Possessions: The History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley / Edition 1

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The cultural landscape of the Hudson River Valley is crowded with ghosts—the ghosts of Native Americans and Dutch colonists, of Revolutionary War soldiers and spies, of presidents, slaves, priests, and laborers. Possessions asks why this region just outside New York City became the locus for so many ghostly tales, and shows how these hauntings came to operate as a peculiar type of social memory whereby things lost, forgotten, or marginalized returned to claim possession of imaginations and territories. Reading Washington Irving's stories along with a diverse array of narratives from local folklore and regional writings, Judith Richardson explores the causes and consequences of Hudson Valley hauntings to reveal how ghosts both evolve from specific historical contexts and are conjured to serve the present needs of those they haunt. These tales of haunting, Richardson argues, are no mere echoes of the past but function in an ongoing, contentious politics of place. Through its tight geographical focus, Possessions illuminates problems of belonging and possessing that haunt the nation as a whole.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Why is the Hudson Valley haunted?” Judith Richardson asks in Possessions, a study of “the history and uses of haunting” upstate. Richardson reviews the area’s bloody rebellions and wandering ghost sailors, drawing on county archives, travelogues, letters, and the usual literary sources. She finds that the valley’s ghostly legacy derives, in part, from a fraught history of land ownership, the influence of Dutch and German folklore, and a naturally ominous landscape—as well as from entrepreneurs in the tourism industry. Richardson herself seems a little susceptible to the atmosphere that spooked Ichabod Crane. The “mountains loom and brood,” she writes, and she seeks to explain “how hauntings intersect with cultural history, public memory, economics, and land issues.”

The teen-age ghosts in Stewart O’Nan’s new novel, The Night Country, also profit from native superstition. “This is still a new England, garden-green, veined with black rivers and massacres,” one of them says. The narrators were killed in a Halloween car accident, and, a year later, skittish townspeople are easy marks for their amusement. The dead are bent on revenge, which they get, of course, in an apotheosis of middle-of-the-night adolescent car rides through dark landscapes.

In Sara Gran’s Come Closer, the haunting starts in the office of a young architect, Amanda, who ignores early signs of otherworldly intervention, such as a mysterious tapping in her apartment and the delivery of a book, “Demon Possession Past and Present.” But soon she is witnessing old murders and, alas, committing new ones. Amanda’s detached and witty narration helps us believe, as she says, that “what we think is impossible happens all the time.” -- (Lauren Porcaro)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674011618
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Richardson is Assistant Professor in the English Department at Stanford University.

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Table of Contents


1. "How Comes theHudson to this Unique Heritage?"

2. Irving's Web

3. The Colorful Career of a Ghost from Leeds

4. Local Characters

5. Possessing High Tor Mountain

Epilogue: Hauntings without End



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