief as the Spook Visitor.

In addition to anchoring a number of narratives, the notion of spooks also permeated discussions of superstition and negative extensions of such irrationality in society. These dismissals were, often, directed at ethnic groups who believed in spooks—especially the Dutch and, later, African Americans⁸—as well gendered against women and classed against the poorer and less educated. Throughout 1818, for example, newspapers carried reports of Dutch women mistaking the traveler Estewick Evans for a spook (“An Eccentric”), and in 1846, the Detroit Daily Free Press indulged in relaying the account of a family who mistook hornets in the walls of their home for a spook invasion (“A Haunted House”). Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, however, a prominent counterstatement arose in an essay entitled “Infidel Courage.” It originated in the Dutch Reformed Magazine and concerned overbearing secularists who decried all superstition (including, presumably, religion) but themselves were prone to being scared by spooks, especially those contrived by ghostly-costumed jokesters who wished to prove a point against the haughty.

The question of belief in spooks even entered into legal procedures, as a means to test the legitimacy of testimony. [page 19] In the Pennsylvania murder case against Charles Getter in 1833, for example, witnesses were routinely asked if they believed in spooks or fortune tellers (“Trial of Getter”). The trials against Polly Bodine, the so-called Witch of Staten Island, brought further attention to the practice. In Bodine’s first trial in 1844, defense attorney Roderick Morrison inquired of Mrs. Jane Taylor whether she believed in spooks or ghosts. In the transcript, Taylor testified that she was unsure but also noted that she had seen one two to three months earlier (“Trial of Polly Bodine”). During Bodine’s second trial, for which Morrison was no longer an attorney, another defense attorney questioned if Taylor had not once admitted to seeing a spook. She replied, initially, that what she had seen was Attorney Morrison in white breeches (“Circuit”). This sardonic response apparently ignited an uproar of laughter in the court, but Taylor subsequently admitted to once having seen a ghost. Morrison, for his part, was active in state politics, and in 1848 ran for Congress. The New York Dispatch, which opposed his candidacy, passed along the titillating information that, since Bodine’s second trial, he had been known by the nickname “Spookey Morrison” (2). It was arguably the first occasion of the adjectival form being attached to a prominent public figure and heralded another comic usage.

The Spook Business

With precedents stretching back for centuries, the formal movement known as Spiritualism—that is, communication with departed spirits through mediums—arose in earnest in the mid-nineteenth century in the United States and later spread to other parts of the globe. Although Spiritualists would avoid the language of the spooky, their skeptics and critics frequently employed that terminology with a tinge of derision or dismissal. This linguistic practice demarcates another significant constituent of the field of spookiness, namely its occupation of the threshold between [page 20] credulity and incredulity. In bringing this topic to the fore, my aim is not to disparage earnest believers in Spiritualism but to demonstrate how the concept of spookiness has long been engaged in controversial cultural expression concerning legerdemain, or sleight of hand.

As early as 1838, for example, the Long Island Star criticized a lecture by Samuel Byron Brittan in which he “attempted to establish the existence and tangibility of supernatural beings” (“Mr. Brittan’s” 2). The editorial lambasts his claims with five queries, each increasingly mocking. The fifth question is representative: 

Why is it that among the many instances of the ghostly representatives of departed old gentlemen, who have re-appeared, no one has ever been seen without the usual appurtenances of cocked-hat, smalls and knee-buckles; though the “counterfeit presentment” of the same suit were lying folded, at the same time, in the top drawer of the old oak bureau! Be there spooks of coats and stockings and buttons, as well as wearers, too? (2)

In the decades to follow, Brittan would become a leading voice in Spiritualism as a lecturer, author, and publisher. It was, however, the purported paranormal activities surrounding the Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York, that assumed the symbolic inauguration of the movement. In March 1848, Kate and Margaret Fox claimed communication with the spirit of a deceased peddler in their home through a system of “rappings” and related sounds. As word spread of their discovery, the two quickly rose to celebrity as mediums. Indeed, as Simone Natale has argued, the most important location for Spiritualism’s early history was not the Fox house in March 1848, but rather Corinthian Hall in nearby Rochester on 14 November 1849, when the “sisters demonstrated spirit communication for the first time before a paying public” (1). This event would catalyze both the religious movement of Spiritualism and an unusual form of entertainment predicated on supernatural themes, including [page 21] séances, mesmerism, and similar performances that Amy Lehman identifies as “the theatre of trance” (3).

By January 1850, countless newspapers had taken a stand on the subject. Here, as before, the rhetorical invocation of “spooks” heralded negative judgment. The Portage Sentinel of Ravenna, Ohio, for example, took umbrage with the supernatural explanations for the “strange rapping or knocking upon the doors, walls, &c., of certain houses in different places in the State of New York,” but equally critiqued their attribution by a noted scientist to the sonic vibration of nearby dams, which could not explain the seemingly conscious replies in timing with questions posed by mediums (“Almost” 2). Contradicting both, the editorial stated, “We don’t believe much in spooks, neither do we believe in intelligent mill dams and water works. If this is a humbug, it is the work of human agency, the authors of which have not yet been detected” (2). This article’s scope prohibits extensive analysis of the concept of spookiness vis-à-vis Spiritualism and its detractors, but the pattern here is already well-established. As the nineteenth century marched on, skeptics of that folk practice resorted to the terminology of the spooky in order to criticize a finely constructed sensibility of the supernatural—that is, one constituted by the codependence of chicanery and gullibility. In doing so, these critics adapted earlier, English-language notions of spookiness, such as tendencies toward the ludic and the amusing.

There is perhaps no better illustration of this lampooning practice than the coining of the term “the spook business” to characterize Spiritualism and related performances of supernatural engagement. There are numerous references across decades, but the earliest are noteworthy for their acerbic tone. As early as 1854, for example, the Buffalo [New York] Morning Express attacked a petition in Brittan’s journal The Spiritual Telegraph that advised Congress to appoint a commission to study rappings; the Express derided such “spook business” and its questionable origins (“Congress” 2). By 1874, the Sacramento [California] [page 22] Record could condemn “the spook business ... [as] altogether too monotonous to be tolerable, and it is an insult to anthing in the form of intelligent beings to suppose them capable of such carryings on” (“The Oakland Spooks” 1). The Public Ledger of Memphis, Tennessee, however, could playfully long to recruit a specter into its ranks that same year:

“Spooks” of the materialistic kind can be seen on any night in Memphis by visiting spiritualistic circles. We wish some “ghost” would become sufficiently materialized that he, she, or it could be employed by us as a sub-reporter, that would gather up items all over town in a second or put a girdle round the earth in thirty minutes; then, indeed, would the “spook” business become a profitable investment and of some practical benefit to mankind. (3)

As time passed, the “spook business” became, for its critics, synonymous with lunacy (“Is Robert”) and farce (“The Ghost”). This tension grew pointedly robust in the wake of countless exposures of frauds, swindles, and hoaxes, including in the production of “spook pictures”—that is, altered or otherwise misrepresented photographs of spirits.

The contrived—and moneymaking—nature of many of those Spiritualist events led to another term by the mid1870s, “spook shows.” As with “spook business,” the earliest expressions connoted distance or ostracism from mainstream society. By the early decades of the twentieth century, however, both “spook shows” and even “spook business” took on another, more positive meaning, namely a specific set of performances by stage magicians and illusionists featuring the supernatural. As Fred Nadis explains, many turn-of-the-century magicians—Harry Houdini most prominently among them—allied with scientists and other skeptics to debunk Spiritualism and its kin (115).⁹ These performers, however, also saw tremendous opportunity for entertainments associated with séances and other supernatural displays, readily incorporating elements like floating tables, “spook cabinets” (out of which ghosts materialized), [page 23] slate writing, and ghostly script on walls, in their acts.

As a case in point, consider The Sphinx, an influential monthly for the magic industry, which commenced publication in 1902. From its inception, the magazine engaged the conjuring tricks of Spiritualism. Starting with the second volume, the magician F. W. King (Frederic K. Weston) wrote a series with the clever title “The Pro and Con of Spiritualism.” In each entry, he explained how Spiritualists performed their illusions—or “spook manifestations”—and recommended ways to adapt them into a magic act. King also compiled several of the mainstay Spiritualist tricks into a coherent performance he called “Twenty Minutes in Spookland” (15). Similarly, as stage magicians increasingly embraced spookiness and its associations, they began to create a number of “spooky” tricks and tricks with spooky monikers. A perusal of the major trade periodicals throughout the twentieth century reveals copious examples, including such entries as Charles Jordan’s “The Spook Card” (a vanishing card trick). Around 1915, Floyd Thayer’s Magic Company began selling a device called a “spooky-ookum”—a wooden tube in which items would vanish—and inspired numerous magicians to design a plethora of tricks.¹⁰ Hence, what began as an ironic name for Spiritualism became a welcome one for a subgenre of magic entertainment—and an exceedingly profitable one at that.

The Spooky Season

A final major contributor to the field of spookiness in folk and popular culture in the United States is the evolution of Halloween in the nation. Halloween celebrations began in earnest following mass immigration from Scotland and Ireland in the 1850s. These were initially extremely local events, but within a few decades, they began to spread, galvanizing newspapers and other media to explore their origins. From the 1860s on, these periodicals consistently relied upon the language of spooks to describe the super-[page 24]natural beings associated with the holiday on the British Isles. Often, “spooks” appeared alone as the defining mascot, but they were also routinely paired with goblins, hobgoblins, fairies, witches, and ghosts (the distinction between “spook” and this last term is not entirely clear). By the late 1880s, the word “spook” did not refer exclusively to entities from Irish, Scottish, and English folk belief, having become newspaper shorthand for the mischief-makers (usually boys and young men) who roamed the streets in Halloween revelry.

Similarly, by the 1880s, newspapers and magazines closely associated Halloween with “spooky” festivities, including the telling of ghost stories and many folk practices imported from the British Isles, such as divination, carving of vegetables (the turnip gave way to the pumpkin), masquerades and costumes, and various games associated with apples, nuts, mirrors, and the like. The Old-World association of fortune telling with the holiday (often to find one’s love) aligned, unsurprisingly, with essential beliefs of Spiritualism and with entertainment magic. The tropes and the tricks of both were often incorporated into Halloween events to produce the effect of spookiness—and ultimately, of enjoyment. In 1894, for example, the Fort Wayne [Indiana] News reported on the widespread “merriment and pleasure” at these events (“All Halloween” 2), and the South Bend [Indiana] Tribute similarly hailed the “many pleasant events” of the “spooky night” (“Halloween Gaiety” 5).

As in previous sections, I draw attention to this use of “spooky” in American English in order to demonstrate that the greater field of spookiness in the folk and popular culture of the time encompassed experiences that were whimsical and comical, even when they lent themselves to a good fright as part of the festivities. Today, Halloween is very much indebted to the horror industry and its concurrent elements of fear and disgust. That turn, however, is relatively recent. The history of the holiday in the United States was moored far longer to spookiness than to the scary, the shocking, and the sinister. [page 25]

An excellent illustration of this dynamic appears in the New York Tribune in 1904. The article, “Halloween Festival: A Witch Party, with Ghosts and Weird Observances,” commences thusly:

There is no night in all the year so altogether delightful for an evening party as the eve of All Saints’, for, though the day is supposed to be one of prayer in memory of the dead, the evening before it has been devoted to revelry since long back in the centuries. 

One cannot be formal with ghosts, as no books of etiquette have prescribed a proper course of conduct to be followed when one sees them. So, naturally, a party given on Halloween is distinguished by its informality and its jollity, even though the guests engage in the fateful occupation of learning whether they are to have the career of old maid, happy wife or widow, or their masculine equivalents. (65)

The article continues with sage advice on the means for a successful Halloween party. No more than twenty should attend, and they should be friends rather than acquaintances. The party might entail well-known traditions, such as bobbing for apples, or “something new”—the Tribune recommends weird costumes of witches and wizards, but with one admonition: “Abnormally nervous persons should not have dealings even with pretended spooks,” it cautions, as “sometimes one’s nerves do get a little shaken by the observance of Halloween” (65).

In order to strike a balance, the piece offers advice regarding invitations, locations—an open fire is key—the appropriate hours, the food and novelties, and the entertainment, especially the games. Considerable ink is spent in recommending decorations for the fortune teller, with the instruction to have one person enter the chamber at a time—this “dictum must be given in a deep hollow tone, as spooky as possible” (65). The method of divination is not important but also comes with a warning for the seer not to tell “horrors even in play” (65). Likewise, once the ghost stories begin [page 26] around the fire, the hosts should prevent the storytelling from becoming too “scary;” once the stories have been told:

[I]t will be well to turn on the lights and have some jolly, rollicking games like ‘roll the cover,’ so that the nervous tension may be removed before all start for home. The old-fashioned games are the best for this purpose, as the action dispels nervousness and causes laughter, thus putting everyone in a cheerful frame of mind and blotting out the half-terror left by the ghost stories. (65)

In juxtaposition to our contemporary Halloween, with major entertainment venues competing to make witless victims of “Fright Fests” and their terrifying kin, this advice may strike the reader as a hopeless relic of a simpler past. I would argue, however, that it epitomizes the distinction between spookiness and supernatural horror as two related but distinct modes of approaching the Halloween season. I want to emphasize that, for much of U. S. history, the goal was to achieve the spooky rather than the scary—a point made explicit in these instructions, and in addition to observing the old-fashioned nature of that objective, I will also point to its longevity. In 1935, for example, the popular journalist and radio personality Mary Margaret McBride published an article, syndicated nationally, with her recommendations for a proper celebration. Entitled “Halloween Spook Party Prevents Even Ghost of a Chance for Gloom,” it was aimed at curbing any genuine mischief by redirecting children’s energies to a “spook party,” providing advice for every aspect of the entertainment. Again, success was a measure of spooky fun rather than fear.

The historical relationship between Halloween, spookiness, and the comical or light-hearted should not be understated. As the early twentieth century rolled on, “spook parties” became, in the words of one report, “all the go” (Burgess 169). They were generally of three types. The first were these aforementioned Halloween parties, offered up in private dwellings, YMCAs, lodges, aid societies, temperance [page 27] union headquarters, and churches. The second were stage magic and illusion entertainment incorporating supernatural themes and acts often borrowed from Spiritualism. The third were shows in cinemas and nightclubs that hosted midnight dances and films. The range of those movies, however, generally oscillated among mystery, horror, and supernatural comedy, often within the same evening. In October 1923, for example, the Rialto Theater in Omaha, Nebraska, indulged in a midnight “Spook Performance” of three comedies: Haunted Spooks, Spooks, and The Ghost in the Garrett (“Ghosts”).¹¹ The following year, they played “the spookiest movie ever produced,” One Exciting Night, along with “spook comedies” Midnight Blues and Second Childhood (“Special Spook Show”). In 1926, it was Midnight Blues and the Little Rascals’ Shivering Spooks—which revolves around a séance conducted by a fake Spiritualist—accompanying the Harold Lloyd comedy Hot Water (Evening). Seven years later, cinemas across the nation opted for Bela Lugosi’s Night of Terror but advertised the film’s humor and mystery as much as its horror (“Ritz”).

Indeed, the precipitous rise of a new type of “spook show” (or “ghost show”) pulls together several threads, as these performances were a combination of stage magic and illusion with vaudeville elements (such as hypnotism) that used supernatural and often overtly Spiritualist themes and accoutrements accompanied by comedy. Increasingly, they featured the manifestation of ghosts under blackout conditions, using advances in technology to project apparitions on the audience. Although not exclusive to Halloween, these shows were abundant during the season and were frequently held in movie theaters at midnight. And just as they had with previous iterations, many stage magicians and illusionists led the development of these spook shows, both by performing in them and by offering—or, more precisely, selling—instructional guides for their creation.¹²

According to Beth A. Kattelman—following Herman Weber and Mark Walker—the magician El-Wyn (Edward [page 28] Charles Peck) was responsible for the creation of these new spook shows circa 1930 (24), but rather than nominate a sole inventor, I think it is more useful to recognize the continuation and evolution of a longstanding tradition of performing supernatural phenomena in a spooky style and with constant technological adaptations. I would further underscore that the consistent elements of the spook show tradition were (illusory) ghostly encounters, attachment to Halloween, and a generally sportive tone or one that oscillated between jesting and startling.

Regardless of their ultimate origins, these performances eventually transformed again. Toward the close of the 1930s, when they were regularly paired only with horror films, they increasingly relied upon the conventions of horror and hence turned away from spookiness as a theme. As Kattelman explains:

This period featured shows of a more horrific nature that were often much bloodier than the earlier spiritualism-based fare; instead of spirit cabinets and séances, these productions showcased impalements, immolations, limb-severing, or decapitations as their major effects, and they were often termed “horror shows” or “monster shows,” rather than ghost shows. (27)

This intertwining of midnight shows with the horror genre did not, however, signal the end of “spooky” media proper. In addition to launching such films as the Bowery Boys’ Spook Busters (1946), the 1940s and 1950s gave rise to several relevant comic books series and characters. These include the debut of Spencer Spook (1945) and Casper the Friendly Ghost’s cousin Spooky the Ghost (1953), as well as the shortlived Spook Comics (1946) and Spooky Mysteries (1946), both of which offered a mélange of mystery, horror, and comedy tales and supernatural beings—Mr. Lucifer (that is, the devil) and Spooky (the ghost of Captain Kidd) respectively—as hosts of sorts. By the 1960s, series such as The Addams Family (which began as cartoons in the New Yorker [page 29] in 1938) and The Munsters revitalized a relationship between the spooky and campy entertainment, even as a horror sensibility increasingly influenced Halloween, midnight showings, and related cultural performances. That legacy of spookiness continues today, often in tongue-in-cheek productions. Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International comics are a prime example, but so are countless “Spooktacular,” “SpookA-Rama,” and “Spooktober” events throughout the season.

Conclusion: Entertaining Spookiness

In bringing this essay to a conclusion, I would like both to summarize the main argument concerning spookiness and to offer an extension of its relevance for the development of supernatural studies. Throughout, I have attempted to uphold Tuttle’s insights regarding the Spooky while articulating a broader concept of spookiness. I contend that Tuttle’s conceptualization remains salient for contemporary notions of the Spooky, especially given the increasingly intimate interactions between the Spooky and supernatural horror in modern media; in this manner, the Spooky remains conversant with the Fantastic, the Weird, and the Eerie. I further concur with Tuttle that a reinvigoration of the Spooky is a means to reenchant the world—that is, to promote new visions and possibilities of the social through the exercise of the imagination. My point is simply that such re-enchantment would be maximized by engagement with the entirety of spookiness. To achieve that, we must recognize that some aspects of the Spooky that Tuttle rules out for the purpose of literary and social theory are essential to a folk and popular culture sensibility regarding spooky experiences—and they too constitute an intersection of affect and narrative that is both historically significant and useful for future storytelling.

To review, a fundamental element is the initial meaning of “spook” itself, namely ghosts and related supernatural beings. Tuttle’s theory does not neglect ghosts but also does [page 30] not hinge upon them; it necessitates a feeling of being haunted but does not require a (fictional) being doing the haunting. Accordingly, Tuttle has traversed a considerable distance from the concept’s origins in Dutch-American folklore and literary adaptations in the Northeastern United States as well as from its later developments in relation to Spiritualism and a range of ghost-oriented performances and characters during the twentieth century. For many folk and popular cultural expressions over these two centuries, spookiness never quite gave up the ghost. I do not mean to imply that spookiness is implausible without a sense of the ghostly—I wholly agree with Tuttle that the Spooky is a feeling applicable beyond ghost narratives—but I equally think that the long association between spookiness and ghosts is worthy of remembrance.

One reason is to underscore that spookiness need not be paired with scariness, just as ghosts need not always be conceptualized as threatening and malevolent. Indeed, as the recent ‘hauntological’ turn has revealed, ghosts may occupy a place in the social imaginary that demands attention, witnessing, and hailing in a manner that, if heeded, could benefit human civilization, forever ‘haunting’ collective memory with an awareness of past horrors that must not occur again. In a similar fashion, spookiness may portend—and be in alliance with—a comic sensibility that invites possibility, adaptation, and renewed imagination into human interaction. Spookiness often winks. It is not merely faux scary or in servitude to supernatural horror and related genres of dark emotions. It is a much more facile experience, one that ranges from the frightening to the frivolous and very often is an indulgence in harmless and restorative fun. To turn a phrase, in its recognition of playfulness, spookiness offers a way for the ‘deathworld’ to prevent the colonization of the lifeworld.

I am not arguing that spooky fun—or its organization into an entertainment system of exchange—is necessarily transgressive or resistant to social control and the entrap-[page 31]ments of consumerism. The transformation of Halloween from community celebration to multibillion-dollar industry readily demonstrates the pitfalls of any such assertion. But equally, spookiness as manifested in the folk and popular cultural expressions surveyed in this essay shows that enjoyment and play are capable of re-enchanting the social world by removing it from the demands of productivity. Spookiness is, essentially, a waste of resources—and often a humorous expenditure—and an excess without purpose made to salute something that does not exist outside the imaginary. The contemporary celebration of Halloween may be too heavily burdened by the dictates of consumption and the horror industry, but its history—and its close association with spookiness as a lighthearted affair to reinvigorate community—demarcates alternative festivities awaiting renewal.

This leads to the final aspect that Tuttle removes, the primacy of encounters in the larger field of spookiness. The Spooky may encapsulate the moment before an encounter or the disquiet of the maybe encounter. But spookiness as conceptualized and performed in countless historical texts is predicated on the encounter: an encounter with ghostly supernatural beings, an encounter with other humans still living and in memory, an encounter with the possibilities of the imaginary, and an encounter with the past as it speaks to the present and to the future. (Indeed, one might argue that all encounters entail an aspect of spookiness, as all occur within the shadow of what is and what is not, what was and what will be.) But to reiterate, spookiness often enacts these encounters without losing its sense of humor about the ultimate fate of human existence.

Finally, I would highlight one further element, one that Tuttle did not overtly discuss, namely the contrived aspects of spookiness—its appreciation for, grounding in, and nourishing of legerdemain. Tuttle’s sense of the Spooky may necessitate a forgotten origin, but in the grander sense, spookiness lurks at the threshold of the believable and the [page 32] unbelievable regardless of whether the genesis of an event or location is recalled or dissolved. The pleasure of a “spook show,” for example, lies precisely in the tension between an audience not knowing the origins of the act and the performers knowing the tricks of the trade extremely well. Alternatively, spookiness is a feeling that may arise from simultaneously knowing and not knowing and, hence, allowing oneself to be haunted.

Taken together, I hope these elements make a case for spookiness as a significant component for future supernatural studies. Certainly there is much to explore, including a more detailed analysis of the manifestations surveyed here and their relationships to expressions of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, religion, ability, and age. I would further uphold the importance of examining folk practices, broadly construed, in order to ascertain shifting worldviews, celebrations, and rejections of spookiness in a given historical or cultural context. Lastly, I would argue for a flexible— even fluid—notion of the supernatural that is keenly attentive to spookiness so as to prevent the supernatural from being considered solely in relation to the horror genre, and thereby to generate additional studies which embrace its comic manifestations. 


I am grateful to Eliza Brooke for initiating the conversation on spookiness. I am grateful to Ray Huling and the two anonymous reviewers for critical commentary, and to Leah Richards and John R. Ziegler for support of its publication.

1. The hard sciences have shown far less neglect of the term, perhaps in no small measure due to the popularization of Einstein’s characterization of quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.”

2. The work of folklorist Elizabeth Tucker is the exception; iterations of spookiness pepper her considerable body of work on ghostlore and children’s and adolescent folklore; see Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Cam-[page 33]puses (UP of Mississippi, 2007) for one example. For other scholarship that addresses spookiness directly, see Shaari Freed’s “Spooky Activities and Group Loyalty” (Children’s Folklore Review, vol. 16, no. 1, 1993, pp. 33- 39); Jeanie Banks Thomas’s “The Usefulness of Ghost Stories” (Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore, edited by Diane Goldstein, Sylvia Ann Grider, and Jeannie Banks Thomas, Utah State UP, 2007, pp. 25-59); Stacy Takacs’s “Monsters, Monsters Everywhere: Spooky TV and the Politics of Fear in Post-9/11 America” (Science Fiction Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2009, pp. 1-20); Julian Holloway’s “Legend-Tripping in Spooky Spaces: Ghost Tourism and Infrastructures of Enchantment” (Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 28, 2010, pp. 618-637); Esther Pereen’s The Spectral Metaphor: Living Ghosts and the Agency of Invisibility (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); and Paulette Kilmer’s “Haunted Times? Ghosts in Crime Stories Printed by the New York Times, 1851-1901” (After the War: The Press in a Changing America, 1865-1900, edited by David Sachsman and Dea Lisica, Routledge, 2017, pp. 105-126). In Creepiness (Zero Books, 2015), Adam Kotsko defines the spooky as that which lurks in the overlap of the scary and the creepy, using a ghost as an example (33).

3. Wilcocke (1811) simply translates Dutch spook and spookje as “ghost.” Jamieson (1825) compares the Scottish speug, the term for a “tall meagre person,” with the Dutch spook, “a spectre,” but further suggests a correlation with puke, “daemon,” and puck hary, “sprite or hobgoblin” (458). Anatoly Liberman also sees a possible correlation with the figure of Puck. Regardless of etymology, the word “spook” was infrequent enough in American English in the early 1800s that some authors felt it necessary to explain; see “Real Life” (Vermont Gazette, 24 Feb. 1835, p. 1) and “More about the Peach Pit” (Boston Courier, 3 Oct. 1844, p. 1). See Haldeen Braddy’s “The Spook of Sulphur Springs, Texas” (Journal of [page 34] American Folklore, vol. 59, no. 233, 1946, pp. 317-319) for a distinction between a ghost and a spook in Texas folklore, the former being a specific returned deceased person and the latter an indeterminate phantom.

Two additional meanings for “spook” warrant consideration, the first as slang for a spy, the second as a racial slur against African Americans. The OED dates the first to 1942 and the notion of someone who spied on employees. By the 1960s, it had taken on the added meaning of an international spy and, increasingly, a member of the Central Intelligence Agency (which was founded in 1947). In this usage, “spook” remained anchored to the idea of a ghost—both a being that could become invisible and an observer haunting a specific locale (“Spook,” OED).

The second iteration is more complicated. The OED dates the first record to Lou Shelley’s Hepcats Jive Talk Dictionary (1945), in which the term is defined as “a frightened negro;” this dictionary—essentially a fiftypage promotional booklet for fans of jazz and swing music—is replete with terminology that would be problematic to contemporary audiences. Green’s Dictionary of Slang, however, identifies the first usage in the Pittsburgh Courier, an African American newspaper, from 1940 (“Spook,” Green’s). A perusal of the Courier reveals typical use of the word “spook” to mean a ghost throughout the 1920s and 1930s, especially in relation to Halloween. In 1937, a syndicated article from the Associated Negro Press written by “Franklyn Frank” (Frank Marshall Davis) used the term “spook musician” to refer to white jazz guitarists (18). Similarly, an editorial from 1939 identified “white superiority” as a spook, no longer to be believed in (“No Longer” 6).

Then, on 27 April 1940, Chester L. Washington’s series “Up and Down the Avenue,” which addressed cultural life surrounding Wylie Avenue in Pittsburgh—the center of a large African American community and a [page 35] nationally known site for jazz—included a “Deep Wylie Dictionary,” a list of jive terms. “Spook” appears as “a colored man,” albeit without negative connotation (7). The term did not reappear in a racial context in the Courier again until 1951, in Nat D. Williams’s syndicated “Down on Beale” column (referring to Beale Street in New Orleans), in which Williams explained for white audiences the terms by which African Americans wished to be known. In addition to the terms, such as “cats” and “Afro-Americans,” employed by some, Williams adds, “And others refer to their brethren in color as just plain ‘spades,’ ‘spooks,’ or what-have-you” (15). Williams’ greater point was that well-meaning white people were too caught up in language games when they should help to dismantle white supremacy. “Spook” would appear several more times in Williams’s columns, usually as a term that African Americans used for themselves, but increasingly in a negative way.

Derogatory connotations of the term when used by whites rose exponentially throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, for example, the Courier published a column by African American commentator George S. Schuyler which represented white southerners as invoking “spooks” in a racist manner (9). In 1969, the newspaper reprinted an article by Ethel Payne concerning attempts to address racism in the Marine Corps. It listed slurs to be avoided, “spook” among them. A similar article on racism and segregation in education from 1970 noted white teachers routinely calling African American students “spooks” or the n-word (“Dixie”), and later that year, Louis Cassels, a journalist for United Press International, explicitly identified the term as one of “racial animosity” (2). Nevertheless, it gained popular attention nationally with the 1969 publication of Sam Greenlee’s satirical novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door (and the film adaptation in 1973), which utilized the term to reference both a CIA agent and an African American. A [page 36] confusion between “spook” as a word for ghost and as a racial epithet for African Americans is pivotal to the plot of Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain (2000), in which a white professor is accused of racism when he calls two absent students by the term.

Unfortunately, there is very little evidence (or even speculation) in print regarding the reasons that the word became a slur for African Americans. In 1963, the Dallas Morning News published a letter by Horace Sherman Miller, a well-known white supremacist and member of the Ku Klux Klan, who argued that “negro” derived from “necro,” the Greek word for the dead, and suggested that “spooks” was a corollary, but this (vile) folk etymology was egregiously in error (2). In 2017, Leah Donnella published an article for NPR’s Code Switch that argued for an origin in Spookwaffe, a nickname for the African American pilots trained at the Tuskegee Institute during World War II. Although plausible, this explanation misses the earlier citations in jive and further implies that whites coined the sobriquet rather than the airmen themselves, who were commenting on their being invisible to—that is, ignored by—the United States military despite the importance of their missions (Motley). Finally, it is worth noting that other terms for supernatural beings (such as variations of “bogey”) have been applied by whites to dehumanize African Americans (see Anita Henderson, “What’s In A Slur?” American Speech, vol. 78, no. 1, 2003, pp. 52-74; and Barrett John Mandel, “Bogey,” Today’s Speech [now Communication Quarterly], vol. 13, no 4, 1965, pp. 15-16, 29). A full examination of this important topic is beyond the scope of this essay.

It could be argued that, in the contemporary American vernacular, “spook” and “spooky” have diverged in their connotations despite an obviously shared etymological origin; the former may be problematic due to its racist usage, whereas the latter has, to date, largely avoided such derogatory meaning. In making a case for Supernatural Studies 37 understanding both concepts in American folk and popular culture history, I am wholly aware of this development and urge readers to be as well.

4. The Vergennes Gazette and Vermont and New-York Advertiser, which published the poem on 11 June 1801— before the OED’s citation from the 15 July Massachusetts Spy—cites as its source Springer’s Weekly Oracle, a newspaper from New London, Connecticut. Richard Thornton (An American Glossary, Francis and Co., 1912) also cites the Spy.

5. Examples include “Michael Hildesheim” (Atlantic Magazine, vol. 1, June 1824, pp. 139-143); “The Haunted House: A Fact” (Rutland County [Vermont] Herald, 13 Sept. 1825, p. 4); “A Mysterious Affair” (The Daily Picayune [New Orleans], 13 May 1838, p. 2); “Diedrich Duytcher: By a ‘Yorker’ of the Olden Time” (The Knickerbocker, vol. 20, 1842, pp. 521-525); and “The Mysterious Ventriloquist” (Lancaster [Pennsylvania] Examiner and Herald, 29 Oct. 1845, p. 1). By 1847, Herman Melville could describe the old man of Motoo-Otoo in Omoo as “with his white cotton robe streaming in the moonlight, he looked more like the spook of the island than any thing mortal” (162). Admittedly, not all occurrences were humorous; see The United States Gazette (28 Aug. 1833, p. 1) and “A Spook” (Lancaster Examiner and Herald, 12 Jan. 1848, p. 2) for examples that may have been criminal prowlers.

6. In several of his works, especially those representing Dutch characters, Paulding—who drew inspiration from his friend and colleague Washington Irving—regularly invoked belief in spooks (The Merry Tales of the Three Wise Men of Gotham, G. and C. Carvill, 1826; The Dutchman’s Fireside: A Tale, J. and J. Harper, 1831; Westward Ho! A Tale, J. and J. Harper, 1832; “Cobus Yerks,” The Book of Saint Nicholas, Harper and Brothers, 1836). [page 38]

7. William Mather does note the “Spook Hole” in Barnegat, New York, just a few miles up the Hudson (Geology of New York, Carroll and Cook, 1843).

8. For examples see “The Walking Gentleman” (Arkansas Advocate, 4 July 1834, p. 1) and Charles Rawles’s “The Counterfeiter” (Alton [Illinois] Telegraph and Democratic Review, 30 Nov. 1844, p. 1).

9. For two prominent examples see I. Prendergast’s Spook Mystery and Its Solution (National Psychic Research League, 1926) and Julien Prosauker’s Spook Crooks! (A. L. Burt Company, 1932). Note, however, C. A. George Newmann, who advises against debunking Spiritualists as it both compromises the ability to incorporate their tricks into stage magic entertainment and does little to dissuade believers.

10. For examples, see C. J. Hagen’s “Thayer’s Spook-Ookum Again” (The Magical Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 3, Mar. 1918, p. 3); Charles Waller’s Up His Sleeve (F. G. Thayer, 1920); and Harry Leat’s Depot Magic (published by the author, 1924).

11. “Spooky” comedies were popular at the time; consider, for example, two films, both called Spooky Spooks, one starring Bud Duncan (1920) and the second Jack Cooper (1925).

12. For notable examples, see William Larsen (Fraudulent Spirit Phenomenon, 1928; and A Spook Show in Your Parlor, D. Robbins and Company, 1947) and Robert Nelson (The London Midnight Ghost Show, Nelson Enterprises, 1937; The Ghost Book of Dark Secrets, Nelson Enterprises, 1949; and Ghost Show Operator’s Manual, Nelson Enterprises, 1953).

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Stephen Olbrys Gencarella is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 

MLA citation (print):

Gencarella, Stephen Olbrys. "The Field of Spookiness: An Historical Survey." Supernatural Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Art, Media, and Culture, vol. 8, no. 2, 2022, pp. 9-41.