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Book Talk: Hannah Nordhaus searches family phantom in 'American Ghost'
May 14, 2015 / 12:05 PM / 2 years ago

Book Talk: Hannah Nordhaus searches family phantom in 'American Ghost'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Julia Staab was known in 19th-century New Mexico as a successful businessman’s wife, but decades after her death she became famous in her own right when people talked about seeing her haunting her former home.

Staab’s great-great-granddaughter, Hannah Nordhaus, turned to people ranging from family members to psychics to learn about the woman behind the phantom. She chronicled the process in her book “American Ghost.”

Nordhaus spoke to Reuters about family history and the supernatural.

Q: Why did you decide to include psychics and mediums in your research?

A: The reason that people know about Julia in the first place is because she’s this famous ghost in New Mexico. And I didn’t see how I could tell her story without addressing that fact because that’s what kept her alive.

Q: Did your opinion of the psychics and mediums change because of your research?

A: I probably have more respect and empathy for them. I thought it was a bit of a joke when I started, and when you spend an hour in a room with people, it’s pretty hard to still think of them as sort of cut-out-paper people. I realized they truly believe in what they did, and I appreciated what they did.

Q: Do you believe in ghosts?

A: I did have an experience in Julia’s room, although I don’t know if it really happened. It seemed like it happened, but I was sort of in that state between waking and sleeping, and I really wanted it to happen, so I can’t really trust myself.

It’s sort of hard to say yes, I believe in ghosts because I am an empirical person, and before I started this book, I wrote about science ... But you hear so many stories. People are just so convinced of what they’ve seen. So I don’t really see the point in not believing. So I guess I would come out of the closet and say: “Sure, I believe in ghosts.”’

Q: What was the most valuable thing you learnt?

A: How lucky I am to have the opportunities that I have, to have the support I have from my family and friends, to be able to get on a plane and go home whenever I want, to have been born with a resilient constitution and have grown up in an environment that kept it intact. And Julia didn’t have these things, and I think that’s the saddest thing about the book.

Editing by Patricia Reaney and Ted Botha

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