"As in the case studies I wrote at Harvard Business School, in which one company’s managerial problems are intended to generate questions with wider applicability, my ghost research had generated more wide-ranging issues. Are there ghosts? I had asked. Now it wasn’t just a matter of ghosts, but of afterlife and the potential significance of how we live as mortals if our spirits, in some form, are to remain after death. It’s a lot to think about – which is probably why we don’t."
THE HAIRBRUSH AND THE SHOE
A hairbrush vanished. The piano played. A bed moved out from the wall. But when a workman was pushed and hissed at by something invisible on the stairs, the author began to take the idea of the ghost seriously. The Hairbrush and the Shoe is the story of her attempt to find out if a ghost is living in her family's 150-year-old townhouse – and, if so, who that ghost might be.
Armchair research leads to into the byzantine world of the paranormal, where a flourishing subculture of mediums, psychics, ghost hunters, and amateur sleuths seeks contact with spirits of the dead.
She learns that many scholars, artists, and writers have shared a belief in spirits and that research into telepathy is ongoing. Fascinated, Stanton joins the London-based Ghost Club and eventually consults a psychic, who assures her that more than one ghost is occupying her home.
Stanton also studies current research in physics and neurology, and learns that spirits and afterlife are mostly dismissed and telepathy research discredited. Tackling the question of who the suspected ghost might be, she discovers a number of eminent “Boston Brahmins” among her home’s former families, including one strong candidate for resident ghost.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, attending public school on Bainbridge Island and later Forest Ridge Convent in Seattle (site of Mary McCarthy’s Life With Mother Superior). At Mills College in Oakland, California, I majored in English, wrote stories, and received the Poetry Prize upon graduation.
After a disheartening series of clerical jobs, I left San Francisco and traveled east to visit college friends in Boston. I never left Boston, finding a job, an apartment, and a boyfriend within weeks of arriving. It was the swinging 60s and I was from California, which made me exotic in a city characterized by Brooks Brothers-clad insularity. Thus, despite my inability to type, I was hired as a secretary at Harvard Business School; due to my ability to make legible prose out of convoluted academic jargon, I was promoted to research assistant, and eventually began writing my own management cases.
As a case writer I developed my ability to write non-fiction. Case studies require clear, unadorned prose and content based upon documents and interviews. Real people and live situations became, for me, as intriguing and enlightening as fictitious ones.
In the mid-1970s I was asked to develop a series of cases on women managers for joint use at Harvard and the new Simmons College Graduate Program in Management, a women’s MBA program. I subsequently met and interviewed many women who were attempting to begin or continue careers while raising families. Their experience provided the substance of my book Being All Things, published by Doubleday in 1988.
I have lived in Boston’s historic Back Bay for over 50 years. My husband and I bought a decaying 1875 townhouse in the late 1970s and we raised our daughters in a building that, despite its age and size, has been a comfortable, and comforting, home – to us and our two girls, a series of Scottish terriers, and perhaps to at least one ghost.
© 2020 Jeanne Stanton