Roy Heizer, |
Cincinnati Cemeteries: Hauntings & Other Legends
(Schiffer Publishing, 2017)
It's fitting, whether intentional or not, that a book about ghosts, apparitions and all things caught in between worlds is itself "in between" non-fiction and fiction. All accounts are based on actual people, but the stories fill in details and delve into hypotheticals so much that this tome should be considered historical fiction. (But "historical hypothetical" has a nice ring to it ... maybe author Roy Heizer is starting a trend?)
Moving beyond its typology, as a collection of ghost stories, Cincinnati Cemeteries: Hauntings & Other Legends delivers what the subtitle promises. However, as a city-specific book, it doesn't work in relating most of the stories uniquely to the cities and area. There's an occasional regional reference in the stories, but no greater significance is alluded to Cincinnati. Why would this city have so many supernatural occurrences? Is there a common theme or recurring element? While several cemeteries are referenced and photographs of their gates are shown, no greater context is provided.
The photographs in this book -- many of them gates -- somewhat help establish the setting/framework for the ghost tales, but there are some recreated scenes that actually distract. A staged color picture recreating a shawl on the ground ("A Well Dressed Ghost") is silly enough, but a color "police evidence photo" of an 1889 murder that shows a blood-soaked hand as the "mangled remains" ("The Strange Life of Joseph C. Maller") is borderline comical. The hand is a very healthy and decidedly un-mangled hand, and the blood is the color of cherry Kool-Aid. It didn't have to be a grisly Rick-Baker-inspired rendition, but it could have benefitted from a bit of photo manipulation (even grey tones or sepia filters). While the effort is appreciated, the execution is unfortunately laughable and detracts from the sad and spooky story that follows.
Moving beyond the photographs, this book would have benefited from a map with a legend locating the cemeteries. (Extra credit if the legend linked each entry/chapter to its corresponding cemetery!) What if this book inspires someone to visit Cincinnati and check out these cemeteries? A map/legend in this book could have provided a service on multiple levels: context for the legends, visual/situational connectivity for the city's supernatural folklore and an easy reference/travel guide for a ghost tourist.
Nitpicking the format aside, the content of this book is clearly a labor of love by the author. His passion for the subject matter and strong belief in the afterlife is evident throughout the stories and entwined in his prose. Don't pick up this book expecting skepticism -- the author firmly establishes the existence of ghosts as the framework for all 112 pages. Heizer's emotional investment is prevalent and touching. His family bookends the novella, starting with a tale from his own family ("A Mysterious Burial in the Heizer Plot") and ending with a picture of his grandfather and great-uncle.
Honestly, the family history/connection is a stronger element in this book -- perhaps future work by Heizer will expand on that theme. However, as a collection of ghost stories, Cincinnati Cemeteries: Hauntings & Other Legends provides fairly intriguing tales and historical accounts/conjecture, but probably won't stand out above any other compilation of ghost stories. Unless you are specifically interested in ghost stories that specifically happened in the Cincinnati area, this book will probably (and unfortunately) be overlooked in a stack of similar tomes.
book review by
C. Nathan Coyle
14 October 2017
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