Christopher K. Coleman,
Dixie Spirits: True Tales of the Strange & Supernatural in the South
(Cumberland House, 2002)

Dixie Spirits really surprised me. I expected the usual lineup of haunted houses that I had grown up hearing about or even visited. Being a diehard horror buff who was drawn to the paranormal at an early age, I sought out the haunted places and actively hunted ghosts, haints and (never to forget the dreaded) painters in dem woods. Of course, I read everything that I could get my hands on about the haunted places of the South. But I have never found any volume with the type of detail that Christopher Coleman has included in Dixie Spirits. It blew me away!

Coleman does not simply provide one version of the story. He analyzes the complete history surrounding the place or incident, includes all the versions of explanations, runs down the list of witnesses with all their pertinent information and involvement, then gives a comparative survey of the overall situation and shows how each explanation could or could not be plausible. His lively commentary, engaging narratives and plays on words are positively entertaining for a thrilling read, while he provides enough contact information or directions for this book to serve as a travel guide for ghost hunters. You will also find a couple of dares to visit tucked away among his commentaries. Are you up to the challenge?

There are 34 stories in an even dozen groups -- all by state except the "Transylvania Tales." There are: "Alabama Apparitions," "Arkansas Arcana," "Ghosts & Haunts of Georgia," "Louisiana Lore & Gore," "Mississippi Mysteries," "Mystic Missouri," "Haints of the Old North State," "South Carolina Spirits," "Tennessee Terrors," "Virginia: The Dark Dominion" and "West Virginia Weirdness." With section titles like these, you know the stories have to be engaging.

Are you expecting to read about ghosts? You will certainly find plenty of those between the covers, but are you ready for my guy, Bigfoot? Yes, Coleman has done his homework and gone that extra mile (wide and high) with his research. He has not simply given us the ghosts and haunts; he has reached into the realm of Sasquatch and the French loup-garou (werewolf). I cannot decide which part of his research is more impressive, the part about the large four-footed animal discovered in the Asian jungles that natives had known about for ages, or the serious treatment of the werewolf through French history from the ancient pagan Celtic peoples to the present Cajuns and the fact that there are 69 names for werewolf in the French languages/dialects.

If you enjoy horror and the paranormal, this is a must-own book. It does not matter that you are familiar with a story. Coleman will present it to you in a way that sheds new light or takes you to a distinctly different viewpoint for the effect of seeing the situation for the first time. His writing style is exciting, engaging, and thoroughly professional. He will keep you turning the pages.

For example, who has not heard the tale of Voodoo queen Marie Laveau? There was even a major hit country song that warned men about going into the swamp and suffering the same fate as "Handsome Jack." Coleman relates the facts of Marie's life, from her mysterious origins through her rise to power and some highlights of her career, before taking us through several of her hijinks after death. You will laugh out loud over her visit to the drug store.

Through it all, Coleman treats Marie with respect and dignity, providing a serious look at the actual woman behind the legends, in addition to an equally serious look at the flamboyant specter of the hereafter -- who seems to be here after a little respect or she will sock it to you. This is the best overview of her life that I have found. He worked so much detail into a limited space and leaves you feeling as if you know (or knew) Marie. Should you desire to make contact with her today, he provides all the information you will need to locate her tomb and join her many fans.

One of my favorites is the story about Mammoth Cave, which includes points about the red-haired, pre-Columbian mummies and the pygmies.

From the haunted homes of Robert E. Lee's family to hoodoo goofer powder, Dixie Spirits takes you on a wild journey through the southern states with stories of the supernatural and unexplainable that are "based on factual, historical incidents." You may be familiar with some of the stories, but you will likely not be familiar with all the facts included in this book. Coleman has made even the oldest and most well-known of the southern hauntings seem new and different.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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