Haunted and in high demand

Ike Clayton’s Haunted Hotel (Photo By: Miranda Rodriguez/Arizona Sonora News)

There is nothing better than relaxing in your hotel after coming back from a long day of sightseeing and shopping. That is unless your hotel happens to be home to mischievous ghosts who play tricks.

Whether you are a believer or not, haunted tourism has become a popular industry, especially in Southern Arizona.

There are tons of haunted sites, ranging from Bisbee’s Copper Queen and Grand Hotel to Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theatre and Courthouse to Hotel Congress in Tucson.

Copper Queen Hotel (Photo By: Miranda Rodriguez/Arizona Sonora News)

Haunted tourism itself can take the form of staying in haunted hotels, taking haunted tours or even ghost-hunting tours.

But you don’t have to believe in the paranormal to find haunted tourism appealing.

Lee Henney, an Old Bisbee Ghost Tour host, said the audience for haunted tourism can be pretty mixed.

“Everything from, ‘My wife dragged me along,’ ‘I don’t believe in ghosts,’ ‘I think this is stupid’ to people that, the whole time, are on the tour talking about other things that have happened to them and other things they’ve seen,” he said. “The whole spectrum.”

And it’s true. On one of Henney’s tours, you might find a woman in a 1950s-style dress with zombies printed on it, then turn to see a family with older children and a young couple visiting from Tucson.

And odds are it will be a full crowd.

“Our numbers have come up over the last couple years,” Henney said.

Usually Old Bisbee Ghost Tours have slow Januarys, with sometimes no reservations. However, this year the group was so busy that there were only six days in the month when there wasn’t a tour.

There is an even heavier flow of reservations and tours in October, around Halloween, but business has certainly trickled into the offseason.

“It just gets bigger and bigger all the time,” says Mike Jones, owner of Gunfighter and Ghost Tours in Tombstone.

Gunfighter and Ghost Tours is the longest running ghost tour in Southeastern Arizona.

Some believe that haunted tourism is actually the best way to see a city. It can allow a tourist to learn about the history of a place and what tragedies hit the community.

For example, some ghosts on the tours are the products of large-scale fires or disease – or even just drunken and violent cowboys.

In many cases, guests of ghost tours can get a regular walking tour of the city, with the added bonus of some spookiness.

“I love sharing the history of Bisbee and the ghost tours are an integral part of that,” Henney said.

“It’s all historical. Particularly because we take you to the spot,” Jones said.

In the case of the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour, groups meet in front of the historical museum and walk a route around the town that takes its guests to all the major hot spots, explaining the stories and sightings that have occurred there.

Bisbee, Ariz. (Photo By: Miranda Rodriguez/Arizona Sonora News)

There are also ghost hunts and even a haunted pub crawl.

Jones’ tour takes people through the sites in Tombstone, using ghosttracking equipment and monitors.

“We don’t make anything up. Either you see it or you don’t.” Jones said.

Afterward, guests sometimes contact the guides with pictures they took on the tours – photos of unexplained figures – or even stories about strange things that happened in the hotel later that night.

Henney enjoys giving tours because he is “a story-teller by nature.”

He doesn’t consider himself terribly sensitive to the idea of ghosts but says, “I believe that there are things that we don’t understand.”

There’s also no shortage of entertainment if haunted tourism peaks your paranormal interests.

You can find ghost tours, hunts and haunted hotels all over the country. It’s actually hard to find a city that doesn’t have something for those tourists with more spine-chilling tastes.

In some places, such Tombstone, which relies heavily on tourism to survive, it’s the haunted tourism that allows old historic buildings to exist and that can grab the attention of younger audiences.

To an extent, haunted tourism is just a smart business venture that can cater to an audience that doesn’t want to see the same old thing.

Many ghost tour companies or haunted hotels still operate on a very small scale with fairly little overhead, few employees  and limited expenses. One knowledgeable host for the night can cater to groups of more than 20 guests. Tickets also can range from $15 to $50.

While hotels can be reasonably priced, some with ghost packages or ones deemed more famous can cost up to $300 a night. The Copper Queen in Bisbee has even attracted celebrities such as Johnny Depp for a ghostly experience.

On top of all that, some fearless ghost enthusiasts choose to purchase their own gear. This includes anything from ghost meters to electromagnetic radiation detectors, which can add up to hundreds of dollars depending on the quality.

Ghost hunting has become so popular that you can even find your gear at Walmart.

Miranda Rodriguez is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School Of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at mmrodriguez1@email.arizona.edu. 

Click here for high-resolution photos and a Word version of the story. 

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