What’s not to love about sauntering through the streets of a historic city listening to an actor-turned-tour guide regale you with fascinating bits of creepy history — especially during the Halloween season?
Ghost tours are cropping up around the world as a fun way for tourists and locals alike to explore the terrain in an entertaining way. Cities like New Orleans, Louisiana; Savannah, Georgia; Salem, Massachusetts; and Seattle, Washington are especially popular sites due to their often morbid histories replete with grisly murders, catastrophic fires, epidemics and the like. Closer to home, places like Park City, Odgen and Salt Lake City, Utah; Twin Falls, Idaho; and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, offer ghost tours. People go on ghost tours for a host of reasons: They like being scared. They are entertained by costumed actors who weave history and humor into ghostly tales. They enjoy being taken to places they wouldn’t otherwise visit. They believe in ghosts and want to talk about their experiences.
“Whether or not you believe in ghosts, it’s fun to hear stories that stretch your perspective of what’s real.” — Gabrielle Ernest, ghost tour aficionado who recently enjoyed Grimm’s “Outer Reaches” tour in Salt Lake City. She has gone on 10 ghost tours in the past few years.
“Our ghost tours are meant to both scare and amuse, and to give the history of Salt Lake City in a way you might not already know,” says Paul Wheeler, owner of Salt Lake City’s Grimm Ghost Tours (www.grimmghosttours.com). “It’s fun and informational stuff.” Rob Newey, owner of Park City Ghost Tours (www.parkcityghosttours.com), says he loves straight history tours himself, sans the ghosts, but thinks most people wouldn’t pay for them. “People really like the haunting aspect and all the personal stories we tell,” he says. “Our primary goal is to inform and to entertain.”
“Yes, I definitely think there are ghosts out there. There’s no other way to explain it, honestly.” — Paul Wheeler, owner of Grimm Ghost Tours, Salt Lake City.
Do people on ghost tours really believe in spirits? And do their operators? “Some are firm believers who have experienced ghosts and haunting firsthand,” says Newey who owns Park City Ghost Tours with his wife, Lela, and with Erik Hutchins. “They tell me they’ve talked to ghosts or that they can see or feel them.” They’re generally the ones who show up for the tours toting a variety of ghost detecting devices from phone apps said to scan for ghosts to electronic equipment meant to pick up energy readings to cameras for photographing ghosts and orbs (balls of light).
“From Ogden’s Union Station to the old Ben Lomond Hotel, there were more murders than on any other street in the nation during the 1920s. Even Al Capone wouldn’t walk down 25th Street without a bodyguard.” — Kristen Clay
Clay says, “You don’t have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a good ghost story.” She wasn’t a believer when she started the first ghost tour company in Utah (www.storytours.com) in 2002 offering bus and walking tours. But she has since become one.
“Now I can say I’ve met some (ghosts),” she says. “But we stay away from anything evil and dark. We offer fun family entertainment you can bring your kids to though some of the stories can be gruesome and bizarre.” She recommends that children be age 7 or older to attend.
Newey claims to be kind of a skeptic. “At the same time,” he says, “I believe people are really feeling the things they tell me regarding their experiences with ghosts. But until a ghost sits next to me and tells me who he is, I don’t know.
“We don’t allow our storytellers to tell any stories that aren’t first- or second-hand accounts or historically documented. We want our tours to be as authentic as possible. But we are storytellers.” — Kristen Clay
If there’s one thing all three tour operators agree on, it’s that their stories are true. All claim to have researched newspaper archives and conducted interviews when possible.
“I love history and finding out background information that isn’t in the history books,” Wheeler says. “That’s why we call our company Grimm, because we tell stories that are quite different from the fairytales you’ve been told.” He is proud of the awards his company has garnered since opening in 2012, such as “Best Utah Tour” by City Weekly and “Best City Tour” on KSL’s Salt Lake Hot List. His company conducts its tours by bus, with guests exiting the bus at various “haunted” locales along the route.
A retired school teacher, Newey also enjoys history. He and Hutchins did extensive research in museum archives and by searching old copies of the Park City Record before opening for business five years ago. “We ended up with hundreds of stories of people who lived and died on Park City’s Main Street and those who claimed to have been haunted by them,” Newey says.
Last year they began conducting ghost tours in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, during the summer. “Our Jackson tours are more history tours disguised as ghost tours because there are less hauntings but some are quite gruesome,” Newey says. “Jackson is a western ranch town as opposed to Park City, which was a mining town with lots of brothels and bars.”
Tours conducted by the companies above range in price from $10 to $25. They are held in the evening year round and last approximately one-and-a-half hours. The tours make for great date nights. Most claim to be kid friendly but with parental discretion advised. Christmas ghost tours are available after Thanksgiving. Detailed information for the companies mentioned in this article and many more can be found online by searching for ghost or story tours.
This article was originally published in the Sept/October issue of Community magazine. For additional content, download the Zions Bank Community iPad app.