Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Philip Levy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

K. Stephen Prince, Ph.D.

Committee Member

S. Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Julia King, Ph.D.


Public History, Thanatourism, Dark Tourism, The Old Dominion, Hauntings


Ghost stories have a long and diverse history, they appeared in religious contexts, in secular traditions, in entertainment, and in therapy and healing. Few elements of human culture have been as dynamic as the idea that the dead return to the living world as immaterial beings. Since the late nineteenth century Virginians have used ghost stories to talk about, interpret, and understand the historical significance of place. This dissertation argues that Virginians have used ghost stories to identify and make meaning of historical sites since the turn of the last century. These historical ghost stories sought to highlight the presence of the past, as well as Virginians’ close relationship with long-dead historical figures. Virginias used the ghost stories to argue that the commonwealth’s old structures and cities were especially historical and worthy of restoration. Founders of historical sites in Virginia used ghost stories as a way to offer their guests emotional, intimate, and personal connects to the celebrated past. The stories erased the distance of time, and suggested that past and present people cohabited in specifically defined historical places. Scholars who study historical sites often focus on the transition from volunteer to professional museum and public history workers. They argue that the professionalized workers rejected and silenced the public’s emotional understandings of place-based history, gave rise to more nuanced understandings of the field, and developed rich discussions on the roles that race, class, and gender play at historical sites. In that turn scholars have tended to ignore the publics’ emotional fascinations with historical sites, as seen through ghost stories. This dissertation illustrates that hauntings’ meanings and associations outlasted the professional turn and not helped establish the public’s trust in professional historical institutions, but continue to do so in the present day.