American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest (Hardcover)

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“A haunting story about the long reach of the past.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’S Fresh Air

“In this intriguing book, [Nordhaus] shares her journey to discover who her immigrant ancestor really was—and what strange alchemy made the idea of her linger long after she was gone.” —People

La Posada—“place of rest”—was once a grand Santa Fe mansion. It belonged to Abraham and Julia Staab, who emigrated from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. After they died, the house became a hotel. And in the 1970s, the hotel acquired a resident ghost—a sad, dark-eyed woman in a long gown. Strange things began to happen there: vases moved, glasses flew, blankets were ripped from beds. Julia Staab died in 1896—but her ghost, they say, lives on.

In American Ghost, Julia’s great-great-granddaughter, Hannah Nordhaus, traces her ancestor’s transfiguration from nineteenth-century Jewish bride to modern phantom. Family diaries, photographs, and newspaper clippings take her on a riveting journey through three hundred years of German history and the American immigrant experience. With the help of historians, genealogists, family members, and ghost hunters, she weaves a masterful, moving story of fin-de-siècle Europe and pioneer life, villains and visionaries, medicine and spiritualism, imagination and truth, exploring how lives become legends, and what those legends tell us about who we are.

Praise For…


“In this intriguing book, [Nordhaus] shares her journey to discover who her immigrant ancestor really was - and what strange alchemy made the idea of her linger long after she was gone.”

“Whether you believe in ghosts or are just intrigued by their persistence in popular culture, American Ghost is itself a haunting story about the long reach of the past.”

“Expertly dissects fact from embroidery. . . . A colorful and engrossing quest.”

“Nordhaus attacks her subject with the same scholarship and lively writing that made her nonfiction debut, The Beekeeper’s Lament, a beloved best-seller. . . . Fascinating.”

“The more Nordhaus digs into the history and explores the supernatural dimensions of the story, the more complex and intriguing it becomes. American Ghost is a multi-genre work that succeeds on a number of levels.”

“Journalist Hannah Nordhaus braids personal memoir with historical research and resolute ghost hunting in a narrative that investigates the restless spirit of her great-great-grandmother Julia Schuster Staab.”

“A gripping account of frontier life from an immigrant Jewish woman’s perspective. It is the author’s connection of the past where she explores the story, trying to separate the history and the myth.”

“Part travelogue, part memoir, part ghost story, part history. . . . Nordhaus offers a deeply compelling personal account of her attempts to better understand her own family. . . . The book’s unique blend of genres and its excellent writing make it hard to put down.”

“[A] funny, moving, and suspenseful tale.”

“The author’s multifaceted work brings Julia back to life and explores the journey it took to rediscover her narrative. . . . Every aspect of the account is enlightening, well written, and entertaining. This touching and uplifting work is highly recommended and will appeal to a variety of readers.”

“An incredible story. . . . A haunting tale.”

“A fascinating and nuanced account of her ancestral ghost story and her complicated clan.”

“A unique collision of family history, Wild West adventure, and ghost story. . . . Perceptive, witty, and engaging.”

“Fascinating and frequently surprising. Ultimately, American Ghost is a reflection on how the unresolved questions in our own histories can be even more haunting than ghosts.”

“Tenaciously researched and beautifully written, American Ghost gives flesh to a lost story, exhumes a bygone world, and animates the ways in which the past haunts all of us. Hannah Nordhaus has performed a lyrical feat of dead-raising.”

“Beautifully written and self-aware, a memoir that tells a story and searches for broader lessons. . . . Ultimately, American Ghost is not just the story of a haunting, but a story that will haunt its readers.”

“A thoughtful and intriguing chronicle of familial investigation.”

American Ghost is at once an engrossing portrait of a forgotten female pioneer and a fascinating meditation on the fine line between history and lore. Hannah Nordhaus has crafted a seamless blend of gripping mystery, moving family confessional, and chilling ghost story.”

“Here is a very different sort of a Western, a deeply feminine story with a strong whiff of the paranormal--Willa Cather meets Stephen King. Don’t read this book late at night . . . unless you like feeling your neck hairs stand up on end!”

“Hannah Nordhaus approaches the legend of her great-great-grandmother’s ghost with the insight of an historian and the energy of an inspired detective. A fine tale well told. I loved every word.”

“A spirited memoir of one of the earliest Jewish pioneer families in the West. . . . A delightful travelogue.”

“Hannah Nordhaus braids personal memoir with historical research and resolute ghost hunting in a narrative that investigates the restless spirit of her great-great-grandmother Julia Schuster Staab.”

“Hannah Nordhaus writes a detective story, although it’s not fiction, and a ghost story, although it’s not a chiller. It’s biography and history and the product of investigative research, yet everything of power, even scholarly process, must come from the heart, and so does this story.”

“A spirited memoir of one of the earliest Jewish pioneer families in the American West…A delightful travelogue…reads like a novel.”

“All of us are haunted — by vestiges of the past, and, as Hannah Nordhaus poignantly observes in American Ghost, by the ghosts of who we thought we were or thought we would become.”

Nordhaus’s lyrical memoir … untangles truth and legend, the tale of success and the hardships of life, the woman and the ghost.”

“[A] chronicle of German-Jewish immigration to the American Southwest, a reckoning of family secrets, and an account of the author’s personal ghost hunt.”

“Nordhaus takes us on a journey back in time — by any means possible — in order to draw a better picture of who her great-great-grandmother was.”


Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062249210
ISBN-10: 0062249215
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: March 10th, 2015
Pages: 336
Language: English