The Nearly Departed

thenearlydeparted

I have waited with anticipation for Michael Norman's The Nearly Departed since Alison from the Minnesota Historical Society Press clued me in via a comment on my review of Haunted Heartland last January.

The arrival of this book a couple of weeks ago pushed it to the top of my reading list. Norman, a retired journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls living in the Minneapolis-St Paul area, put together a compilation of ghost stories that took us all over the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

For those familiar with Norman's other works, The Nearly Departed is more like Haunted Wisconsin (co-authored with Beth Scott) than his other books in that the stories contained within it are fewer in number, longer than a few paragraphs, and provide much more history and description. The stories also continue Norman's choice to not provide analysis or conclusions-he simply told the stories as he heard them while providing a historical context of the particular event or place.

As I was reading along and enjoying these fascinating stories from all over Minnesota, I came across The Mad Priest, a story about the haunting of Heffron Hall at St. Mary's University in Winona. As I was reading about the attempted murder of Bishop Patrick Heffron by Father Laurence Lesches and the paranormal activity that has occurred at Heffron Hall, my Catholic side perked up and I was struck with a notion that I have heard this story before. After consulting my copy of Haunted Heartland, the story of Heffron Hall was also in that book. Norman seems to have updated the same story he wrote in 1985 and put it in The Nearly Departed. While I appreciated the update, I could not help but wonder about the reason for putting something old in a new book. I looked at the other stories in Haunted Heartland and there were several more stories that were updated or rewritten and then put in The Nearly Departed.

I am now in a strange place. On one hand, I have the reality that about ten percent of this book is just refurbished material from almost twenty-five years ago. On the other hand, I cannot deny my interest in the new (at least for me) material, including stories about long-dead librarians roaming around the St. Olaf College library, 1930s era gangsters using the restroom at the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul, or the strange happenings at Minneapolis' First Avenue and 7th Street Entry. Although Haunted Heartland was listed in the selected bibliography, it was not clearly cited that these particular stores were from that book and that irks me enough to give this book a lower recommendation than I would have if it were entirely original.

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2 Comments

  1. Michael Norman 26.Aug.09 at 7:56 pm

    Ben,

    First, thanks for taking the time to review my new book, “The Nearly Departed: Minnesota Ghost Stories & Legends.” I appreciate that very much.

    However, let me take polite exception to your comments that “about ten percent of this book is just refurbished material from twenty-five years ago” and “although Haunted Heartland was listed in the selected bibliography, it was not clearly cited that these particular stores (sic) were from that book and that irks me enough to give this book a lower recommendation than I would have if it were entirely original.”

    There are 48 stories in “The Nearly Departed…” Yes, earlier versions of five of them appeared in “Haunted Heartland” and one, by the way, in my book “Haunted Homeland.” And you are correct that both books are listed in the bibliography. However, if you also will look on the copyright page (p. iv), first column you will see a paragraph citing these stories by title and that other versions had appeared in “Haunted Heartland” and “Haunted Homeland.” I wanted to make that clear to readers. My editors and I discussed the best way to do this and we agreed that in addition to citing my earlier work in the bibliography we should also put this information right up front. I’m sorry you missed that page. It’s common practice to place this sort of information among a book’s front matter.

    Let me be clear, too, that I wanted to include these stories because I consider them dandy ghost stories and thought they would be excellent additions to this book. My editors agreed. In fact, the St. Mary’s story has been cited in many other books and TV shows after it initially appeared in “Haunted Heartland” 25 years ago. For “The Nearly Departed…”, I extensively rewrote and/or revised each one with new material.

    I’m sorry that what you feel is an unclear citation caused you to give my book a lower recommendation. I really don’t know what more I could have done.

    I am happy that you seemed to enjoy the remaining 90 percent of “The Nearly Departed…

    Best regards,
    Michael Norman

    Reply
  2. Jodi Chromey 27.Aug.09 at 12:04 pm

    @Michael Norman
    Michael, I think it’s awesome that you cleared that up. Ben’s a total stickler for proper citation (weird, I know).

    Reply

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