On a recent trip to the oldest city in the United States, ads for nightly ghost trips were plastered on billboards and passing trolleys. Guidebooks advertised paranormal sightseeing in a Ghost Hearse (one ride I can wait on) and touted high-tech tours where each participant was issued their own EMF (Electro-Magnetic Field) reader - a necessary tool of the trade for any true ghost hunter, according to the brochure. As I casually flipped through the local tourist magazines, I wondered to myself who actually would pay money for that kind of tour? As it turned out, we would - all 14 of us. While the boys were out biking through town, they located a steal of a deal: a walking ghost tour perfect for our entire group, kids and grandparents alike. The only special tool necessary was vivid imagination - not in short supply that particular evening.
St. Augustine, Fla. has been settled for nearly 450 years, so there were plenty of opportunities for an errant spirit or two to hang around. Just as dusk settled, we gathered round our pirate garb-clad tour guide and set out in search of otherworldly locals. My first surprise was not a nearby ghost, but instead the sheer number of groups we ran into around town, each out on their own spirited adventure. The ghost hunters were nearly as prevalent as the local cemeteries, where folks crowded at the gates listening intently to the stories, keeping an eye out for those who had gone before. Try as I might, I didn't get a glimpse of the Victorian bride, still clad in the gown she never had a chance to wear in real life due to her untimely demise just days shy of her nuptials. Nor did we see the little boy spirit who sometimes beckons youngsters on tours to come and play, or climb the nearby tree with him. Maybe he was just plain tired from entertaining all the curious visitors.
But one of the guys in our group got the kids going with his experience from earlier in the day. While walking a street nearby he said he felt a sudden chill, just like something - or someone - had passed right through him. Turning around quickly he caught only a glimpse of a woman clad in a "gauzy" white outfit, disappearing in the opposite direction. On our tour he questioned the guide about the attire of the local spirits. He was promptly assured that one particularly unhappy woman who lived in the house just up the street, several centuries ago, was often sighted, wearing a white ruffled blouse. And that was enough.
Some of the kids wouldn't walk up the street. Those who did were sure they saw the curtains in the empty house move as we passed by. Late in the evening, we found our bed occupied by two kids who needed to know we were close by.
My mind wandered back to the chilling tales my cousins used to muster around a campfire years ago, when I was just about our girls' age. The shriek that came in certain reply when my uncle managed to poke me in the side - at the absolute scariest part of the story - echoed through my brain. And I recalled those times when I couldn't get to sleep without making sure my door was open just a crack, enough to make sure my parents were close by.
It occurred to me then that our ghost tour wasn't about the past at all. Instead, it was a tale to add to our family's chronicles. During our brief stay, one of the grandparents wistfully commented on several occasions about the great stories we'd take back from this trip. She knew the accounts of someone else's past, while interesting and sometimes spooky, were far less important than managing to make our own history.
Still, I'll keep my eyes open for the mysterious lady in white.
Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at email@example.com.