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.

By Marc Spitz, Tuesday, Oct 21, 2008, 4:19 PM

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, New Orleans

(Randy Faris/Corbis)

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.

Dearly Departed Tours, 800/979-3370, dearlydepartedtours.com, $35, trips depart Wed.-Sat. at 1 p.m. with an additional 9:30 a.m. tour on Saturdays (advance purchase recommended due to limited capacity), not intended for children.

New Orleans: The Big Creepy
Thanks to Anne Rice (Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat), New Orleans is second only to Transylvania in bloodsucking lore. And you can get a great overview of the town by taking the New Orleans Vampire Tour, which embarks nightly at 8:30 from the Gothic St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. The nearly two-hour tour explores the French Quarter stalking ground of vampires, both fictional and (allegedly) real. Along the route are sites that Rice has written about and exterior locations from the Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt film version of Interview. Note: The tour is B.Y.O. Garlic.

New Orleans Vampire Tour, 888/644-6787, neworleansghosttour.com, $20, $17 students and seniors, $10 children under 12 (suitable for children), reservations required.

New York City: Start Spreading the Boos
Take a Ghosts of the Cityas opposed to a Sex and the Citytour, in which the Big Apple's darker history is recounted. One tour departs from a Blimpie sandwich shop (at 38 Park Row), where guides launch into sepia-toned tales of such famous characters as the pirate Captain Kidd, Algonquin Indians, and P. T. Barnum's circus freaks. On other tours, you'll stroll through the neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and the East Village, passing sites where the ghosts of Harry Houdini and Washington Irving are rumored to lurk. Be sure to ask about the dilapidated St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, where the 17th-century Dutch settler Peter Stuyvesant is interred—and where his spirit may still roam.

Ghosts of New York, 888/699-2550, ghostsofny.com, $20, reservations recommended, online price $15, online price for children 12 and under $10 but only suitable for mature children.

Salem, Mass.: Witchcraft Central
If you hang, burn, stone, and crush enough witches and warlocks to death, as the authorities of Salem, Mass., did in the late 1600s, you're going to stir up a mess of hostile supernatural activity. Get an overview of this hamlet's spookiest spots by taking the Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour. Guides dressed in colonial garb escort you around the landmark Joshua Ward House (built on the very site where many of the accused were tried, convicted, and rushed to their deaths) and the Howard Street Burial Ground, among other sights. From April through October, the tour departs every evening at 8 p.m., but you may want to arrive earlier in the day to visit the Witch Dungeon Museum, where reenactments of the trials are held every half hour. In fact, the whole town gets in on the act: Even its police patrol cars are branded with the logo of a witch flying on a broom.

Salem Historical Tours, 978/745-0666, salemhistoricaltours.com, $14, $10 military, $8 children 614 (suitable for children 6 and older), advance reservations recommended.

Witch Dungeon Museum, 16 Lynde St., 978/741-3570, witchdungeon.com, open daily AprilNovember, $8, $7 seniors, $6 children 413.

Seattle: Smells Like Mean Spirits
When you think of Seattle, you probably think of rain, grunge, and Tom Hanks being sleepless—not ghouls and phantoms. But the city has its share, as the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries can prove. Exhibits include a display of four plaster casts of Bigfoot's footprints and the story of a 1910 avalanche that claimed nearly 100 lives on a now-defunct rail line. From the museum, you can take a 90-minute tour of the Capitol Hill neighborhood's most haunted attractions, such as the Harvard Exit Theater, where uneasy spirits have been sighted. Guides also share stories about the behavior of the city's most famous ghosts, including that of Brandon Lee, the seemingly hexed son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee. (Brandon was accidentally killed while making the Goth classic The Crow in 1994.)

Seattle Museum of the Mysteries, 623 Broadway E., 206/328-6499, seattlechatclub.org, admission $2, reservations recommended, tours depart at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. every Saturday night, suggested donation for tour $5, $3 for children 816.

GET SPOOKED