Benjamin S. Jeffries,
Lost in the Darkness:
Life Inside the World's Most Haunted Prisons, Hospitals, & Asylums

(Schiffer, 2013)

Author Benjamin S. Jeffries opens Lost in the Darkness, Life Inside the World's Most Haunted Prisons, Hospitals, & Asylums with the statement, "When I was a kid, I was fascinated with ghosts and hauntings. It wasn't because I loved being scared; I didn't. I loved not knowing what was lurking in the dark. I loved that chill that would creep up my spine and nest there when I would pass a house in town that my friends had deemed 'haunted.'" Having grown up in a haunted house, I share that fascination, which is what made the author's investigation of these people and places especially intriguing to me. I had great expectations for this book, which turned out to be OK, but nowhere near great.

Jeffries does a good job with Waverly Hills Sanitorium in Kentucky, where tens of thousands died. In its first incarnation, it was a tuberculosis hospital, where thousands died a brutally painful death. In its second incarnation as Woodhaven Geriatrics Hospital, reports of abuse of the elderly housed here were common, and thousands more died sad, lonely deaths. I specifically mention Waverly Hills because it's one of my favorites. I believe it to be one of the most haunted places in our country.

Jeffries also opened my eyes to Central State Hospital in Indiana, which I also believe to be among the most haunted and can rival Waverly any day, as well as the shame of my own Danvers State Hospital, where the lobotomy was first developed and used. Pennhurst State School in Pennsylvania wins the honorable mention, the rumors blown wide open by the efforts of NBC correspondent Bill Baldini in 1968. We also get a look at some of the lesser known locations, such as Camp Sumpter/Andersonville Prison, called "America's Auschwitz."

I loved the various quotes that opened each chapter, quotes from Paul F. Enos to Bill Clinton to Arthur Miller. However, while Jeffries' history appears to be on solid footing, he relies too heavily on the crutch of speculation and rumor for a book whose bulk relies on stories of hauntings, or reports thereof. Very few people or paranormal groups are identified by name. We are told that, "Many of the stories ... could actually have happened," and "One spirit ... is said to be that of...." I don't want to read rumored "tales" and speculation. I want some concrete evidence. Some folklore is OK, but to this degree, for a book that relies so heavily on its ghost stories, it annoys me.

While I always start a book with optimism, this one did not come close to making me ruminate like E.R. Vernor's Haunted Asylums, which is what I was expecting, and in comparison, the photos included here are mediocre at best. The chapters don't appear to be arranged in any type of logical order. I went back and read the chapters I specifically wanted to mention only by bending the corners down. While the history here might be of interest to some, and you may be interested if you appreciate reading legends, to me the book was ultimately unfulfilling.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

22 August 2015

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