Big Bend Ghost Tours Feature Colorful Cast Of Characters, And The Undead

Oct 28, 2011

A late-night drive out Highway 90 to Monticello is a spooky enough adventure on its own. But that's just the prelude to the Historic Monticello Ghost Tours put on by the Big Bend Ghost Trackers.

On the cemetery tour, participants use professional ghost tracking equipment like an Ovilus. It's a handheld gadget that measures changes in the electromagnetic field and translates them to words. One of the most talkative ghosts on this night is Boots Thomas, a young World War II veteran killed in combat. Judging by what he had to say, rations are a little scarce in the afterlife.

"Chicken! Chicken! He said chicken', y'all! Boots wants some chicken next time we come out. I bet he wants fried chicken," a guide says. 

But you don't need to drive all the way out to Monticello to interact with ghosts. Turns out Tallahassee has its fair share too.

"I must apologize, ladies and gentlemen, for I'm not feeling too well. I might say that I'm a little bit under the weather. And there's good reason for that! You see I'm dead," a ghost tells a group of assembled tourists. 

The ghosts of the Historic Tallahassee Ghost Tours aren't the lingering spirits of Monticello, but rather a cast of (live) historical reenacters. On the 50-minute walking tour downtown, sight-seers are greeted by deceased Tallahassee notables like Lay Reid, who died fighting the last duel in Tallahassee, or Aunt Memory Adams, a slave who sold pictures of herself at the 1893 World's Fair.

The Tallahassee ghost tour is the brain child of Beth LaCivita. A historic preservation planner by trade, she sees the tour as a way to share her passion for history.

"It's the darker side of history, but it gets people interested," she says. "They don't...people don't even know they're learning history, and they are."

But not all famous haunted locales in Tallahassee date back to centuries past. Contemporary haunted house Terror of Tallahassee has earned a bit of a spooky reputation as well.

"Everytime people walk by here, you can be out there on the deck, even in the middle of December, and you'll watch people walk over to the other side of the street, walk around even though there's no sidewalk over there! I mean, that is the impression this place gives people," says Terror director Kurt Kuersteiner. "It's pretty funny to watch."

He says he borrows most of his tricks and illusions from mid-century spook shows, where magicians would perform for audiences in theaters before midnight showings of horror movies.

"These productions literally just blew the minds of audiences because they would watch people being sawed in half, and they would see it with their own eyes! Or they would see somebody burned alive, with nothing but their smoldering skeleton left. And the secret ingredient to all of these is the person's imagination. They tie into that imagination and if you can incorporate that into your haunted house, you're gonna have a great time," he says. 

The Terror of Tallahassee has experienced some frights itself over the last few years. Between the proposed expansion of Gaines Street and now the construction of the College Town complex, Kuersteiner worries he won't be able to hold onto the property much longer. And if he loses the Gaines Street location, he says increasingly stringent building codes would make the start-up costs more than he could afford. But he says he believes Terror of Tallahassee's legacy will live on, with or without the building.

"The reality is that when you're frightened, and you're under stress like that, your I don't know if it's your endorphins or what, but it is all working overtime and you are taking it in and that stuff is being burned into your memory," he says. "So, we are in the memory-making business, and it's a fun business to be in because you really feel like you're not going to be forgotten for what you did."