“My house is haunted.” If you heard those words from a friend you would be alarmed. If you heard those words from a friend who was frantically scribbling something down in the dark corner booth of a bar, with various newspaper clippings strewn around the table, you would probably be on the precipice of a Very Serious Conversation.
In Lovecraft Country, no such concern is necessary. Instead, when Leticia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) sighs those four words at love interest Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) in third episode “Holy Ghost,” Tic isn’t phased in the least. Tic simply takes a small breath, calmly sits down, and says, “Walk me through it.” Because Leti isn’t in the middle of a crisis. Her home is haunted — by nine spirits, no less. While “Ghost” raises Lovecraft country’s ghost problem so quickly it’s almost impossible to understand it, there are many clues along the way to make sense of the Haunting of the “Winthrop” House.
Then there is the matter of understanding why Leti’s home is called The Winthrop House is the first place. As with many problems in Lovecraft Country, that mystery can be tied back to Christina Brathwhite (Abbey Lee).
The aforementioned bar scene offers all the necessary backstory to understanding why Leti’s home is haunted. The prior owner of her home was a man named Hiram Epstein (Miles Doleac). Hiram was a University of Chicago scientist who was fired for “unethical practices,” or, in more straightforward terms, “dangerous human experimentation.” After Hiram was pushed out of academia, it appears he began experimenting on human people in his own home. As Chicago police captain Seamus Lancaster (Mac Brandt) tells Leti at the midpoint of the episode, the bodies of eight Black people were found in the room below what is now Leti’s basement.
Around this same time of that ghastly discovery, eight Black residents of Chicago’s South Side were reported missing. Captain Lancaster was “in charge” of solving the case; Lancaster was also seen in a chummy photo with Hiram back in 1948, prior to the bodies being found in the latter’s home. Leti and Tic realize Lancaster was supplying Hiram with innocent Black people for experimentation.
Those are the spirits who are now trapped in Leti’s home, along with Hiram, the man who tortured and murdered them. Leti has proof of this fact since the ghostly faces of Hiram’s victims appear in various present-day photos Leti took in the house. When those images were all put together, Hiram’s own spirit appeared to Leti to threaten her. The spirits of Hiram’s victims hadn’t been trying to harm her throughout “Ghost;” they were trying to warn her. Any ghostly violence against Black people in the episode — like the would-be beheading elevator or the taunting ouija board message — came from Hiram (it is unclear when, exactly, Hiram died).
Hiram’s victims are given their chance at revenge once Leti puts all of these pieces together and brings in a Black magical practitioner of her own, who is named Martine (Andrene Ward-Hammond). After the darkness of Lovecraft Country’s first two episodes, it is overwhelmingly powerful to see a Black person wield the supernatural in order to help our heroes rather than harm them. Martine eventually takes Leti and Tic to the basement to exorcise the spirit of Hiram from the house and free his victims. If you’ve ever witnessed an exorcism in any piece of pop culture, you won’t be surprised to see this one quickly go awry. Martine is knocked out and possessed by Hiram, who then tries to murder Tic. When that doesn’t work, Hiram just jumps into Tic’s body.
This horrible turn of events brings “Holy Ghost” to the most unforgettable scene in Lovecraft Country yet. Leti calls upon Hiram’s victims — who, up until this point, are busy terrorizing the dangerous racists roaming around upstairs — to save her. It’s a not-so-subtle nod to the strength of calling upon your ancestors in times of need. The tormented spirits appear and lock hands with Leti. To the sound of gospel music, these multiple generations of Black people eradicate at least one bastion of white supremacy from our plane, saving the soul of a Black man like Tic in the process. At last, the mutilated spirits’ forms return to their prior dignity. With Hiram gone forever, these eight souls can finally rest.
Now that Hiram is gone, Leti and Tic can attempt to figure out why they were thrown into this mess in the first place.
The answer is Christina, who enacted an elaborate scheme to get Leti in the Winthrop House (she paid for the home, not surprise inheritance from Leti’s dead mother). Christina went through all of that trouble to gain surreptitious access to the house because it was initially owned by a man named Horatio Winthrop. Horatio was a founding member of the Sons of Adam, like Tic’s rapist grand-ancestor Titus Braithwhite. Horatio’s name can be seen etched into a painting in previous episode, “Whitey’s on the Moon.” In the 1800s, Horatio was tired of Titus monopolizing access to the much-talked about Book of Names, which grants the Sons all of their knowledge of magic. Winthrop stole a few pages out of the book and fled to Chicago. Hiram Epstein eventually became a follower of Horatio’s (it is unclear whether the two men ever met directly, since Titus lived over a century before the events of Lovecraft).
With Christina’s father dead, she wants Horatio’s pages in order to decode the “Language of Adam” in its entirety. Apparently, Christina believes Tic and Leti can be her pawns in this game. But, as Leti tells a reporter towards the end of the episode, “I’ve gotta face this new world head-on. And stake my claim in it.” Letitia Lewis is nobody’s puppet.