S. E. Schlosser
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Anthology
If stories are the glue that binds a culture together, then ghost stories show what people value most. They dredge deep into the human psyche and draw forth primal fears about the supernatural, death, and the afterlife. From tales told over dwindling campfires to those shared between travelers on a common journey, they’ve long entertained—and sent shivers up spines.
The stories collected by Schlosser in Spooky Pennsylvania come from all over the state. They’ve been passed down for generations, told and retold, every iteration adding or tweaking tiny details to make them relevant for a new group of readers.
The vast majority of these stories aren’t scary. Like, a middle school student could read them and go to bed just fine. Some of them play on familiar old tropes, like the story “Sweet Cecily’s Song.” That one’s about a Native American girl who stands on a hill and sings for her beloved, only she gets murdered by a man the authorities refuse to chase. On the anniversary of her death, everyone throughout the valley can hear her song. Eventually the murderer shows up, visibly agitated, and is punished for his misdeeds. It’s a local take on the siren/Lorelei stories, which actually makes sense. After all, the Lorelei story is German, and there’s a decently large population descended from the Germans in Pennsylvania. “The White Lady” is similar to a lot of the “ghost on the highway” legends, too.
And then there was the handful that was absolutely hilarious. After I read “Ben and Me,” I had to actually put the book down and process it until I could stop laughing. The thought of someone chastising Ben Franklin’s ghost—and then him being afraid to be in the same room with her! Definitely a story meant to be read aloud to kids. Kids would also probably love “Old Coaly,” about the ghost of a beloved mule on Penn State’s campus. The narrator feeds it carrots.
Some of the stories were sort of dull, particularly the shorter ones. They were just sort of…there. Like the author had a particular page number goal she needed to reach by a certain deadline, so she just scribbled them out. In some stories, the same descriptive phrase (“their feet not even touching the ground”) will appear in quick succession, but not for rhythmic or parallelistic purposes; rather, it just comes off as bad writing that wasn’t caught during the editing process. Most of the stories have a decent amount of detail or a particularly interesting voice that made them engaging to the reader. Others might potentially be better read aloud, but they’d need Vincent Price or James Earl Jones or someone like that reading them. Actually, all of these books could probably be improved by the right voice actor reading them aloud.
The standout story is probably the very last one, “Nevermore.” It features Edgar Allen Poe and draws heavily from his poem “The Raven” for its cadence and language. It may only be a brief narrative of the man’s life from his own perspective, but the way it’s written is brilliant. I could almost hear the pitch of his words rising as it went on, every syllable tinged with fear. Only the best for the master of gothic terror, though, right?
Overall, I could tell why they’d be spooky back in the day or, y’know, told around campfires with all the animals around, but reading them by myself from a book just didn’t do much. Maybe it was the sunny day, or maybe I just need genuine visuals to scare me. Or it could be the fact that the things which scare me most are always real things, like lasers that can cut people into ribbons or rampaging animals or Nazis. Ghosts and demons don’t.
There are thirty tales in this book, making it a good choice for October read-alouds. Some of the stories are only about two pages long; others go on for about five or six pages, so even weekends won’t impact finishing the book. Alternately, because there are stories that are more detailed and more interesting than others, a person could pick and choose which to share. This book has been out for awhile, but it’s still a decent collection of local-ish stories.
Don’t expect too many nightmares or screams from this book, but it might be fun to read to a class during October or when discussing a unit on folklore.
- Readers who like scary stories
- People without a lot of time to read
- Reading aloud
- Death: lots of characters die or are already dead
- Deceit: characters trick one another
- Horror Elements: demons, devils, monsters, and ghosts (honestly, what did you expect?)
- Lying: some characters lie to each other
- Suicide: references to suicide
- Theft: some stealing
- Violence: characters attack one another
- War: references to war; some stories take place during wars and battles
- Weapon Use: references to use of guns and other weapons
- Change vs. Tradition
- Good vs. Evil
- Mental Illness
- Physical Illness
- Right vs. Wrong
- Romantic Love
|Exploration of Conflict||2|
|Consideration of Themes||2|
|Suspension of Disbelief||1|
|Imagery and Description||2|
|Rhythm and Pace of Book||1|
|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||1|