One new company and one under new management are scaring up business downtown by offering weekly ghost tours of some of the area’s famous haunts.
Spirit Expeditions, an Oregon-based company that operates ghost tours throughout the country, began its Tucson tours in December.
Robert Owens, a 22-year-old student at Pima Community College who has lived in the Old Pueblo for 16 years, is the company’s Tucson tour guide.
Owens leads his groups twice a week to about seven downtown spots believed to be haunted, sharing their history and retelling people’s supernatural encounters. He also sprinkles his talks with other interesting tidbits about Tucson.
“I talk about urban legends and the history of the Pied Piper — spooky stuff that’s part of Tucson’s lore,” Owens said.
Owens’ tour stops at the usual places, like Hotel Congress, where Room 242 is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a suicide victim, and the Pioneer Building, where 29 people died in a fire in 1970.
But his favorite spot is St. Augustine Cathedral, where people have reported seeing a faceless nun come out of the church doors and levitate in the courtyard.
“The faceless-nun phenomenon has actually been reported all over the world at really old churches and haunted locations that have a religious history aspect to it,” Owens said. “So it’s kind of a strange archetypal myth, if you will.”
At one stop in the tour, in front of the Tucson Convention Center, participants get to use dowsing rods to communicate with spirits.
Spirit Expeditions owner Dawane Harris, who now lives in Oregon, got his start in the ghost tour business about 10 years ago when he and his wife, who is a medium, lived in Tombstone.
The couple started the Crystal Palace Ghost Hunt, which took people on paranormal investigations of the Crystal Palace Saloon.
“It was one of those things where it was more fun than anything,” said Harris, who called himself a “nonbeliever” who believes only in his wife’s psychic abilities.
After the couple moved to Oregon, they decided to start a ghost tour business in Salem. It has since grown to include 31 cities and will operate in an additional 51 by the end of February, Harris said.
“They’re not necessarily ghost tours; they’re everything tours, and that’s what sets us apart from all these other ghost tours around the country,” Harris said. “We talk about everything from ghosts, UFOs, serial killers, conspiracy theories, chupacabras, Bigfoot — anything that is considered paranormal or cryptozoology — we talk about if it has a connection to each city.”
Spirit Expeditions isn’t the only company that offers a glimpse into Tucson’s haunted history.
Becky Gydesen took over Tucson Ghost Tour, adding more stops and giving people a chance to go inside some of the buildings instead of standing outside them.
The new tours, which started in early January, now visit about 12 stops, and guests can go inside three of those, Gydesen said.
At one of the new additions, La Cocina Restaurant and Cantina, people have reported being touched, seeing apparitions of a cowboy and a little girl, and have experienced putting an object somewhere and finding it somewhere else.
“It’s very active, very active,” Gydesen said.
Gydesen’s interest in paranormal activity stems from her personal experiences living in a haunted house and apartment. And she enjoyed going on ghost tours in other cities.
This month, Gydesen will start offering another spooky opportunity for those who dare, with the addition of ghost hunts.
“The ghost tours go to the different locations and just tell you the stories,” she said. “The ghost hunts we’re actually going to sit down in the gallery at La Cocina and we’re going to try communicating with the spirits, and we’re going to use different devices to do that.”