When I first began hearing ghost stories at ETSU, I realized the undead are bridges. The undead – those ephemeral beings in their multiple variations – connect the seen and the invisible, the known and the unknown, the understood and the unexplained, the private and the public, mystery and science. A scary tale can hold us together in the communal bliss of fear around a campfire. They can also pit us against one another, like the old men in Peter Straub’s (1979) Ghost Story. The undead are simultaneously the persons they used to be, as well as the apparitions they are now. They connect the past with the present. They – like the past – are dead, but very much alive in the present as they haunt places and people. They are somewhere “in-between,” having never completely crossed the threshold into whatever lies beyond.
I realized my autoethnographic work is similarly haunted. There are ghosts throughout. Most obviously, My Father’s Ghost: Interrogating Family Photos (2005) was about my attempt to reconnect with my long-lost father, who slowly disappeared.2 The narratives in Losing Things Was Nothing New: A Family’s Story of Foreclosure (2011) – written by my mother, my brothers, and me – were ostensibly about when our home was foreclosed upon in 1991. And yet, each one of the separate narratives is haunted by my stepfather Drew Auriemma, who died after the foreclosure, but years before we wrote those stories. Finally, The Ghostwriter: Living a Father’s Unfinished Narrative (in press) resurrects the idea of living with our father’s incomplete narrative. He’s still alive somewhere, still writing, but we don’t know what it is and what it is we will inherit. Not all the ghosts that connect us are dead.
Ghosts haunt the narrative and autoethnographic work of others too. The Brays’ (2011) labored through the death of their father/grandfather. Ellis (1995) deals with the loss of her long-term partner. There’s Art Bochner (2012) learning to reevaluate his relationship with his long-dead father, who is alive and well in memory. Chris Poulos (in press) ponders the ghostly disappearance of his still-living father from his life. Foster (2007) grapples with her grandmother’s death. Ellis and Jerry Rawicki (2013) help us to understand the holocaust through Jerry’s haunted personal experiences in WWII.
Haunting, however, is not one-sided. Autoethnographers are not only haunted, we haunt as well. Delving into his relationship with his deceased father and their shared love of baseball, Krizek (1992a, 1992b) haunted Comiskey Park. Ellis (1996) wandered the hallways of a hospital’s maternity ward. Herrmann (in press) creeped aimlessly around his old neighborhood, where no one he knows lives anymore. Bud and Sandra Goodall prowled the government archives in Saint Louis, Missouri looking for the truth behind his late father, a cold-war secret agent (Goodall, 2006). Nick Trujillo (2004) searched the grave and the stories of his Naunny. Like ghost hunters on television and in movies, autoethnographers haunt, searching for understanding, looking for connections, often in the places others dare not go.