Monday, October 25, 2004
Who needs Ghostbusters? After all, ghosts are good for business, many cities are finding out.
In cities across the country, private entities, chambers of commerce and tourist bureaus capitalize on the public's seasonal interest in the supernatural by conducting Halloween tours of supposedly haunted locations.
In Kansas, Atchison is perhaps best known for its ghost tours, billing itself as "The Most Haunted Town in Kansas."
"They're really popular," said Stan Lawson, marketing director for the Atchison Chamber of Commerce. "Every year we have to keep adding tours because we sell out. We sold out the rest of this year a couple of weeks ago."
That means about 3,000 people will have taken the guided tours in Atchison since they started in mid-September. During the first few weeks the tours only ran on weekends. Now they run every night on two trolleys. Each trolley handles four tours per night. The tours will continue through Halloween.
The tours, which charge $8 per person, draw people from near and far, Lawson said.
The ghost tours were started 10 years ago to help pay for historical trolley tours the rest of the year, he said.
"The (ghost) tour is what makes enough money to keep the trolley running the rest of the year," Lawson said. He couldn't say how much the venture nets.
Lawrence doesn't have a ghost tour, but it would be a good idea, said Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"I think it's a great thing, but we don't have a trolley," she said.
Billings added it was difficult to know whether a tour would attract people from far enough out of town that they would spend more money visiting the city, eating at its restaurants and staying in its motels and hotels.
In Atchison, trolleys stop at various "haunted" houses and other sites while a tour guide tells stories about mysterious happenings there and how the hauntings might have originated. Tourists do not go into the houses.
If such a tour were running in Lawrence, its route might include several supposedly haunted locations, according to lists found on various Internet Web sites.
For example, several ghosts are said to haunt buildings on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University. The ghost of a woman who hanged herself is said to haunt the Sigma Nu fraternity house near the Kansas University campus, and, by some reports, the fifth floor of downtown's Eldridge Hotel is haunted.
There also have been rumors of ghosts at the Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 N.H., spurred by disappearing wardrobe pieces and malfunctioning lights. A year ago the building was damaged by a fire that started while no one was present.
The most infamous Lawrence-area site is Stull Cemetery, said to be the site of one of the "seven gates to Hell." The cemetery is on private property and thus is off limits to visitors. Douglas County Sheriff's deputies routinely watch the cemetery, especially during this time of year.
Statewide, there are numerous stories about haunted houses, buildings and cemeteries. A walking tour of haunted houses on the Army base at Fort Riley is conducted each year by the fort's Historical and Archeological Society.
Other area sites
Some haunted tourist sites thrive on their own without guides, trolleys or even much advertising. Along secluded roads southwest of Joplin, Mo., for example, tourists for decades have reported seeing a "spook light." People in groups or on their own drive to the area at night and park along the roads hoping to see the light. Although various explanations have been offered about the light, none has proved definitive.
"It's still a big thing," said Jacqueline O'Dell, education director at the Joplin Museum Complex. "Last year we had a guy from the University of Arkansas come here and do his thesis about it."
The Kansas Department of Commerce's Travel and Tourism office has not conducted campaigns promoting tours of haunted sites, but supports any local efforts in that area, said Sally Lunsford, director of public information. Two years ago the department's magazine featured a story on the Atchison and Fort Riley tours.
"We really think it is something local communities should do and then build an attraction out of it," Lunsford said.