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Ghost tours meet Southern spirits

Bonadventure Cemetery, courtesy Savannah CVB

Late one night in Louisiana’s historic Shreveport Auditorium, some paranormal investigators were using an electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) to listen for voices from the hereafter. A voice finally broke the silence with “I love Johnny Cash.”

A ghost still devoted to Cash could only be from the South.

Ghost tours across the South highlight the region’s most eccentric characters with stories that continue to make the deceased characters’ presence known. One Southern ghost is even said to wash dishes at a historic restaurant. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, these unusual tales can serve as an entertaining way to learn history.

A tourist might find it more pleasant to hear about a ghost that still loves Cash’s music than to listen to a list of dates about Cash. Engaging guides can tell the history of a place laced with a little of the supernatural for an enjoyable scare and an educational evening.

And who knows? You might meet the ghostly fan of Johnny Cash.

Shreveport Auditorium

Shreveport, La.
A mysterious apparition of a blond child, music that plays without musicians and a phantom fan of Cash make tours of the Shreveport Auditorium especially spooky.

“We have quite a few things that happen in the building; but all our spirits seem to be friendly,” said Teresa Day Micheels, tour director for the auditorium. “They are just trying to get some attention.”

The national historic landmark still serves as a working auditorium while offering history and ghost tours of the building. Stars such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Cash have all made appearances on the stage over the years.

Ghost tours incorporate the building’s history with stops at the stage, the ballroom and the Elvis Presley Dressing Room.

“We started with historic tours of the building, because it is a beautiful art-deco theater completed in 1929 as a standing memorial to those who fought in the First World War,” said Micheels. “After a while, we started noticing unusual happenings, and that’s how the haunted tours started.”

The tour begins outside the theater, where groups hear about the historic Oakland Cemetery next door. After the tour moves inside, the guide explains how the theater was used as barracks during World War II. One particular gentleman from that time is said to have never left and continues to touch women’s hair on the tours.

Ghost and Gravestones Trolley Tour
Savannah, Ga.
A storm brews inside the Perkins and Sons Ship Chandlery each time a ghost tour enters the historic building. Thunder, lightning and mist special effects set the mood in the warehouse while a guide recounts tales of danger on the high seas and the waterfront.

Once part of the bustling port along Savannah’s River Street, the warehouse is now an exclusive stop on the Ghost and Gravestones Trolley Tour, with shipwreck exhibits and a special-effects presentation created to make groups feel like the story is happening around them.

Led by a guide costumed as a 19th-century lady, a gravedigger or another character from Savannah’s past, the trolley tours ride past the historic homes and cemeteries of Savannah, with stops at particularly creepy locations.

“The city of Savannah has long been considered the city of the dead,” said Joyce Ellis, groups and charters representative for Old Town Trolley Tours of Savannah. “We’ve had fires, wars, a yellow fever epidemic and hurricanes. All that history is tied into the tour, so people realize why we are crazy like we are.”

One story told in front of the Juliette Gordon Low House recounts the love between William and Nellie Gordon. Allegedly, when Nellie passed away in 1917, the ghost of the general came to the door to take the spirit of Nellie with him in a carriage.

“You have to understand the house to understand the story,” said Ellis. “While parked in front of the Juliette Gordon Low House on the tour, you can picture the general knocking and then both of them climbing into the carriage.”

Huntsville Ghost Walk
Huntsville, Ala.
Strange orbs appearing on photographs and complaints of being touched when no one is around have been known to happen on the Huntsville Ghost Walk. Historians thoroughly researched the history of Huntsville and compiled the town’s myths and legends to create the tours.

Costumed guides stop at Maple Hill Cemetery, the Pope Mansion, the Weeden House and other important historic places in the town.

“What we discovered is a lot of high school and college classes started coming to the tours, because it was a neat way to learn about the local history,” said Jacque Reeves, owner of Avalon Tours. “It was more than just a regular tour or something out of a book. We found that a lot of people did more research after the tour, because they were so interested.”

Guests can choose from three walking tours: the Old Town Historic District, the Twickenham Historic District and the Big Spring District. The trolley tour also provides a way for groups to see a larger area of Huntsville. The Twickenham tour remains the most popular for out-of-town visitors, as it contains the oldest homes.

Paranormal investigators’ findings, such as stories from a medium’s contact with a murdered man buried in the Maple Hill Cemetery, are also included on the tours to add a more recent and personal element to the tours.

“There are a lot of skeptics, and that’s OK, because we aren’t trying to convince anyone,” said Reeves. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to entertain people.”

Bulldog Tours
Charleston, S.C.

In 1987, two photographers taking pictures of Charleston found a strange image of a woman bent over a grave on their photo of the St. Philips Cemetery. After some investigating, the couple learned that the 1888 grave belonged to Sue Howard Hardy, who was buried there with her stillborn baby.

Oddly enough, the photo was also taken on the 99th anniversary of her death.

The famous ghost of Hardy is just one of the peculiar phantoms groups learn about on Bulldog Tours’ ghost tours of Charleston. Guests looking for some of the weirder history of Charleston can choose between one of three walking tours: the Ghost and Dungeon Tour, the Dark Side of Charleston, and the Ghost and Graveyard Tour.

These walking tours give tour members exclusive access to the Old City Jail, the Provost Dungeon and the Circular Congregational Graveyard. Guides also explain the town’s past to provide a historic backdrop for the stories.

“To understand why Charleston is haunted, you have to know some of the 340-year history,” said Janice Plisco, Charleston tour guide. “Within those 340 years, we’ve had a lot of unexpected deaths. We don’t make things up. We tell stories as we know them and how they have happened over the years.”

For a more focused tour, groups can choose the Haunted Jail Tour, which goes inside the Old City Jail, which once imprisoned 19th-century pirates and Civil War prisoners.

“The jail’s building itself is very eerie,” said Plisco. “Out of about 30 tour guides, there are only six that will do the jail tours. Every time I go in there, I feel like someone is breathing down my neck. That’s the kind of experience you have there.”

Appalachian GhostWalks
Jonesborough, Tenn.
When in Jonesborough, Tenn., if you see a stately gentleman with a black coat, top hat and resemblance to the seventh president of the United States, many locals will say you’ve just seen the ghost of Andrew Jackson. It is rumored that the president continues to wander the town’s streets at night because he was secretly buried there.

Founded in 1779, Jonesborough is one of Tennessee’s oldest cities, with many historic buildings dating from before 1850. This extended timeline has allowed numerous ghost stories to develop, including ones about Jackson, the historic Eureka Inn and the Salt House.

“Jonesborough was listed as one of the Top 10 Most Haunted Towns in America by the Travel Channel,” said Stacey McGee, tour director of Appalachian GhostWalks. “We tell the history of the town during the Frontier Period, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It gives you a spine-tingling feeling when we talk about who is haunting these places and why they are here.”

On the lantern-led tours, guests learn how the tour company gathered information by using a combination of historic research and paranormal investigations before they hear about Jonesborough’s active afterlife. Appalachian GhostWalks also offers other ghost tours, step-on guides and full-day packages at locations across northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia.

“We have 13 different tours you can choose from,” said McGee. “They are all very unique, with their own history and story to tell. We spend two to three years researching a town before adding it to our list.”

Ghost Tours of St. Augustine
St. Augustine, Fla.
With lantern lights illuminating the way down St. Augustine’s narrow brick streets, costumed guides relate the folklore and history of the 1565 town on Ghost Tours of St. Augustine. Centuries of documented paranormal activity are used during the walk through one of America’s oldest towns.

“We have a ghost that does dishes in the middle of the night for one of the restaurants,” said Hope Chessel, group sales coordinator. “I’m trying to take that one home with me. It’s not always scary stories that we tell.”

Some of the stories involve the beheading of Seminole warrior Osceola, Spanish soldiers, the St. Francis Inn and the Huguenot Cemetery.

Ghost Tours of St. Augustine allows guests to choose from among a walking tour, a trolley tour and a sailing cruise on the 1972 Schooner Freedom. Aboard the cruise, passengers can relax under the stars while listening to scary stories about the town.

The walking tour hits all the pedestrian-only areas of downtown; the trolley travels a greater distance to locations such as the St. Augustine Lighthouse and the Old Jail.

“The wonderful thing with our tours is that they tell the history of why the ghost is here, which tells the history of the city,” said Chessel. “When you hear about Osceola’s ghost, you are getting the history of the Seminole wars as well.

“It’s a fun way to keep people interested, because they retain so much of the information they learn on these tours.”