Haunted tourists spoilt for choice

Haunted Boston Tour Guide leading his group through the Boston Common.
Harry Johnston, Haunted Boston Tour Guide leading his group through the Boston Common. Photo by Kieran O'Connor
Haunted Boston Tour Guide leading his group through the Boston Common.
Harry Johnston, Haunted Boston Tour Guide leading his group through the Boston Common. Photo by Kieran O’Connor

By Kieran O’Connor 

Tourists hooked on haunted tours give a boost to Boston’s tourism industry.

Tourists seeking a ghostly encounter now find themselves overwhelmed with choices, as an array of haunted tour companies emerge to cater to their specific wants. From chilling walking tours through cobblestone alleys steeped in centuries-old legends to eerie trolley rides passing the city’s most haunted landmarks. Boston’s haunted tourism scene has evolved into a spiritual all-you-can-eat buffet.

Each company boasts its own captivating unique selling point that makes it stand out from the rest. Boston Ghosts and Gravestones is the oldest haunted tour and has been showing its customers the dark side of Boston since 1998. Originally founded in Massachusetts by Chris Belland, CEO of Historic Tours of America. The company now offers Ghost and Gravestones Tours in various states across the country. According to the Ghost and Gravestones website, they offer the “number one frightseeing ghost tour in Boston.”

Customers are attracted to their tour because it is the only haunted tour that isn’t predominantly conducted on foot. Ella Katie, a customer of Ghosts and Gravestones said, “We decided on this tour company because they use the trolley buses rather than walking around the city,” she said.

“Boston is a really walkable city but when you have been on your feet all day you can’t say no to a trolley tour,” said Katie said.

Ghosts and Gravestones prides itself on immersing its customers back in time through expert storytelling. Katie said, “Our tour guide was dressed up as a historical figure and spoke to us through their perspective. It really helped set the mood and the younger kids loved it.”

Another tour that challenges Boston Ghosts and Gravestones for the top spot is Haunted Boston. Founded in 2005, Haunted Boston Ghost Tours offers customers a chance to learn about otherworldly history via a lantern-lit walk through Boston’s most historical landmarks.

Haunted Boston averages around 16 people on each tour compared to an average of 30 people for Ghosts and Gravestones. Harry Johnston, Haunted Boston Tour Guide, has been sharing ghostly tales for nine years. Johnston believes that a smaller tour size means more value for money.

Johnston said, “I would say what separates us from the big ones like Ghosts and Gravestones is it is more personalized. All of our guides are from in and around Boston.”

Johnston said, “Some of the other tours have guides who are from Arizona and have only lived here for three years. If I went to Chicago, I’d want someone from Chicago telling me about the place.”

Haunted Boston Tour Guide telling his group ghostly tales in the Boston Common.
Harry Johnston, Haunted Boston Tour Guide sharing ghostly tales in the Boston Common. Photo by Kieran O’Connor

Both tours last around 90 minutes and mix ghostly stories with historical history. Ghosts and Gravestones takes customers to two cemeteries out of a possible three (Copp’s Hill Burying Grounds, The Granary Burying Ground and King’s Chapel Burying Ground). Other locations include The Omni Parker House, The Boston Common and Charles Street where the Boston Strangler struck.

“My favorite location was Kings Chapel Burying Ground. Our tour guide was telling us a story about a man who sent another man a book made from his own skin. A second tour guide who we didn’t know was there crept up behind our group to frighten us,” said Katie.

Ghosts and Gravestones don’t just rely on scary costumes and jump scares to entertain customers. The tour guides try to teach their groups about the characters they are dressed as and feature in their stories.

“Our guide did a great job teaching us about historical figures like Mary Dyer, but I never felt bored because they would tell us how she still walks around Boston Common preaching to anybody that will hear”, Katie said.

Without the luxury of a vehicle, Haunted Boston stays around the Boston Common. The tour visits, The Central Burying Grounds, The Boston Common and The Omni Parker House.

Haunted Boston customer, Didier Mena, Lecturer at the University of Nebraska said, “I didn’t know what to expect but I really enjoyed the tour. I am only in Boston for the weekend, and I think Harry (the tour guide) taught me a lot about the city.”

When deciding on which company to use, customers notice that there are a lot of similarities between the two experiences. Yet one blatant disparity a potential customer will notice is the price of tickets.

Haunted Boston’s ticket prices are drastically cheaper compared to the bigger company Ghost and Gravestones. A Customer of Ghosts and Gravestones can expect to pay around $45 per person over 13 years old and $35 for children 12 and under. Adult tickets cost $18 and children’s tickets (under 16) cost $13 for Haunted Boston customers.

“I had a free evening and a friend suggested that I go on a ghost tour, but I didn’t know which to go on. When I was looking online to book one, the price of Ghosts and Gravestones quickly made the choice a little easier,” Haunted Boston customer Mena said.

It is important to remember that tour guides of both companies are paid minimal wages and rely heavily on tips. Johnston from Haunted Boston said, “I rely on tips, but I don’t expect somebody to tip me if they didn’t enjoy my tour.”

“I started this a part-time job because I am interested in history and the supernatural. I love meeting people from all around the world. It is a job but it doesn’t feel like one”, said Johnston.

Haunted tours have undoubtedly breathed fresh life into the historical city, making it an alluring destination for those seeking to explore the unexplainable and embrace the unknown. The increase shows this over the past ten years.

The industry like many others struggles during the pandemic and for many tour guides there was a worry that the companies would not see the other side. “When Covid hit I didn’t know what was going to happen but we fought through and during the later stages of the pandemic started to conduct tours again,” said Johnston.

“Our busiest periods are near Halloween but after the pandemic we noticed that more people were coming on the tours than before. I think people were desperate to do something,” said Johnston.