5 Historic Ghost Tours
These spooky walks come with history lessons.
The meeting spot for this West Virginia ghost tour wins points for scenic beauty. It begins at historic St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, perched above some winding steps hand-carved into rock, and overlooking the town’s rooftops and the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Harpers Ferry may also be the most atmospheric location; its historic district consists entirely of period buildings and is nearly empty at night. After dark, the downtown feels like a time capsule, as if the place itself is haunted by its own memories.
According to tour guide Rick Garland, the Harpers Ferry ghost tour is the oldest in the country. It was started by Shirley Dougherty, who moved to the town in 1968 and opened a restaurant in a historic building. After some unexplained events, she began collecting paranormal lore from local bartenders, park rangers and homeowners claiming to have had spooky encounters. She published them in a book in 1978. The ghost tours have been venturing out ever since.
Because Garland is both a musicologist and historian, the tour features an account of John Brown’s raid, as well as some Civil War songs and even an impromptu sing-along. If you’d like to do some serious ghost hunting, you’ll also find out which storied Civil War tavern can now be rented out for vacation lodging—if you’re not put off by the murder that took place there, and ongoing reported sightings of the victim.
Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry operates year-round, with tours available Monday through Saturday. The tour starts at 8 p.m. in front of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church at 110 Church St. and ends at 9:45. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to check in, and leave plenty of time to park, as parking in the historic downtown is limited. If the weather is extremely cold or rainy, the guide tells the same stories inside the historic church while showing photos. Tickets are $14; $10 for kids 8 to 12; free for kids 7 and under. From April to September, no reservations are needed for the nightly tour; just pay by cash or check when you arrive. During other months, you must reserve in advance by phone. This tour doesn’t include a lot of walking but may not be suitable for those who have trouble with steps. Call 304-725-8019 or visit harpersferryghost.20m.com.
On July 1, 1863, the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg was overrun by Union and Confederate troops, fighting what turned out to be one of the key battles of the Civil War. The battleground is now a national park, but the streets of the town, which formed a no-man’s land between Northern and Southern forces during the fray, has stories of its own. Writer Mark Nesbitt claims that Gettysburg is one of the most haunted places in America. The ghost stories he’s collected from people around town now fill seven books, so it seems like plenty of others agree.
Nesbitt’s company, Ghosts of Gettysburg, offers several tours, but the most in-depth is the Carlisle Street tour, which lasts almost two hours and winds past the house where Abraham Lincoln stayed the night before he delivered the Gettysburg Address. On your way to the Gettysburg College campus, where the oldest building served as a makeshift Civil War hospital, you may hear a story about a recent tourist who entered the back room of a local museum and was delighted to find a group of Union generals discussing battle strategy. He was so impressed by the realism of the reenactors that he complimented an employee on the way out—only to discover that no such reenactment had been scheduled. When they returned to the room together, it was empty.
Ghosts of Gettysburg has four walking tours to choose from, including shorter and longer options, for $11 (kids 7 and under free). The tours run from March until November. Walks can sell out, so the company recommends reserving in advance by phone or online. All tours start at the company’s store at 271 Baltimore St. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to redeem your reservation. Call 717-337-0445 or visit ghostsofgettysburg.com.