S.E. Schlosser,
Spooky Pennsylvania
(Globe Pequot, 2007)

Your fondness for Spooky Pennsylvania will depend largely on what you're looking for.

S.E. Schlosser's collection of ghost stories from the Keystone State is certainly entertaining reading, and Schlosser obviously enjoys sharing the tales. So if you're looking to spend a few hours reading enjoyable ghost stories -- and if you have an interest in the Pennsylvania locations where they take place -- you're sure to get your money's worth from this book.

This book will not satisfy anyone with a more serious interest in Pennsylvania's ghostly lore, however. Schlosser makes no effort to identify specifics in these tales, often telling them from the point of view of some unnamed bystander. Was there really a Union lieutenant who saw George Washington's ghost at Gettysburg and subsequently led a valiant charge against Confederate troops? Who was the unnamed farmer who took a job at a Pittsburgh steel mill during World War II, only to flee in terror after seeing the ghost of a worker who died there?

If these people have names, Schlosser isn't saying. My guess is she made them up, the better to tell her tale. The same can be assumed for several stories told from a first-person perspective (since she has admitted in interviews that she's never seen a ghost).

That's a deal-breaker for anyone researching the subject of Pennsylvania hauntings. Schlosser cites no primary resources here; it appears the stories are largely drawn from other ghost-story collections. And it's not all ghost stories, either. After a section devoted to hauntings, Schlosser switches gears and offers stories that could fit pretty much anywhere in the world, from the "Bloody Mary" yarn about a witch in the mirror to the old saw about the boyfriend who goes off for help in the rain, leaving his girlfriend behind in a disabled car despite rumors of a killer in the woods.

Now, if you're just looking for a few stories to enjoy, Spooky Pennsylvania is the ticket. Schlosser has an easy, comfortable narrative style that makes her stories a pleasure to read. But don't expect more than just a bit of simple entertainment.

book review by
Tom Knapp

13 November 2010

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