By George Morse //Car & Travel, October 2016
The season for haunted happenings has arrived, and, if you haven’t heard or seen them already, it won’t be long before you start catching familiar ads. They usually feature some kind of frightening font or a ghoulishly deep-voiced narrator promoting a terrifyingly fun haunted house, or factory, or castle, or dungeon. But what if dimly lit rooms, strobe lights and costumed actors leaping from dark corners aren’t quite your thing? What if you prefer history and good ghost stories to quick scares? The answer? Ghost tours, which abound in our region and others nearby. Here are 10 interesting ghost tours to check out Halloween season.
Fells Point is among the oldest areas of Charm City with a ship-building history that includes production of the Continental Navy’s first frigate. Ghost tours of the area explore its maritime lineage with a mix of historic and contemporary tales, such as that of a retired sailor whose favorite polka song played in a local tavern after his death, and after it’d been removed from the jukebox. Guests 21 and older can explore haunted taverns on a pub walk. Tours of Mount Vernon are also offered in October, where beautiful architecture blends with spooky stories.
Boroughs of the Dead, NYC
Hipsters might be the scariest thing to come to Queens in recent years, but they’re not the most frightening part of the borough’s history. Voodoo, poltergeists and potter fields are all part of a haunted Astoria tour, one of several offered in city. Check out the mystical symbolism of architecture in the West Village, walk by the former Brooklyn home of horror author H.P. Lovecraft and learn about haunted taverns in lower Manhattan. Seasonal tours include Ghosts of Christmas Past in December and Ghosts of the Titanic in April.
Fantomes Montreal, Canada
These tours are separated from others on this list based on pure theatricality. Guests can choose from two ghost walks. The traditional trip explores the dark side of Old Montreal’s past with a mix of ghost stories and history. The second option includes encounters with two spirits — costumed actors —who deliver creepy stories about their characters and the area.
Gettysburg’s bloody past makes it a magnet for history buffs and ghost hunters. Gettysburg Ghost Tours appeals to visitors of either interest by highlighting everything from Civil War soldiers to local architecture. Other options include a Wine & Spirits Tour that features spirits and stories of spirits, while brave souls can sign-up to explore frightening areas using ghost-hunting equipment.
Ghosts of Newport, R.I.
Newport’s history isn’t all folk festivals, sailing and Gilded Age opulence. Ghosts of Newport tours explore more than 350 years of tragedy in the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The stories highlighted on each trip have been passed to guides by eyewitnesses. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next tour-goer to see something you simply can’t explain.
Ghosts of Harpers Ferry, W. Va.
Harpers Ferry has a history seemingly made for ghost stories. It was the site of an abolitionist raid in 1859 and it repeatedly changed hands during the Civil War. Pegged as the country’s oldest ghost tour, guests explore several blocks of Harpers Ferry’s lower town area. Many highlighted stories come from a 1977 book written by a former restaurant owner whose inexplicable experiences led her to research the area’s past.
Queen City Ghostwalk, Burlington, Vt.
Queen City Ghostwalk explores a slightly different part of the city — a history laden with lumber barons, railroad tycoons, smugglers and war heroes. Choose from walking tours that include Burlington’s downtown or a local cemetery. Bus tours highlighting allegedly haunted spots on the University of Vermont campus are offered in October on a limited basis.
Spellbound Tours, Salem, Mass.
Halloween in Salem isn’t like Halloween anywhere else. Salem’s witch trial history gives it a unique historic, and possibly paranormal, pedigree. Spellbound Tours is one of a few ghost tours in town. Sites visited include the town’s old jail, its original witch dungeon, one of the nation’s oldest cemeteries and the infamous Joshua Ward House, which sits atop the home of George Corwin, sheriff during the witch trials. Tours end with a look at photo-captured paranormal activity and a bit on vampire folklore.
Seaside Shadows Haunted History Tours, Mystic and New London, Conn.
Do you know where you may encounter the giggling ghost of Mystic? Those who’ve taken a Seaside Shadows tour do. The company offers ghost tours of the well-known coastal community including one highlighting the downtown area with stories of sea captains, boats lost at sea, hidden treasurers and Civil War widows. The other explores Whitehall Burial Ground, highlighting the significance of grave markings and the burial place of interesting local figures. In New London, guests visit Ye Antientist Burial Ground, one of the nation’s oldest graveyards and resting place of important Connecticut historical figures.
Strolling the nation’s capital is a good bet any time of year. To properly enjoy such a thing in October, however, one must do so while hearing ghost stories. Victorian-costumed guides lead walks focused on Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Tales of soldiers, first ladies, war heroes and other figures highlight the area’s tragic past.