Elia Peattie, an Uncommon Woman


Omaha World-Herald | Short Stories of the West | Ghost Stories | Short Novels | Children's Stories | Miscellaneous

The Invisible World: Elia Peattie's Ghost Stories

"Tuesday night was just the night for a ghost," Peattie wrote in her May 15, 1896, "A Word to the Woman" column in the Omaha World-Herald. "You remember how it rained! All night long the rain fell on the sodden ground. Gusts of desolation seemed to blow about; the darkness was as a palpable melancholy. One shuddered and drew one's baby closer into one's arms for company! The room seemed full of presences, and fluttering of invisible garments moved about, or passing blots of white that might be faces, showed ghastly against the pane for a moment and were gone." [1]

Ghosts intrigued Peattie throughout her career, and she published nearly two dozen stories and sketches in several venues. In 1898 Macmillan collected thirteen of them in The Shape of Fear and Other Ghostly Tales, and because of the book's popularity, they reprinted another edition the following year and again in 1904. Since then her stories have been consistently included in ghost story collections. Their celebrity continued with Books for Libraries Press reprinting the collection in 1969, and Kessinger Publishing bringing out another edition in 2004. In the most recent anthologies, she shares the pages with many American literary giants. In 1995, in a thirteen story collection titled Bodies of the Dead and Other Great American Ghost Stories, Peattie joins the company of Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allen Poe. One of the latest, 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories published in 2003, places Peattie among celebrated writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, O. Henry, and Oscar Wilde.

Spiritualism and the Supernatural

Like Peattie, people have told stories about the supernatural or spiritual manifestations since the folk tales of ancient times. Every civilization has believed in some sort of apparition, usually as a part of its religion or its cultural myths. Among many societies, ancestral ghosts were believed to intervene in daily life, causing good luck and good fortune as well as evil and misfortune; in others, spirits served as guardians among the living. In the Middle Ages, the Christian church taught its followers that ghosts were souls trapped in Purgatory until their sins could be redressed. In the seventeenth century, however, ghost emerged as benevolent spirits, counseling wives and mothers, helping police solve crimes, and haunting wrong-doers. [2]

In 1848 when the Fox sisters of New York claimed they could talk to the departed through rappings, a new movement called Spiritualism originated. An attempt to reconcile science and religion, Spiritualists believed in survival after death, not reincarnation, and the ability to communicate with the deceased. The Spiritualists believed that some ghosts were the "souls of the dead trapped on earth" because they were confused or did not comprehend that they had died. Mediums facilitated these wandering souls into the next world. [3] Their convictions were supported not only by the popularization of Emmanuel Swedenborg's belief in "visionary trance visits to the spirit world" but also by the public's new fascination with Mesmerism, or hypnotism. Spiritualism soon grew into a religion that "held that the soul, in a vehicle that was a duplicate of the human body, survived death and made an immediate transition to the spirit world." As a result, Mediums proliferated, and séances attracted huge audiences who were entertained by levitations, apports (gifts or objects from the spirits), and other paranormal tricks. By 1855 two million people in America and Europe followed this new religion. [4] They, in turn, fostered another group–the Theosophists. Founded in America in 1875 By Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steele Olcott, the Theosophists believed in reincarnation and the concept that civilization has evolved through a series of rebirths. [5]

Because of the Spiritualists, ghosts once more became a part of people's daily lives. Although generally termed "apparitions" by parapsychologists, ghosts could be seen, but more often made themselves known through unusual noises, fragrant smells, cool breezes, and mysteriously moving objects. In an effort to bring science and religion together and to validate Spiritualism, the Society for Psychical Research was founded in London in 1882. Their investigations encompassed hypnosis, extrasensory perception, multiple personalities, poltergeists, apparitions and other paranormal phenomena, and mediums. In addition to conducting studies, for example, Henry Sidgwick's 1889 Census of Hallucinations, the society also defined the various categories of apparitions. They included Crisis Apparitions, loved ones who usually communicated to those in an emergency or while dying; Apparitions of the Dead, loved ones who comforted the grieving or guided them in unfinished business; Collective Apparitions, who were seen simultaneously by several people, including animals; Reciprocal Apparitions, living beings motivated by loneliness, worry, or love who materialized in out-of-body experiences to loved ones; Deathbed Apparitions, angelic beings, religious figures, or loved ones who appeared to the dying shortly before death; and Apparitions in Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, deceased beings who appeared in dreams announcing themselves into the new family into which they would be born. [6]

Two years later, the American Society for Psychical Research organized in Boston under the auspices of the London chapter but operated independently, examining similar phenomena but turning away from the study of mediums and concentrating on more scientific laboratory experiments, especially extra-sensory perception. One of its most noted nineteenth century members was William James. [7]

Literary Ghosts

The first to publically capture specters within the pages of a book was Horace Walpole in his novel The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. In his preface, Walpole defined the gothic as a blend of ancient and modern romance, a merging of imagination and improbability with the verisimilitude and possibility of everyday life. [9] By the 1790s, the genre spread across Europe and the United States, achieving especial popularity among women readers and remaining entrenched throughout the Romantic period, reaching its height of creativity with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). As the century progressed, the gothic influence seeped into drama, short stories, magazine tales, poetry, and even the Victorian novel. Much of it was melodramatic-featuring ghosts and monsters, graveyards, haunted castles, labyrinths, and dark carriages pulled by galloping horses through the night-but the mostly middle-class public, especially women, devoured it, establishing it as standard fare for nineteenth century readers. Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Walt Whitman responded to the allure of Spiritualism. By the 1880s, other respected authors began publishing Gothic fiction: William Dean Howells published The Undiscovered Country (1880), Mark Twain wrote Life on the Mississippi (1883), Oscar Wilde created The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890-91), Charlotte Perkins Gilman's composed "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892), Bram Stoker penned Dracula (1897), and Henry James serialized The Turn of the Screw (1898). As the century drew to a close, the ghost story "attracted the talents of the finest women writers in America and resulted in some of the most powerful and most intriguing work." [9]

Although Gothic fiction boasts of its variety and adaptations, several elements remain consistent within the genre. The foremost is the setting, usually in an ancient or seemingly ancient place, like a castle, oriental palace, an abbey, a graveyard or crypt, an underground passage, a primeval forest or island, or an old mansion. The plot typically presents a conflict involving a ghost or monster that opens old wounds, reveals unresolved secrets or crimes, or invades sacred space. [10] Ghosts, too, may present a mirror double of a character or represent the intrusion of death in life. "Instead of life, in some fashion, extending beyond death, death, in fact intrudes into life and destroys any meaning or value that we might bring to the act of living." [11] Shadows of incest, guilt and shame, Wandering-Jew-like figures, and civil insurrections also complicate the narrative. [12] In many cases, ghost stories were a medium to explore cultural problems, gender roles, and social issues, such as marriage and family.

Ghost stories are closely connected to local color realism, which encompassed regional folklore. Women were especially receptive to these overlapping genres, and as a result, instead of gothic tales of terror, their themes became more woman-centered, often focusing on the home and family where female characters "realize their commonality with the ghostly women and children they encounter." They then must "understand and act upon the messages brought by those who haunt their houses." Women's ghost stories, too, reflect the hardships of women's lives: dispossession of their homes, loss, abuse, or abandonment of children, and neglect and isolation. [13]

Just what was the allure of Gothic fiction or the Romance, especially to Peattie's generation, a society shrugging off the bonds of the Victorian era and embracing the progressive and scientific opening of the twentieth century? According to Jerrold E. Hogle, "the longevity and power of Gothic fiction unquestionably stem from the way it helps us address and disguise some of the most important desires, quandaries, and sources of anxiety, from the most internal and mental to the widely social and cultural, throughout the history of western culture since the eighteenth century." [14] Gothic fiction, he believes, prefigures and perhaps even influenced Freud's theory of the Oedipal conflict. "In some way the Gothic is usually about some 'son' both wanting to kill and striving to be the 'father' and thus feeling fearful and guilty about what he most desires." This same theory also applies to Gothic heroines, "who seek both to appease and to free themselves from the excesses of male and patriarchal dominance." [15] These contradictory emotions are especially consistent with the transformations undergoing American society at the turn of the twentieth century; gothic fiction helps readers untangle identity contradictions by casting them upon otherworldly counterparts. Even more striking, in the Age of the New Woman, is the genre's attempt to address the issue of patriarchal repression of women. One of the greatest horrors of the Gothic novel is "the pull of the masculine back toward an overpowering femininity" that in turn blurs the boundaries "based on gender, sexual orientation, race, class, stages of growth, level of existence, or even species." [16] The melodramatic extremes of the Gothic conventions distance these conflicts, symbolizing and disguising our problems and prejudices, helping us to confront our cultural longings and personal fears.

Peattie's Ghost Stories

Peattie's short stories involving ghosts focus predominantly on emotional and moral issues, with the apparitions functioning in roles of comfort, guidance, or warning, and the settings usually center around the home and family.

A beautiful woman saves Ralph Hagadorn's life in "On Northern Ice." As a young Canadian is skating to a neighboring town to act as best man for a friend, a white skater with fluttering garments irresistibly leads him from his original path to save him from certain death in an ice breakup, only to disappear at dawn as he reaches his destination. Upon his arrival, he learns that the wedding has been postponed because of the death of the bridesmaid, a beautiful and wealthy young woman whom Ralph has loved from afar but to whom he had never voiced his affection. After the funeral and wedding, he skates back home at night, hoping to meet the white skater again, but she does not appear. This cautionary tale with a benevolent ghost warns lovers not to wait until it is too late to proclaim their love.

"A Child of the Rain" echoes a similar theme of thwarted love, for when Mona, the dressmaker, suddenly tells John that she no longer loves him, he makes no attempt to understand the reason why and walks off into the storm in confusion and despair to his job as conductor on a streetcar. That evening, a ragged ghost child carrying a mysterious, locked box enters the car. Perhaps this curious apparition, which materializes later, signifies Mona's own hunger, loneliness, and fatigue, and the box that remains unopened, symbolizes John's inability to fulfill her needs or understand her fears. The child's death, too, could symbolize the baby or future they would now never be able to have together.

"Their Dear Little Ghost" is a Christmas story about an old maid and her godchild Elsbeth, who was possessed of an enchanting imagination. The little girl dies right before Christmas, and the family heaps presents on their sons, feeling guilty that they had been so frugal on previous holidays and had not given Elsbeth the autoharp she had so desired. On Christmas morning when the boys run to find their presents, they see a little creature weeping by the two piles of toys, but she soon glides away and "went out as a candle goes out." The next year the god mother brings toys for Elsbeth, but in the morning, only the boys' presents remain. Childless and grieving women haunt this tale, reflecting one of the central themes of women's ghost stories–motherhood. [17] It warns parents to appreciate their children and be generous because, especially in the nineteenth century, many children died at a young age.

In "An Astral Onion," no one notices red-headed and freckled Tig Braddock, the abandoned baby whose mother is in prison and whose father deserted them. However, the washerwoman Nora Finnegan takes him in, and he becomes the child for whom she has always prayed. Tig grows up, becomes a journalist, and devotes himself to Nora. When she suddenly dies of pneumonia, Tig decides to follow his dream of becoming a novelist. So intent is he in becoming another Balzac that he sequesters himself in his room, writing feverishly and neglecting often to eat or sleep. Here, Peattie gently satirizes all aspiring writers who pin all of their hopes upon having a work winning a prize or having their stories accepted for publication. Unfortunately, for most starving artists, no apparition floats in with a nutritious, perfectly cooked onion to rally their strength.

Western Ghosts

Peattie includes three stories of ghosts on the Great Plains, presenting a realistic look at the hardships of the homesteading experience. In "The House That Was Not," Art Fleming brings his bride to his 320 acre ranch. At first Flora revels in the awesome beauty of her surroundings, but her husband warns her that "Some things out here are queer–so queer folks wouldn't believe them unless they saw. An' some's so pigheaded they don't believe their own eyes." When the corn is harvested, Flora sees a house in the distance, but her husband attempts to dissuade her from visiting it by telling her the story of the woman who killed herself, her baby, and her husband–the loneliness of the prairie driving her mad. Flora, however, must see for herself. The spectral house, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock believes, represents domestic space as "a prison for women who are disempowered, and at the mercy of fathers and husbands" and that the baby's shoe symbolizes the anxieties of childbearing without any other woman's support or company. The text explores "the tensions between idealized expectations concerning marriage and the far less fulfilling realities of marital life," with Flora's fate foreshadowed in the impeding storm. The title, he states, has a dual significance, for it can also be understood as the house that was not a home.

In "A Spectral Collie," a ghost, this time a dog, comes to the rescue of a lonely homesteader in Kansas–twice, once after he is dead. William Percy Cecil emigrates from England to Kansas to seek his fortune, but his homesickness overcomes him, and he sends for his beloved dog to keep him company. In addition to explaining the background of many of the younger sons of Europeans who homesteaded in America, Peattie confirms in this story that even men experienced loneliness on the vast plains of the West during the settlement period.

Urda Bjarnason in "From the Loom of the Dead" is one of the first homesteaders on the North Dakota plains. A 125 years old storyteller, Urda is able to foretell events and see what others cannot. People come from miles around to hear her tell stories of the old country in their native tongue. One story Urda tells is about two children who lose their loving mother and are abused by their father's new wife. The mother's ghost comes to the children's rescue, saving them from the greed of the wicked stepmother. Although the lesson of this frame tale warns men and women not to forget their old ways in the new lands of America, the charm of this narrative lies in its details about the pioneer life of immigrants.

Ghosts from the Dark Side

Although the darker ghost story does not dominate Peattie's narratives, several are decidedly ominous. In "The Shape of Fear," Tim O'Connor "starts life as a poet and an enthusiast," and his mother hopes that he will become a priest. At first he agrees with those who believe in art for art's sake, but he becomes a newspaper man instead, marries a beautiful woman "with all of the wifeliness and maternity left out." Soon he denounces the world and begins frequenting Jim O'Malley's saloon. Tim has one idiosyncrasy–a terror of the dark–and he confesses that what he fears is fear and that he is afraid of ghosts. In this narrative, Peattie uses the apparition of a beautiful woman radiating goodness to act as a haunting double of the talented journalist and his regret for the life of promise he has wasted. Even absinthe and alcohol cannot keep the ghost away.

"The Room of Evil Thought" reflects the ability of a former minister's study to cause people to be "conscious of the sins for which they were already guilty, but also of those for which they had the latent capacity." The cozy room with the wide fireplace transforms whoever happens to stay there into a raving maniac who feels compelled to "do the thing I want to do! Such a terrible thing!" In this dark story, Peattie comments satirically on the desire of congregations to prefer a pastor to be light-hearted and "punctilious about making his calls" rather than one who causes them to think uncomfortably about their sins.

A young, happily married doctor makes a late-night call on the mysterious mansion next door in "The Story of the Vanishing Patient." He does not listen to his wife's pleas to remain home, and as he leaves, she slips a revolver in his pocket. He is unable to help the dying woman except to give her stimulants, but rather than leave, he remains transfixed, watching the death bed drama and witnessing the couple's devotion. When he returns to tell his wife of the scene, she turns her face to the wall. Enclosed safely within her private sphere, all that she is able to experience of the outside world is through a window, whereas her husband is able to experience, ironically, the "real" world. This ghostly episode symbolizes the dark, mysterious side of life and the shadow of death that lives next door to us all, through whose glass windows we can only see darkly and against which a revolver would be as useless as the doctor's drugs.

"The Piano Next Door" describes the power of music to reach an unhappy husband's soul "like a spirit of consolation, speaking of peace, of love which needs no reward save its own sweetness, of aspiration which looks forever beyond the thing of the hour to find attainment in that which is eternal." When he tries to discover who is playing the piano music that haunts him, he discovers that no piano exists, but that once a lodger had rented the room and played so well that the whole neighborhood listened; however, he had "starved to death," just as the husband is starving emotionally. This cautionary tale warns young men not to marry "exquisite things created for the delectation of mankind," for they will flit away "like a butterfly in the morning sunshine." Ironically, in this story, the wife is compared to a bird flying free, not locked in a gilded, Victorian cage; it is the husband who is pacing his cage like a lion.

Humorous Ghost Stories

Peattie brings her unique wit and sense of humor even to the ghost story tradition. A dead woman who refused to be photographed in life has the last say in "Story of an Obstinate Corpse." When Virgil Hoyt is sent to photograph a deceased Jewish woman, he admires the old woman's face, "thinking to himself that she was a woman who had known what she wanted, and who, once having made up her mind, would prove immovable." This is the kind of woman the Minnesota photographer would like to marry, "a woman with strength of character sufficient to disagree with him." This humorous story is Peattie's cultural commentary on the superficiality of many Victorian women as well as Victorian funeral traditions, especially what she believed to be the offensive custom of photographing a corpse before burial.

Peattie's most popular ghost story is "A Grammatical Ghost," another humorous satire on the pretension of Victorian society. In this tale, the irreproachably gentile "exemplar of propriety," Miss Lydia Carew, dies (unobtrusively, of course), and a distant cousin from the West inherits everything. Twenty years later, the Iowan and his two maiden sisters decide to move to their cousin's house in Philadelphia, but, unfortunately, the ghost of Miss Carew decides to visit the family. The sisters are afraid that she will not leave as she had left the previous occupants. "She left those other people because she did not approve of their habits or their grammar," they said. "It would be just our luck to please her." So, they hatch a plan to rid the house of its unwanted apparition, a plan that works.

Ghost Stories from the Omaha World-Herald

Peattie published at least four bylined ghost stories in the Omaha World-Herald. Not as fully developed as her short stories, they are more lighthearted or impressionistic. In her 1894 "A Waking Dream," Peattie recalls a week in which she herself enters a ghost-like state (perhaps induced by morphine, a common treatment of nineteenth-century doctors) when she feels she is drifting in a "happy delirium" through perfumed space, forests, mountains, and canyons where she listens to the groaning of the earth. She also sees the ills of society, with its wars, famines, injustices, and Hope, a white figure whose face is veiled.

"A Ghost Story," published in 1895, is a more humorous account about wealthy Austrian musicians who move into a haunted house in Chicago. At first, they laugh at the hurried steps at night of the resident ghost, but soon the mother's health begins to deteriorate because of lack of sleep. However, the stubborn woman refuses to leave, so the sons decide to confront the ghost. The result is a "true story" told to her by a friend, and Peattie attests, "she is a truthful woman, even her enemies say."

In Peattie's 1896 "A Word with the Women" column, she writes what appears to be a first draft of the short story, "A Child of the Rain." In this version, a cold, ragged child wrapped in a cloak and clasping a dark wooden chest with wrought iron hinges appears on a street car in a rain storm. The child disappears when the trolley lurches, and the driver claims that he had seen no one. The child appears again, and when the conductor goes to embrace the waif, "the trolley slipped on the dripping wire, a thousand balls of blue electricity dripped from above, the tracks turned into white fire, and the little figure was gone." In the revised short story, the ghost child is not the central focus of the conflict but adds a psychological dimension to the unfulfilled relationship between the conductor and dressmaker. Peattie wrote another ghost story in her column two month later.

Other Gothic Tales

Although technically not ghost stories, Peattie published other fiction that contain supernatural elements, and these more serious works serve as mediums for her cultural, political, and ethical criticism. Two short novels, The American Peasant published in 1892 and "The Fountain of Youth: A Stories of the Supernatural" serialized in the Omaha World-Herald in 1894 are included on this website with background on gothic and utopian fiction and critical interpretations on the texts.

The short story "The Crime of Micah Rood," published in Cosmopolitan in September 1888 is based on an historical incident in Franklin, Connecticut, in 1759. Rood, a prosperous farmer, had a splendid orchard, especially one tree that produced large, yellow apples with pure white fruit. However, the year an itinerant peddler disappeared, according to the local legend, the flowers turned from white to blood red, and thereafter each apple had a spot of red in the center. Stories abound on Rood's guilt and the "curse" put upon the tree. An account in the New York Times on December 23, 1888, alleges that the peddler's body was found beneath the tree with his skull split open and his pack disturbed. According to 1891 records of the New London Historical Society, no trace could be found of the peddler or his expensive wares. Rood denied knowledge of the crime, and nothing could be proved against him. He sank into depression and poverty and died a pauper.

Peattie's one-act drama "The Great Delusion" explores the impact of loss on families whose loved ones died during World War I. Dr. Forest, once an unknown scientist, becomes a renowned author after his son dies in battle, and he publishes two volumes of "authentic messages" from his dead son. He also uses his son's nursemaid as a medium to help others converse with their dead relatives. The professor earns enough royalties from the book sales to build and endow a hospital for insane soldiers; ironically, his son is hospitalized there, suffering from massive injuries and amnesia. When he regains his memory and appears before his father, the scientist refuses to believe that his son is alive. The son's fiancee, however, explains to the rejected son, "You see, dead, the belief that you were dead and could communicate with the living, was a definite proof of immortality. It was more than that. It proved that the personality survives. . . . That's what people want, you see. They yearn to believe that those who are dead remain the same, and your father's books and lectures have brought hope and faith to thousands; to hundreds of thousands, I suppose." Dr. Forest loves the idealized memory of his son and the fame more than his "real" son. The drama probes the need humans have to find peace in the loss.

The Supernatural in Peattie's Life

It is difficult to tell whether Peattie wrote ghost stories because they were sure to sell to the well-paying periodicals, because she enjoyed the playfulness and fantasy of the genre as a relief from her editorials, literary reviews, and nonfiction pieces for the newspaper, or if she truly did believe in ghosts. In her memoir "Star Wagon," she retells ghost stories others told to her and relates several "spiritual" encounters of her own.

One of the stories that she recounts in "Star Wagon" was told by her friend, author Madeline Wynne that she calls "The Blue Ghost." In this story, a poor professor's wife saves money from her household expenses to buy her husband a biographical encyclopedia which he particularly desires. However, as she prepares to make the purchase, she hears a voice tell her repeatedly, "Now, whatever you do, my dear, do NOT buy an old blue chest." Of course, events proceed so that she does irrationally purchase an antique chest imported from India, which turns out to once having belonged to her husband's grandmother. He is delighted. When she puts away her parasol, the voice chuckles, "I knew all the time you were going to buy that old blue chest."

Another friend, Mrs. Walter Hines Page, shared with Peattie a story about a New England couple who grew up together and, as everyone in the community assumes, marry. "You'd have said that if there was a couple that could have [no] surprises for each other, it was this couple." After the ceremony, on the way to the house the girl's father had purchased for them, the husband drops the bride off at her uncle's house, and then leaves. The bride asks her elderly uncle if she can spend the rest of her life with him, caring for and comforting him. Her only request is that he can never ask her any questions. The pair never speak again, to each other or about what happened on the moonlit night during the drive to the nuptial bed, and several maiden ladies "who had been hovering somewhere between sanity and the other things went quite over to the other thing and had to be taken to an asylum" on account of the mystery.

Peattie also relates a story of the "fourth dimension" that happened to her in her early days as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. City Editor Fred Hall sent her out to interview Stanley Sexton, the surviving son of a wealthy family, who had been living in India and had become "a devotee of the Eastern Wisdom." First his father died, and then while being schooled abroad in Germany, he lost his mother and sister, too. Upon coming home to settle the family affairs, he chanced upon his father's manuscripts dealing with the Occult and decided to follow in his footsteps. He studied in the East for five years, passed the three "Months of Silence," and then followed his guru into the desert. Before dedicating his life to the order, Sexton asked for proof "that time and space are as nothing to those who hold the secret." He asked the guru to transport a letter locked in a box in Chicago to his hand "in the blue, unclouded sky and terrible sunshine" of the desert. Sexton held out his hand, and when his teacher said, "Behold," he looked down, and the letter was there. Upon returning to Chicago, he unlocked the silver chest, and it was empty. Peattie published the article "precisely as it happened" but feared that it might offend Sexton–but the next day Sexton came to the newspaper's business office and purchased several copies of the issue.

More otherworldly events also materialized in Peattie's life. In 1902 as she was leaving for a trip to Los Angeles as a delegate for the Chicago Woman's Club at the national meeting of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, she and a friend, Anna Parkhurst, chanced upon a band of gypsies. Peattie enjoyed having her fortune told, so they entered the "scarlet-clothed and unmanicured" fortune teller's tent. She expected "the usual patter," but suddenly the oracle sharply predicted, "You are about to start on a journey. . . . Don't go, lady. Don't go. You will come face to face with death on that journey." Although the prediction caused Peattie some concern, she decided that her fears "seemed too silly," so she did not cancel her trip. However, on a visit to Robert's half sister in Los Angeles, when asked how she wanted her oysters, raw or cooked, Peattie chose to have them stewed since she was chilled from the journey. Her host's husband, however, returned home later, ate them raw, and died of ptomaine poisoning three days later!

Peattie experienced a more personal paranormal event two years later. She had been asked to supervise the parole of her friend Kate Cleary who had been undergoing treatment at the Elgin Insane Asylum for morphine addiction, caused by a country doctor's ill-advised treatment for childbirth fever, and Peattie had been hesitating about taking on that responsibility for fear of what Cleary's family would think. One afternoon as she was walking to the grocery store, Cleary's deceased mother, whom Peattie had known well, approached her silently with a beseeching look on her face and then disappeared. Later than evening in her library, Peattie heard the door open and "there again stood Margaret McPhelim, her dark hair parted and rippling away from her low brow, her face maternal, sweet and as before, imploring. I started to my feet, not in fear, but with a gesture of welcome. And she was gone. She died on the impalpable air and was no more." Peattie promised the ghost that she would come to her friend's rescue, and she did. [18]

Not all people, however, felt so cordial to ghosts as Peattie. Interestingly, even in the nineteenth century, Ghost Busters could be hired to eliminate "figures of departed spirits" from a haunted house. Samuel Pettigrew Saunders, a Chicago entrepreneur, advertised his services in the Chicago Herald in 1894:

No Humbug-Satisfaction given or no money will be accepted: the undersigned will agree to rid houses of ghosts or other supernatural agencies; haunted houses a specialty." [19]

Saunders, who apparently had failed "as a shoemaker in Connecticut, a box manufacturer in Indiana, and a lumberman in Wisconsin," was apparently succeeding in his new business, charging $50 to stop rappings and unnatural sounds and $100 to expel a "peripatetic spirit," or a ghost, a much harder task, especially if a murder or suicide was involved. Since he believed that there were thousands of ghosts in Chicago alone, with half of the houses haunted, his success at this new business, especially at those prices, should have been assured.

Peattie, certainly, would not have cleansed her home of ghosts–real or fantastical. They made excellent stories.

Omaha World-Herald Links

Shape of Fear Links

Shape of Fear with full texts and reviews

Full etext with Project Gutenberg

Peattie Ghost Stories in Collections

"The Crime of Micah Rood"

East Coast Ghosts. Ed. Charles G. Waugh and Maretin H. Greenberg. Wilmington: Middle Atlantic Press, 1989.

"The Dead Woman's Photograph" [Story of the Obstinate Corpse"]

Twenty-Five Ghost Stories. Ed. W. Bob Holland. New York: J.S. Olgilvie, 1904.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins & 25 Other Ghost Stories. Ed. Anon, Avon, 1941.

Twenty-Five Great Ghost Stories. ed. Anon. New York: Avon Books, 1943.

20 Great Ghost Stories. Ed. Anon. New York: Avon Books, 1955.

Ghosts. Ed. Marvin Kaye. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.

A Classic Collection of Haunting Ghost Stories. Ed. Marvin Kaye and Shiralee Kaye. UK: Little Brown 1993.

"From the Loom of the Dead"

Famous Psychic Stories. Ed. J Walker McSpadden. New York: Crowell, 1920.

Tales of Mystery. Ed. Ernest Rhys & C.A. Dawson-Scott. London: Hutchinson, 1927.

26 Mystery Stories New and Old by Twenty and Six Authors. Ed. Ernest Rhys and C.A. Dawson-Scott. Appleton, 1927.

Famous Psychic and Ghost Stories. Ed. J Walker McSpadden. New York: Blue Ribbon, 1927.

Famous Psychic and Ghost Stories. Ed. J. Walker McSpadden. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1976.

"A Grammatical Ghost."

Thrillers, Chillers & Killers. Ed. Helen Hoke, Elsvier-Nelson, 1979.

A Treasury of Victorian Ghost Stories. Ed. EverettF. Bleiler. New York: Scribners, 1981.

100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories. Ed. Stefan R. Dziemianowica, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenberg. Barnes & Noble, 1993.

Bodies of the Dead and Other Great American Ghost Stories. Ed. David G. Hartwell. New York: Tor Books, 1995. 77-84.

"The Spectre Bride" ["On the Northern Ice"]

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins & 25 Other Ghost Stories. Ed. Anon, Avon, 1941.

Twenty-Five Great Ghost Stories. ed. Anon. New York: Avon Books, 1943.

Ghosts. Ed. Marvin Kaye. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.

A Classic Collection of Haunting Ghost Stories. Ed. Marvin Kaye and Shiralee Kaye. UK: Little Brown 1993.

"Their Dear Little Ghost"

Christmas Ghosts. Ed. Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell. Arbor House, 1987.

Ghosts for Christmas. Ed. Richard Dalby. O'Mara, 1988.


"A New Business Started." Omaha World-Herald 18 November 1894: 2.

Ashley, Mike and William G. Contento. The Supernatural Index: A Listing of Fantasy, Supernatural, Occult, Weird, and Horror Anthologies. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Bendixon, Alfred, ed. Haunted Women: The Best Supernatural Tales by American Women Writers. New York: Ungar, 1985).

Carpenter, Lynette and Wendy K. Kolmar, eds. "Introduction." Haunting the House of Fiction: Feminist Perspectives on Ghost Stories by American Women. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991. 1-25.

Greenberg, Martin Harry, R. Dziemianowicz, Robert A. Weinberg, eds. 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2003.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. New York: Facts on File, ????.

Hartwell, David G. ed. Bodies of the Dead and Other Great American Ghost Stories. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1995.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of Seven Gables. 1851. http://hawthorne.classicauthors.net/sevengables/sevengables1.html.

Hogle, Jerrold E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

"Micah Rood's Curse: The Apples with the Blood-Red Hearts." New York Times 23 December 1888: n.p.

Peattie, Elia. "Star Wagon." Unpublished Manuscript. Edited and Annotated by Joan Stevenson Falcone.

—. "A Word with the Women." Omaha World-Herald 15 May 1896: 8.

Savoy, Eric. "The Rise of American Gothic." The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 167-188.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. New York: Methuen, 1980.

Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew. "Queer Haunting Spaces: Madeline Yale Wynne's 'The Little Room" and Elia Wilkinson Peattie's 'The House That Was Not.'" American Literature 2007 79 (3): 501-525.

Woodward, P.H. The Tradition of Micah Rood. From the Records of the new London County Historical Society, 1891. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ctnewlon/MicahRood.htm.


"Boy Ghost." Ghost Stories and Pictures. http://www.ghoststoriesandpictures.com/ghost_pictures.html Public Domain.

"Haunted Bedroom." Ghost Stories and Pictures. http://www.ghoststoriesandpictures.com/ghost_pictures.html Public Domain.

"Brown Lady." Ghost Stories and Pictures. http://www.ghoststoriesandpictures.com/ghost_pictures.html Public Domain.

"Baby Ghost." Ghost Stories and Pictures. http://www.ghoststoriesandpictures.com/ghost_pictures.html Public Domain.

"Naked Woman." Ghost Stories and Pictures. http://www.ghoststoriesandpictures.com/ghost_pictures.html Public Domain.


1 Peattie, "Word with the Women," 15 May 1896: 8.   [back to text]
2 Guilley, 14-15.   [back to text]
3 Guilley, 134.   [back to text]
4 Guilley, 318.   [back to text]
5 Burdett, 225.   [back to text]
6 Guilley, 15-16.   [back to text]
7 The society is still in existence today and publishes the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research and the ASPR Newsletter.   [back to text]
8 Hogle, 1.   [back to text]
9 Bendixon, 2.   [back to text]
10 Hogle, 2.   [back to text]
11 Savoy, 31.   [back to text]
12 Sedgwick, 10-11.   [back to text]
13 Carpenter and Kolmar, 14-18.   [back to text]
14 Hogle, 4.   [back to text]
15 Hogle, 5.   [back to text]
16 Hogle, 11-12.   [back to text]
17 Carpenter and Kolmar, 18.   [back to text]
18 Peattie, "Star Wagon."   [back to text]
19 "New Business," 2.   [back to text]