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Ghost Tours as a Form of Alternative Tourism

Ghost Tours as a Form of Alternative Tourism

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Published by Kristine Keller
An anthropological study of ghost tours in Los Angeles, written for a course at California State University, Northridge.
An anthropological study of ghost tours in Los Angeles, written for a course at California State University, Northridge.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Kristine Keller on Sep 20, 2011
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06/17/2013

 
 
G
HOST
T
OURS AS A
F
ORM OF
A
LTERNATIVE
T
OURISM
Kristine Keller California State University Northridge December 2010 
The export of American popular culture on an international scale has made Los Angeles asort of secular pilgrimage site for tourists looking for a piece of Hollywood. Most tourists areaware of Los Angeles’ major landmarks, especially in Hollywood – the Hollywood sign, theChinese Theater, and the Walk of Fame, to name a few – but not everyone is content withthis experience. Participating in a ghost tour is one possible way to experience Los Angeles inan alternative way.Los Angeles may not be quite as well known for its ghosts as it could be. Some other citiesare better known in this respect; like New Orleans – where popular imagery of Voodooqueens and tormented, disembodied souls pervades the air – or Edinburgh – which is fraught with stories of medieval torture, plagues, and ancient mysteries. In these places, there is agreater variety of ghost tours available. Searching “ghost tours Los Angeles” on Google leadsto just a few options. According to Richard Carradine, the president of GHOULA, a “socialclub for Southern Californian ghost-enthusiasts,” Los Angeles could do a better job atpromoting its ghosts. “Other than the Queen Mary (and maybe the Roosevelt Hotel),people don't think of LA in terms of ghosts. Let's face it, we could be the number one Ghostdestination, if enough people got behind the effort. We don't just have ghosts, we havecelebrity ghosts!”
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The purpose of this paper is to look at ghost tours and their relationship within mainstreamtourism. In my research, I began by looking at popular sources – Google searches, guidebooks about local hauntings, and – perhaps surprisingly – the use of iPhone apps as tools forlocating haunted places. Having attended several ghost tours prior to this (in San Francisco,Chicago, London and Edinburgh), I already had a sense of what it is like to attend one, but I was interested in getting a more complete sense of what ghost tours look like to potentialtourists who are looking for something beyond the more generally-oriented sightseeing tours.These sources can form a guiding perspective to potential tourists. What remained was thebulk of my research, which consisted of attending additional tours, interviewing tour guidesand collecting survey responses from guides and tour attendees.Based on my interviews with tour guides, survey results, and personal observations, I havefound that ghost tours are structured in a similar way to mainstream, sightseeing tours;however, they are intentionally set up to contrast with the mainstream version, providing analternative experience for tourists. Perhaps because of this approach, ghost tours are often
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Quoted from an email exchange
 
 
GHOST TOURS AS A FORM OF ALTERNATIVE TOURISM KRISTINE KELLER
equally popular with locals as well as tourists. As Marilyn Motz (“The Practice of Belief,”1998) said of traditional knowledge, legends can in fact “humanize physical spaces.” Localsmay associate their day-to-day lives with specific landmarks, forming an entirely personalsense of geography compared to tourists’ more simplified, sightseeing perspective. Attendinga ghost tour provides an extra layer of meaning for locals, as well as for tourists. Additionally, the presence of locals may have a reflexive effect on tours. Tour guides’knowledge is often founded in books, paranormal investigations (conducted by themselves orby organizations such as the International Society for Paranormal Research), personalexperiences, and collected stories. They may interview restaurant employees, security guards,homeowners, and so on, to collect these stories; although, sometimes these stories come fromthe tour attendees themselves. Locals may share personal experiences during a tour, or relatestories they heard from others, which may be incorporated into later tours.Ghost tours share traits with mainstream tourism in several important ways. Firstly, by looking at the act of “sightseeing” in tourism, ghost tours feature two types of sites: majorlandmarks that could be just as well featured in other, more broadly-centered tours (e.g., theHollywood sign, the Roosevelt Hotel, movie star homes); and sites that are known primarily for their haunted history. To various degrees, ghost tours also engage in material culture – with gift shops, souvenirs, and the pervasiveness of photography and “snapshots.”Photography is a form of visual consumption, in which a specific cultural aesthetic isreinforced (MacDonald 2002: 60). As a type of souvenir, snapshots adhere to certain well-known cultural norms. Snapshots of tourists participating in a ghost tour may well resemblea separate image of tourists posed beneath the Eiffel Tower; smiling, gesturing, performingfaux surprise or silliness – these expressions are expected in either kind. Among many things,snapshots represent “indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program wascarried out, that fun was had” (Sontag 1977: 9). Additionally, collecting snapshots “fills thesame need for the cosmopolitans accumulating photograph-trophies of their boat trip up the Albert Nile or their fourteen days in China as it does for lower-middle-class vacationerstaking snapshots of the Eiffel Tower or Niagara Falls” (Sontag 1977: 9).The search for authenticity is just as much a concern in ghost tours as it is in mainstreamtourism. Just as general sightseers may occasionally wander off the beaten path in search of an “authentic” French café or a gritty, local hangout, tourists who attend ghost tours may bein search of a more “authentic” experience in ghost tours. The alternative quality and themere mention of being “off the beaten path” automatically lends to a sense of being more“authentic” in ghost tours. Furthermore, the immersive quality of ghost tours – theexperience of being a part of something, being taken in through the art of storytelling andthe possibility of experiencing a real haunting – gives attendees a sense of an embodiedexperience. Attendees are expected to participate; not only as tourists, but as activeparticipants in a dramatic experience – through reactions and other types of feedback expected by tour guides.
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GHOST TOURS AS A FORM OF ALTERNATIVE TOURISM KRISTINE KELLER
Escapism is an idea that appears to be widely synonymous with tourism. This idea isconsistent with Victor Turner’s idea of release in pilgrimage, in which “the pilgrim seekstemporary release from the structures that normally bind him” (Turner 1995, p. 9).Escapism implies searching for something that is out of the ordinary, mundane sense of routine and familiarity. This is true of tourism to a varied extent. For some tourists,familiarity is necessary for comfort. This could mean access to basic things, like a similarstandard of hygiene, similar social expectations, or the availability of medical assistance. Orfor some others, the greater the distance from their ordinary lives, the better.In 18
th
and 19
th
century Britain, one form of escapism included a tour of the Scottishhighlands (Inglis & Holmes, 2003). Because of its proximity and relative cultural similarity to England, Scotland was a convenient escape from what was then perceived to be anincreasingly staid, Industrial-scientific version of reality. “The popularity of Celtic-inspiredtales in England at this time was part of a general Romantic reaction against the rationalistmodes of thought associated with the intellectual project of Enlightenment” (Inglis &Holmes, 2003). Romantic images of Scotland filtered into English consciousness throughpopular literature; Sir Walter Scott was particularly influential in this respect. Literary toursbased on Scott’s stories became a popular style of travel then, just as movie-based tours today have become in Los Angeles and other major cities. Images of Scotland’s romantic past havefiltered into present-day consciousness, but in a different way. In the 18
th
and 19
th
centuries,tourism was primarily focused on rural places. In the present, Scottish tourism is focused inurban centers (Inglis & Holmes, 2003).Ghost tours can be seen as a type of “heritagization,” in which cultural resources areconverted into products for consumption (Inglis & Holmes, 2003). For example, Scottishghost tours represent a type of the heritagization of a mystical, romanticized view of Scottishhistory. The assumed presence of ghosts asserts a connection to the archaic past, and by extension, implies authenticity. Ghost stories were included in guidebooks and tours of castles and regal country estates during the 18
th
and 19
th
century, but they were never theprimary focus of the tour until the 20
th
century (Inglis & Holmes, 2003). In Edinburghtoday, several ghost tours operate along the Royal Mile.During my own visit to Edinburgh, I attended one tour in which a costumed guide toldstories about the city’s grisly past (this included stories of witch trials, torture, plague, and –perhaps equally frightening – ghastly, medieval hygiene!). We stood alongside variouslandmarks on the Royal Mile and other places nearby, viewed an exhibit on torture(including such little gems as a finger-smashing device), and walked along a stretch of someunderground corridors that had until recently been closed off for centuries. Whileunderground, our guide told us stories about the merchants who used various adjoiningrooms for storage, the poor who sought shelter there, a present-day Wiccan coven that wasoccupying a room (where we glimpsed candles, colorful fabrics, and a large pentagram), andthe poltergeist that still haunted the room at the very end. The last room contained a circle
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