“A haunting story about the long reach of the past.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’S Fresh Air
“In this intriguing book, [Nordhaus] shares her journey to discover who her immigrant ancestor really was—and what strange alchemy made the idea of her linger long after she was gone.” —People
La Posada—“place of rest”—was once a grand Santa Fe mansion. It belonged to Abraham and Julia Staab, who emigrated from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. After they died, the house became a hotel. And in the 1970s, the hotel acquired a resident ghost—a sad, dark-eyed woman in a long gown. Strange things began to happen there: vases moved, glasses flew, blankets were ripped from beds. Julia Staab died in 1896—but her ghost, they say, lives on.
In American Ghost, Julia’s great-great-granddaughter, Hannah Nordhaus, traces her ancestor’s transfiguration from nineteenth-century Jewish bride to modern phantom. Family diaries, photographs, and newspaper clippings take her on a riveting journey through three hundred years of German history and the American immigrant experience. With the help of historians, genealogists, family members, and ghost hunters, she weaves a masterful, moving story of fin-de-siècle Europe and pioneer life, villains and visionaries, medicine and spiritualism, imagination and truth, exploring how lives become legends, and what those legends tell us about who we are.
Journalist Nordhaus (The Beekeeper's Lament) embarks on a "ghost hunt" for her great-great-grandmother, German immigrant Julia Schuster Staab, in this unique collision of family history, Wild West adventure, and ghost story. Since the 1970s, the grand La Posada hotel in Santa Fe has been subject to sightings of a ghost resembling Julia, who lived there with her husband, Abraham, and their seven children in the late 19th century. Nordhaus, who comes from a long line of skeptics, decides to investigate these rumors. She consults a variety of self-appointed supernatural experts psychics, tarot-card readers, mediums, and dowsers as well as more traditional sources such as newspaper archives, family diaries, and aging relatives. She also visits the settings of her grandmother's life, from villages in Germany to the deserts of New Mexico where the Staabs lived alongside "Spanish settlers and Pueblo Indians... Navajos, Apaches, freed slaves, soldiers... cowboys, dry-land farmers... land-grabbers, miners, and shysters." In the process, Nordhaus uncovers a strain of mental illness that runs through one branch of her family, delves into the lore of the 19th-century spiritualist movement, and discovers how a true-life story can become a paranormal one. Perceptive, witty, and engaging, Nordhaus observes that "it's not so much the ghost that keeps the dead alive... as it is the story."