Cinematic Haunts: The Providence Ghost Tour
by Annie Riordan
So, wow…how long has it been since I’ve written anything for my insanely popular and highly overrated “Cinematic Haunts” column? Too damn long, that’s how long. It’s difficult to get inspired, I’ll admit. Most of the haunted locations I could write about have already been well covered by programs such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, A Haunting, Most Haunted, Ghost Lab, Paranormal State, etc. etc. you get the idea. Why write about something that you’ve already heard about a gabillion times already? No no no, I must seek out the obscure, the antiquated, the shit nobody knows about. Like my Freddy Krueger article, the one that ended up on Cracked.com and was then swiped and reblogged on an assload of horror sites who failed to credit me as the primary source? Yeah, that was awesome.
So anyway, as many of you might already know, I recently left my native California behind and made the 4,000+ mile move to New England. Providence, Rhode Island, to be exact. I’ve been here since November 2011 and, between school and a severe case of culture shock which – along with its friends and fellow gate crashers Anxiety, Insomnia and a walloping case of stress induced Labyrinthitis (look it up) – left me in a less than sociable state of mind. That’s a polite way of saying that I was one nudge away from flipping the fuck out, stripping down to my underwear and going on a bloody killing spree which would end with me tearing off chunks of my own skin and drowning myself in the duckie pond behind my new apartment building.
But I’m much better now.
So much better in fact that my dear friends and unofficial siblings Erik and Hannah (the loveliest, smartest and nerdiest married couple you will ever meet) decided it was safe to haul me out into public and introduce me to Providence properly; by taking me on a nighttime ghost tour on the eve of Friday the 13th which, by happy coincidence, was also the kickoff of The Providence Ghost Tour’s 6th season.
Back to culture shock for a quick second.
Upon arriving in the smallest state in the union, I was shocked to discover that many of its natives know nothing of H.P. Lovecraft, the father of cosmic horror who was born in Providence, died in Providence and whose remains were buried in Providence in the ancient and absolutely gorgeous Swan Point Cemetery. Lovecraft is more popular now than ever before, but Rhode Island – despite sparing his house and honoring him on a plaque outside of Brown University – doesn’t see him as a tourist draw. I should be relieved that they haven’t pimped him out for such purposes, but with the economy the way it currently is, it wouldn’t hurt to throw the bait out there even just a little.
But as it stands, I was the only one in a group of perhaps 30 people who raised my hand last night when our guide stopped before 65 Prospect Street and asked us en masse if we knew of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Only then was the undeniable truth of my own utter and irreversible geekiness made clear to me. I am a dead man’s fangirl. I have no life.
But I digress…
Lovecraft’s last known address is just one of many stops on the Providence Ghost Tour, however. Providence, founded in 1636, is teeming with ghosts as one might well expect. From Revolutionary war soldiers lurking around the college green, to the drunken specter of Edgar Allan Poe himself, Providence – colloquially speaking – has ghosts practically falling out of its ass.
And yet, much like Lovecraft, not a lot of native Rhode Islanders are aware of the existence of the Providence Ghost Tour, which made its debut in 2006. Founded by friends Mike and Courtney, the dark and spooky walk through Providence’s regal East Side runs every Friday and Saturday night from April through June. Once July hits and summer descends upon the city, the Ghost Tour runs EVERY SINGLE NIGHT through the month of October. The winter months see the Tour packed away until Spring, because – as my severely out of shape self found out last night – Providence is one goddamned bigass hill. Hills are rather difficult to navigate when covered in six inches of snow. Seriously, Lovecraft was rumored to spend many hours strolling through his beloved city, and he must have had calves like steel cables. My heart very nearly exploded as I wheezed my way up the steep inclines. But the effort is worth it, as gaining the crest provides you with an endlessly breathtaking view of the sparkling city below.
My heart may also have been on the brink of explosion due to the fact that our charismatic tour guide – a sweet faced and self admitted nerd named Dillon – was instant crush material. This kid, who has been giving lantern guided tours for four years now, throws himself into the role, delivering ghost stories with gusto, speaking clearly and audibly, peppering his dialog with 19th century witticisms and ad-libbing to impress the cast of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
Did you know that Providence has in its library archives two books bound in human skin? That one of the buildings on the Brown campus was stocked with the rotting flesh of Civil War soldiers? That skeletal remains languish beneath the brick-paved streets? That Poe’s last true love lived here? That a secret tunnel lies beneath the gothic Fleur De Lys house? That the uneasy ghosts of small children, old men and doomed lovers still roam the halls of office buildings, college dorms and many a private residence? You do now, but I cannot tell the tales anywhere near as well as the guides of the Providence Ghost Tour can.
The new season has just begun. If you live within Rhode Island or can easily get here from the far reaches of New England, I urge you to come and take the tour. It’s affordable, historical, beautiful and fun. Just make sure you wear a good pair of walking shoes, bring a digital camera with which to capture the spirits and fold up a fiver with which to tip your guide. It’s totally worth it. I’ll be going again, and I may just bring a tenner this time.