Tales from the Haunted Library: Halloween Stories and Songs from Our Online Collections

A man sits talking to a group of children. A shadow looms behind him. A black cat arches its back in the foreground.

“Here’s Another Good Hallowe’en Ghost Story,” The Day Book (Chicago, Ill.), October 23, 1912

Have you ever gathered around a campfire or in a dark room lit by a single candle or flashlight and told ghost stories? Where did you learn these stories? From family and friends? From storybooks? From television, newspapers, or social media? Halloween provides a wonderful time to share these stories and learn new ones.

The American Folklife Center has gathered a variety of ghost stories, songs, and legends. Here are a few to share with your students:

  • Ghost Stories in Song for Halloween presents three songs that recount a person’s encounter with a spirit. Students might consider why these songs were created and what story they might tell. Find links to other recordings and a podcast on these songs from Folklife Today.
  • In addition to ghosts appearing during Halloween, the devil might show up looking to grab some souls or cause other trouble.
  • This podcast features several storytellers sharing some of their favorite scary stories.
  • Recently the Folklife Center has published a series of posts on La Llorona, the weeping woman who appears to warn people about bad behavior or to weep for the children she has lost. In one post about La Llorona a scholar notes that “La Llorona is not only a reflection of our innermost fears, but she is the living breathing proof that we can overcome them as well.”

Newspapers have also published ghost stories. Read about “Mad” Anthony Wayne and his Grey Lady in a 1933 edition of the Washington, DC Evening Star. The Day Book newspaper in Chicago also published a version of the Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow and the Uncanny Thing that Floats in Gloom.

The Library also has ghost stories in oral history collections. Read the stories of Sadie Johnson and The Rooster’s Ghost from the American Life Histories collection.

Looking for additional Halloween resources? Explore the research guide compiled by Library of Congress reference staff.

Ask your students about the ghost stories they have heard. Who taught them the stories? Why do they think ghost stories are so popular? What might the stories suggest about the history and values of a community or a family?

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