Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ghost Tours Explore The Unknown

Some people spend their weekends searching for garage-sale bargains. Others set out to discover new hiking trails. For Kelly Green, weekends were made for hunting ghosts. "I've been doing it about eight years now, and it's been fascinating," said Green, a former Alton resident who lives in Bunker Hill, Ill. "The best part about it is that you meet other people who have the similar interest," she said. "Let's face it, people either believe in ghosts or they don't. So it's good when you have a chance to meet people who hold the same belief. I've made some good friends." For Green's nocturnal adventures, she usually goes with tours organized by American Hauntings, a Decatur, Ill., company that conducts tours and overnight stays at a variety of sites. Troy Taylor, who started the company in 1994, said the business grew from his passion for the supernatural. "I've always been interested in the mysterious, the unsolved and the paranormal. That sort of stuff just always appealed to me, but there wasn't a lot of material to guide me," he said. "Plus, I'm not very employable, a little too independent to work for somebody, so I created this niche for myself," he said. Taylor's company offers trips across the nation, including the Gettysburg Battlefield; Bell's Witch Cave in Tennessee — "a rather famous location"; and the Mansfield Reformatory — "that's the old prison where 'The Shawshank Redemption' was filmed." Adventures in this area include the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, the Morse Mill Hotel in Jefferson County and the Original Springs Hotel in Okawville. A few weeks ago, Green attended one of the company's excursions to The Eldred House in Eldred, Ill., about 65 miles north of St. Louis. She stopped short of saying that she saw a ghost, but she did see something.
The Eldred House in Eldred, Ill., about 65 miles north of St. Louis. is one of the houses featured on the haunted house tour by American Hauntings, a Decatur, Ill., company that conducts tours and overnight stays at a variety of sites.
"I could see a shadow move on the staircase, peeking out at us. We were at the bottom, and it was like the head and shoulders looking over the rail," Green said. She added that the Eldred sighting wasn't as clear as the time when she was a child and saw the ghost of a man in the basement of her grandmother's house near Ellisville. "Years later, I mentioned the event and my grandmother looked at my mom and said, 'Well, that's four generations who've seen it.'" Taylor said tours like the one at Eldred are smaller affairs. "Usually, it's 12 to 25 people, depending on the size of the venue. But at something like the Mansfield Reformatory, we take 75 guests," he said. Taylor said ghost hunters preferred tours through companies over visiting sites on their own. "Take the Lemp Mansion, for example. You can stay there anytime, but most people would be there to eat and drink. When we go, we book the entire site. This allows our people to investigate the house," he said. Some patrons bring their own ghost-hunting equipment, such as voice and video recorders and even electromagnetic field detectors. "But the two basics everyone should bring are a camera and a flashlight," Taylor said. He stressed that the tours are not staged performances. "We offer documented reports of sightings and the history of the site. We don't hold seances or have psychics," he said. When it comes to bonding when things bump in the night, Taylor agreed with Green. "It's a communal experience, a way to meet people with similar interests," he said. "Besides, I've always said there are two types of people: those who believe in ghosts, and those who just won't admit it."