STRANGER THAN FICTION
Spooky Walking Tours
These eight spine-tingling, morbidly compelling tours are reminders that it's a lot more fun being alive than undead.
Albuquerque, N.M.: The Weird Weird West
How old does an area have to be to merit the name "Old Town"? In the case of Albuquerque's downtown, the answer is just over three centuries. Founded in 1706, Old Town has accumulated enough crime and punishment to qualify as a major hub of the supernatural in a state that already attracts some truly inexplicable activity. (Why did the aliens land at Roswell, anyway?) Every night here is fright night if you take the Ghost Tour of Old Town. At 8 p.m., after Old Town Plaza has grown eerily quiet, lantern-carrying "certified paranormal investigators" lead tour parties through dark alleys, quiet trails, and cemeteries, retelling tales of railroad-era murders and Civil War battles. Residents claim that they've seen apparitions and heard disembodied voices.
Tours of Old Town, 505/246-8687, toursofoldtown.com, $20, $18 students and seniors, $10 children 6-12 (suitable for children 6 and older), ticket windows open 15 minutes before tour time.
Baltimore: A Cure for Midnights Dreary
Baltimore likes to spotlight its local celebrity, Edgar Allan Poe, 19th-century America's most morbid literary figure. (For instance, the city named its football team the Ravens in homage to Poe's famous poem.) You'll find the best perspective on the author of the "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Premature Burial" at the Baltimore Poe House and Museum, which stands on the site where the author worked during the early 1830s. But if you prefer atmospherics to exhibitions, check out the Westminster Burying Grounds and Catacombs—where Poe found eternal relief from his feverish imagination. It's open year-round from 8 a.m. to dusk. Both sites become Gracelands of gloom on the weekends before and after Halloween. Special event tours are conducted by trained Baltimore historians, including one that takes brave enthusiasts deep into the cemetery's catacombs in search of some excellently Gothic heebie-jeebies.
Baltimore Poe House and Museum, 203 North Amity St., Baltimore, 410/396-7932, eapoe.org, reservations required, operates 12-3:30 p.m. Wed. through Sat. from April through November, $4, free for children 12 and younger, suitable for children 6 and older.
Westminster Burying Grounds and Catacombs, 519 W Fayette St., West Baltimore, 410/706-2072, westminsterhall.org, gravesite open during daylight for free, tours by reservation only on the first and third Friday and Saturday of each month, April through November, $5, $4 children 12 and under, suitable for mature children.
Chicago: America's Most Haunted
The paranormal is all fine and good, but sometimes you want Halloween horror that's as solid as a cement loafer. In Chicago, the publisher and tour organizer Weird Chicago does a bang-up job of providing exactly that, telling stories about the red-light district, pinstripe-suited gangsters, and Virgin Mary sightings. Of note is a tour based on the popular book The Devil in the White City. The tour focuses on H.H. Holmes, long considered the first nationally known serial killer. Holmes trapped and murdered dozens of guests at his hotel. You'll see the grounds of his torture chamber, nicknamed Murder Castle, that has since been destroyed and replaced with a post office. This tour covers a lot of territory, using a bus for portions of the trip.
Weird Chicago Tours, 888/446-7859, weirdchicago.com, reservations required, $30, $20 children 12 and under, call for latest schedule, most tours not recommended for children under 10.
L.A.: Boulevards of Broken Dreams
In a comic twist on the cliché that nobody walks in L.A., Hollywood's Tragical History "walking tour" of famous Hollywood crimes scene is done by van. Tour leader Scott Michaels conducts his three-hour trips in a Tomb Buggy that holds up to 13 passengers. The tour covers the sordid history of the murderous Menendez brothers, the serial killer Charles Manson, and other notorious characters. Michaels also spotlights the exteriors used in some of cinema's spookiest classics, such as Halloween, Dead Again, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Along the way, Michaels touches on Hollywood's horror-film industry, including a drive-by of the former haunts of Bela Lugosi, who famously played Count Dracula.
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