A Memoir in Essays
Ghosts in the Museum is a memoir, told through a series of linked essays, that focuses on the ways in which we curate and understand our lives through the objects that surround us. I examine how everyday objects can transmogrify into valuable artifacts and magical totems through the act of our attention and mythmaking. Our material culture is imbued with the meaning we give it, and as the art historian Glenn Adamson accurately writes in his book Fewer, Better Things, “a single thing may carry hundreds of stories about the people who made it or who have lived with it.”
This book begins with the discovery of a suitcase that belonged to my late father. The objects and letters stored inside reveal clues to a hidden history: my grandmother’s mysterious suicide at the age of 48, and the secreted past of my father’s family. These items also help me to understand the foundations of my parent's fraught marriage, particularly my mother's untreated mental illness.
As I attempted to uncover the truth of my family’s past through these objects, I found myself unable to confront my story head on. So I turned to the stories of other relics—a pair of ruby slippers from the movie “The Wizard of Oz” that were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota; a collection of vintage dioramas created by Frances Glessner Lee depicting death scenes; an ancient palimpsest at the Walters Art Museum—and these objects helped enlighten my personal journey.
Part memoir, part detective story, part social history, this book uses the few objects I have from my father as the locus for an exploration into the nature of objects, inheritance, family history, and the consequences that long-held secrets and trauma can have across generations. At its core, Ghosts in the Museum is a study of the narratives that we create about our lives and the objects that we choose to contain these stories. And how, when personal truths are inscrutable, we can place our intangible hopes and desires into a tangible proxy in an effort to better understand the arc of a human life.
Essays included in this memoir have earned numerous awards as well as recognition in Best American Essays.