Academic journal article American Studies

TALES FROM THE HAUNTED SOUTH: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

Academic journal article American Studies

TALES FROM THE HAUNTED SOUTH: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

Article excerpt

TALES FROM THE HAUNTED SOUTH: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era. By Tiya Miles. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2015.

By its nature, dark tourism embraces the ugly parts of history and human relations shunned by tours that focus on elegant architecture and heroic city fathers. As such, haunted history tours have become one of the few venues through which public historians have engaged the history of slavery. In Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era, the product of Pennsylvania State University's Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era, Tiya Miles questions the use of such methods as didactic tools.

With a good eye for poetic detail and a thoughtful, charming voice situated somewhere near Fox Mulder on the spectrum between believer and skeptic, Miles acts as her reader's tour guide through her own inquiries and observations. She begins by sketching out an overview of the popularity of haunted history shows and tourism, and briefly takes her readers on forays into the business of ghost hunting, ghost stories, and of dark tourism as an industry and field of study. The bulk of her analysis focuses on the Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, Madame LaLaurie's house in New Orleans, and the Myrtles Plantation near St. Francisville, Louisiana. Naturally, all three insisted upon the title of most haunted in America and appear regularly on ghost-hunter television programs.

Miles notes several troubling features of the stories told at these sites. First, each story absolves white, American, male slaveholders from blame for historical wrongdoings, casting the villains as outsiders or the victim as deserving of her fate. They also gloss over the exploitation of black women by describing serial rape as "an affair," "concubinage," "infidelity," and an assortment of other euphemisms that fail to engage the limited choices and realities faced by enslaved women. In each, too, African American spiritual practices are represented differently than evangelical Christianity, Catholicism, or other serious, syncretic belief system holding great power for believers, but as mysterious drums, disturbing rituals, and gris-gris tchotckes. Furthermore, the black communities surrounding these sites do not control the story. …

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