Bookcase Ghost (The)

The Bookcase Ghost: A Storyteller's Collection of Wisconsin Ghost Stories by Elizabeth Matson and Stuart Stotts. Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin: Midwest Traditions, Inc, 1996. ISBN 1-883953-16-2 (pb) $13.95 87 pp.

The eighteen stories in this ghostly new book brim with supernatural events from the state
of Wisconsin. Tellers Elizabeth Matson and Stuart Stotts began to collect ghost stories when they found that audiences most frequently asked for tales of the supernatural. And, since most of the stories in The Bookcase Ghost were shared by individuals who had directly or indirectly had a brush with the supernatural, it would appear that ghosts in Wisconsin are alive and well! I happen to enjoy ghost tales that send a little tingle down my spine rather than douse me in blood and gore. Happily for me, most of these tales oblige.

Maybe because I am a librarian one of my favourite stories in the collection is one entitled The Ghost in the Library. A young man, newly appointed as chief librarian in a small Wisconsin community, is intrigued by a pleasant looking woman who requests the same book each time she visits the library. The book is an account of a murder case in which a woman is tragically shot to death by her husband's mistress. The mistress is sent to prison where, years later, she dies. Curiosity compels the librarian to research the case for himself, and to his astonishment, he finds that his visitor is identical in appearance to the murderer. Just who is this mysterious library patron?

Many of the ghosts in this collection are poignant rather than threatening, an indication of the grief that people feel when they lose someone they love. The Empty Chairs a touching story of a woman who is coping with her first Christmas after her mother's death. Her mother had established a Christmas custom of leaving one chair empty at festive gatherings to honour those friends and family who may have died over the past year. A vision of the mother sitting in the chair, and a small gift left on the chair, comfort the daughter and reassure her of her mother's continuing love and presence.

A somewhat more humourous take on loss is the story The Bouncing Cat. In this story a woman grieves the death of her cat. However, the cat makes its continued presence known by its distinctive gait echoing through the house. The sound comforts the woman, and only ends after she acquires another cat.

The stories that Matson and Stotts have collected from oral sources and historical records fleshed out and refined for the purpose of storytelling. Even though readers will recognize some of the stories as old favourites from around the campfire, the material has been reworked well. Whether the ghosts are old or new friends, the stories are fresh enough to be appreciated by tellers looking for good stories to tell.

Some very basic instruction on storytelling is included at the back of this book. It encourages tellers to take the stories in the collection and adapt them to meet their own needs and style. Information about the sources for the stories is also included. Given the amount of work that went into the collection, I would have liked more detail about these sources. In particular, I was interested to learn more about the origins of some of these tales and their connection to other similar tales, rather than just about the person who provided the authors with the story. This is however, is a minor quibble given the quality of the stories. I can recommend that The Bookcase Ghost be added to your own bookcase.

This review was written by storyteller and secondary school libriarian Pat McCaffrey of Waterloo, Ontario.

The Second Story Review, Vol 1, No. 4, December 1996
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