Are you watching the sixth season of American Horror Story? Did you hear about the theory that claims each of its first five episodes calls back to the corresponding season of AHS? I think it seems pretty plausible, considering Ryan Murphy has long claimed that, at some point, the show will converge on itself. Perhaps that point is Roanoke!
Even if that theory isn’t true, we can still turn on all the lights, grab a glass of wine (not you, Lee) and hit the books—specifically these books, which will help you to better understand the legends and minutiae behind your favorite season.
The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy
In the Murder House, Elizabeth Short didn’t know she was dead. In real life, she was nicknamed the Black Dahlia for the habit of wearing flowers in her hair. Of course, she was later discovered in pieces, drained of blood, and neatly, almost surgically, dissected in a field. In this novel about the deceased, Ellroy recreates the gritty L.A. street life of the 1940s.
The Good Nurse, by Charles Graeber
Health care takes on a whole new meaning in this powerful account of a real-life nurse who crossed state lines to keep practicing his own twisted brand of medicine, which involved injecting patients with lethal yet undetectable doses of saline. You wouldn’t want to be locked away in the AHS asylum, but you really wouldn’t want to be in a ward with quiet, unassuming Charlie Cullen.
Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans, by Dan Baum
Go deep into the Big Easy’s history, starting with one hurricane and ending with another. While AHS’s coven of witches retreated to New Orleans to train the remaining descendants of Salem, they did so in a city that inspired and sheltered “[…] a gumbo of occupations, typical of New Orleans, including a transsexual bar owner, a parish coroner with a love of jazz, a white cop, a retired streetcar-track repairman, and a carnival king.” If you loved the outsized personalities of the coven, they’re more than matched by these real-life stories of nine New Orleanians.
Dr. Mutter’s Marvels, by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Step right up for the story of the amazing Doctor Mutter, who defied the limitations of medical practice in his time to develop pioneering methods to help the deformed and disfigured. His collection of medical oddities is still available to view today in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, more fascinating than any mere side show.
Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Evan Peters brought the horrific murderer H.H. Holmes to life at the hotel, but the real life Holmes was just as terrifying. Larson juxtaposes the sordid tale of Holmes’ scheme to build a real-life murder castle with the team of idealistic, visionary men who breathed life into the White City of the Chicago World’s Fair. One side hoped to draw people into the city, and the other side was determined not to allow them to leave with their lives.
Ghostland, by Colin Dickey
Why are we obsessed with the mystery of the long-dead? Ghost stories come from somewhere, and Dickey leads readers through an exploration of “several noted American ghost stories, showing how each of them provides insight into contemporaneous history.” Haunted places might not only trap the spirits of the deceased, but also our own collective imagination about what it means to live in this country. And isn’t that sort of what’s happening so far in AHS: My Roanoke Nightmare? I guess we’ll have to stay tuned to find out.