American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hannah Nordhaus

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Late one evening in the 1970s at the historic La Posada Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a janitor noticed a woman in a black Victorian-style dress standing next to the fireplace and exuding, as he described it, “an aura of sadness.” This woman was not a hotel guest, nor had she wandered in from outside, a curious tourist. This woman was an apparition, a vestige of a long-ago era. She would appear again numerous times, in other rooms of the hotel, her appearance coinciding with strange occurrences within the hotel such as gas fireplaces turning on and off repeatedly, chandeliers swaying, and dancing footsteps heard on the third floor – even though the third floor had burned years earlier. Her name was Julia Schuster Staab, and La Posada had once been her home. Her life and stories might otherwise have been relegated to obscurity had it not been for her great-great granddaughter, Hannah Nordhaus, who immortalizes Julia in the book American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest. In this well-written and compelling book, Nordhaus painstakingly and comprehensively pieces together Julia’s – and Julia’s family’s – life, partly through exhaustive genealogical research that included utilizing a DNA service and traveling to Julia’s ancestral home in northwestern Germany, and partly through information gleaned from psychics, one of whom told Nordhaus via telephone that one of Julia’s children, who died as an infant, was “basically pure evil” and “was seriously of the darkest stuff that there is.” American Ghost transcends the focus on one immigrant family’s struggle to survive in the unforgiving American West of the 1800s to encompass the rich, complex, and often tragic stories all families, past and present, share and that help us to understand ourselves and our heritage.