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Nobody Guarantees a Ghost, But…
By Lloyd S. Wagner
With such a spirited history, this land of Civil War battles is a popular place to search for one
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, allegedly the most haunted place on Earth, draws spirit seekers and tourists for a first-hand look. Even die-hard Civil War enthusiasts who have trod the battlefield many times over enjoy tours ranging from candlelit walks led by costumed guides to retold ghost tales in appropriately spooky environs.
Ghost tours have become extremely popular, fueled by cable television programs such as “Ghost Hunters” and “Mysterious Journeys.” Wherever a locale bears a historical connection, ghost tours and haunted sites likely abound. But Gettysburg, site of the epic three-day Civil War battle, leads the way.
Websites such as
list many ghost tours, and competition is fierce. Several tours boast of being featured on cable television programming, while two competitors tout being endorsed by authors of books on the subject. For those who are serious about their pursuit of poltergeists, one tour even offers “ghost-detecting equipment.”
So, if you choose to imbibe of these particular spirits, what should you expect? Will you spot a specter, learn a little something? And how do the ghost tours compare with the ghost tales?
The Scoop on Spirited Tours
First of all, let’s talk about just what a ghost tour is. In Gettysburg, as in most places, the majority of ghost tours are candlelit walking tours led by costumed guides. Meandering through alleys and dark streets, these processions pause at appropriate spots where the guide recounts various otherworldly visitations in as frightening a manner as possible. Be forewarned: In Gettysburg, these tales usually center on the battle and its aftermath, so graphic accounts of death and dismemberment are likely to be included.
Along with the entertainment offered, these expeditions provide a nice, diverting view of the town and something to do at night. Most tours can be booked on, and begin on, Steinwehr Avenue or Baltimore Street, the town’s main thoroughfares, and travel the area of Baltimore and nearby Carlyle streets. Some of the more extensive tours leave the beaten track. They venture out to edges of the battlefield or to the haunted engine house, built near the infamous railroad cut, site of some of the first day’s heaviest fighting.
Particularly pleasant are tours taking in the grounds of the Lutheran Seminary, a historic institution dating back to well before the Civil War. Located on the other side of town, this is a quiet spot, and the grounds are quite charming. In this case, tickets are purchased in advance and participants meet there at an appointed time.
Whatever tour you might choose, keep a few things in mind when considering walking tours. The entire experience hinges on the quality of the guide leading it. Don’t be shy. Ask how many years’ experience your guide has. Ask other tourists about their experience and who their guide was. Look at the guides’ costumes – it will tell you much about how seriously they take their job. Last, but not least, make sure you deal with an established and reputable tour company. Most walking tours are priced under $10. It is advisable to decide on a tour and purchase your tickets well before dark. The better tours and preferred routes sell out quickly.
For those whose feet have already given up the ghost after a long day of hiking Little Round Top and the Devil’s Den, there are alternatives to walking tours, including bus and trolley tours, a “ghost train” and some stationary alternatives, such as the Farnsworth House Civil War Mourning Theater. There, tourists sit in air-conditioned comfort as well-practiced storytellers weave their tales.
The number of tours available gives some idea of what a significant part of the local economy this attraction has grown to be. Former Gettysburg National Park ranger, Mark Nesbitt, deserves much of the credit. Expanding on the successful publication of his book,
Ghosts of Gettysburg
, in 1991, Nesbitt tried his first tour in 1994. Hiring a friend, a former park ranger like himself, they led 10 interested souls along the dark and quiet streets, telling stories and answering questions.
At the time, Gettysburg’s after-dark offerings were more limited. You might even say it was like a ghost town. Now, thanks in large part to the ghost tours, people of all ages linger on the streets, eating, browsing and buying, as they wait for dark.
Over the years, Nesbitt’s humble endeavor has grown to include a variety of tours, a similar operation in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and a new office and store located in a historic property on Baltimore Street. It is haunted, of course.
“There’s a little boy who plays upstairs,” Nesbitt explains, “and very often you can hear what sounds like marbles rolling on the wooden floors above you.” Nesbitt also reports that the images of both a small woman and a large Confederate soldier have been seen there, though never together.
The ghost trade has grown to such an extent that the town of Gettysburg has both invested in its potential and enacted legislation to protect consumers. Beginning this year, anyone offering ghost tours is required to have a license and proof of insurance. So, when you go, ask to see some proof if you have any doubts. Such requirements also ensure proper care is taken on legitimate tours to address potential safety concerns.
The town of Gettysburg has cooperated with the Gettysburg and Northern Railroad, to help make it possible for the railroad to build a spur allowing future ghost trains to access the haunted engine house, which is sure to be a big attraction.
In addition to organized ghost tours, many of the town’s historic sites and homes have their own spirited stories to tell. With a little research and a good guidebook, anyone can plan a tour of their own, encompassing such well-known sites as the Jenny Wade House, where many see and photograph phantom orbs, or the Shriver House Museum. Here the Shriver family cowered in the basement through the battle, while Confederate snipers occupied the attic.
So plan to visit Gettysburg and be sure to save time for the ghost tours. They’re fun, informative and a great way to take in a little bit more of Gettysburg. And, keep your eyes open, you might just be the one who spies a ghost.