My typical weeks-before-Halloween activities are probably similar to what a lot of you Fellow Fans out there do: seek out local haunted attractions, go to parties, and of course, watch some horror movies. This year, I decided to take a different route from my usual, and see what else I could find locally to slake my thirst for the macabre — thus, taking a note from experiences I’ve either had or heard about from other cities, I hit the internet to see what kind of fare there was around the city of Birmingham, Alabama that would appeal to such a mindset.
I found that the Magic City, like many other cities, has it’s very own spooky, historical tour, The Birmingham Ghost Walk. Intrigued, I contacted the organizer/historian/guide for the tour, Wolfgang Poe, and reserved a spot on the second of two tours on a Saturday night prior to Halloween (had to be the late night one, don’t you know — the creepier, the better) to see what was to be seen.
I assembled with the rest of the group across the street from one of the oldest hotels in the area (which I found out an interesting secret about), and Poe introduced himself, beginning the tour with a little background info on the city, including the true story of Birmingham’s most famous specter, the Sloss Furnace ghost. We then began what was to be a little over a two-hour walk, encompassing about a mile of downtown streets, exploring dark alleys, beautiful churches, turn-of-the-century (that’s 19th to 20th, by the way) buildings, and parking lots that once were buildings. At each stop, we were regaled with tales of what happened at each site; a World War I orphanage burned here…two wealthy investors who lost it all committed suicide on this spot…a star from Hollywood’s golden age held a tremendous party here…on the porch of this rectory, a forward-thinking priest was shot to death for his progressive beliefs…and these are but a few examples.
I learned about paranormal research in the area and what results they had in their investigations…heard stories of the wives of jealous builders, unjust manipulations of the legal system — even a horrible riot that resulted in the deaths of twenty citizens and police officers, all over the trial (and attempted lynching) of a man who murdered his family (in quite the ghastly fashion – worthy of a good horror flick) to facilitate starting a new one. With every step, we were given rich background, the dots of history deftly connected in the tapestry woven by our guide. I never once found myself bored; on the contrary, I looked forward to each time that Poe spoke, both the spooky vignettes and the historical facts told in a very compelling way; his passion for the city’s history (and it’s darker side) was inspiring. In addition, he would point out the areas where paranormal images had appeared on photographs, and allowed ample time for those of us so inclined to take photos of our own.
The walk is very leisurely; the pace is kept light, and it’s over predominantly flat ground. Although we didn’t get to go inside any of the buildings (they’re all closed during the tour hours), we were able to see inside many, and the late hours also made traffic almost non-existent. There are no “boo” moments or any kind of contrivances — it’s a ghost walk, not a haunted attraction — and for me, that made it all the more interesting and creepy, as I heard the true stories of horrible goings-on close to home…and the accounts of the ethereal imprints some of those events left behind. The tour is family-friendly, the pace altered by Poe for persons that might move a bit more slowly than others, and he also adjusts the tone to fit his audience. If you’re with a group of teenage boys, he’s apt to play up the more gruesome aspects of the tales; should you be with smaller children or impressionable folk, he tones down the content to be less frightening.
Poe himself really makes the tour: his passion for the stories and the history, combined with his folksy, undeniably southern approach was great fun, and made the time pass too quickly in many ways…even after two hours, I found myself wanting more.
Both suitably creepy and surprisingly educational, I ‘m certainly happy that I made The Birmingham Ghost Walk my choice for my mid-to-late October enjoyment this year, and I plan on doing so again — it was definitely time well-spent during the Halloween season, and I would recommend it any time of year — the tours actually run from mid-March to mid-November.
If you live around these parts, or happen to be visiting, it’s definitely worth checking out.
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