American Ghost

I am very lucky to have a grandmother and a father who are very into genealogy and ancestry. She held on to family quilts and dug up photos of relatives long since gone. I have the strange privilege of looking back on this people, 150 years ago, knowing that although we never met, we are connected. There are few images from my father’s side, but he has managed to trace our roots to the 14th century.

But as far as I know, none of them is a famous ghost.

Hannah Nordhaus’ great-great-grandmother Julia is said to haunt the hotel (once her grand home) in Santa Fe. A rather stereotypical weeping woman in a black dress has been noted since the 1970s and is assumed to be the unhappy spirit of Julia Schuster Staab.

A researcher and reporter by trade, Nordhaus sets out to discover her grandmother’s story, and the wider story of her family’s emigration from Germany. A skeptic herself, she is determined to set aside her assumptions about apparitions and explore every avenue to learning about her grandmother. She stays in the ‘haunted’ hotel room and visits self-proclaimed psychics. She also does an incredible amount of archival research — books, newspapers, oral histories, diaries — to find out about the Staab’s early days in old Santa Fe.

The streets of Julia’s new city likely held no more comfort. The Plaza was crowded with carts, wagons, teamsters, camp cooks, roustabouts, horses, mules, burros, pigs and goats. There were cockfights and gunfights. The town was a confusion of commerce, a babel of languages. ~Loc. 703

Julia has a difficult time adjusting to the New World, despite the Staab’s quick rise to respectability. Nordhaus also pieces together that Julia was most likely clinically depressed in a time and setting that didn’t acknowledge such a thing. She tries to uncover the possible causes for Julia.

Portrait of Julia and Abraham Staab
Portrait of Julia and Abraham Staab

I have to say, I was riveted by the story of someone else grandmother. Julia Staab led an interesting life, that has been put back together by her inquisitive great-great-granddaughter. For the most part, the narrative structure is clear and addicting. There is a section when the author travels to Germany to learn about Julia’s visit and the story gets mired down in tangential pages. It needed to stick closer to Julia’s story throughout.

All in all, it is a fascinating read. And it makes me want to find out more about the  lives of my  own ancestors.

Thank you to Harper for the e-galley.
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ISBN: 9780062249210
ISBN 10: 0062249215
Imprint: Harper
On Sale: 03/10/2015
Trimsize: 6 in (w) x 9 in (h) x 1.09 in (d)
Pages: 336
List Price: 25.99 USD

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