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AAA World Article

Uncovering Oklahoma’s Haunts

History meets eerie mystery in historic Guthrie, Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

By MeLinda Schnyder

AAA World Article

Ghost Walk founder Stacey Frazier in front of downtown Guthrie’s Gray Building
Photo by Kailyn Swonger

They aren’t jump-out-and-scare-you Halloween experiences, yet a haunted history tour led by a skilled oral storyteller can give you a desirable dose of heebie-jeebies. Here are three Oklahoma options that are booking tours this fall and year-round.

Guthrie Ghost Walk Tours
Stacey Frazier was leading a group walking tour earlier this year through downtown Guthrie—the largest contiguous historic district in the U.S.—when a man asked her if she knew what had previously occupied a recently burned-out brick building. She replied that exactly one month ago to the day, a fire that had left no signs had consumed the Double Stop Fiddle Shop. The three-story century-old structure had housed a music store, a performance hall, priceless memorabilia and instruments, including the state’s largest collection of violins and bows—composing the personal collection of legendary fiddle player Byron Berline, the shop and building’s owner. A passionate musician, Berline, she explained, described the instruments he lost in the fire as having personalities and souls.

Oklahoma haunts
Guthrie's landmark Gray Building is featured in Guthrie Ghost Walk tours.
Photo by Julie Ayers

Upon hearing this story, another man on the tour with his family got an incredulous look on his face. He explained that this was their first visit to town, and while walking around before the tour started, his toddler had stopped at this spot and started dancing. When asked what he was doing, his son said he was dancing to the music. When asked what music, his son pointed to the burned-out building and said the music lives there.

While creepy, this story isn’t unusual in a town that has preserved 2,000 buildings on 1,400 acres built when 10,000 new residents arrived with The Land Run of 1889.

“We prefer to share the history behind the mystery,” says Frazier of her Guthrie Ghost Walk tours. “It’s a sneaky way of teaching people the history of the town and engaging people in historical and current events.”

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Ninety-minute tours follow brick-paved sidewalks to six of the historic district’s most active sites of paranormal activity. Frazier has collected more than 40 ghost stories about the downtown area alone. She shares only those that she can verify through newspaper archives and research at the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in Guthrie.

“I love history and a good story, and I’m also the world’s biggest skeptic,” Frazier says. “Someone gives me a lead on a ghost story, and I dig into finding out what really happened. The truth is sometimes better than the legend.”

Tours are offered year-round, with additional times and dates in October. Reservations are required. guthrieghostwalk.com

 

Tulsa Spirit Tours
Teri French was working in property management in Tulsa in the early 1990s when unexplained things started happening in the apartment complex’s clubhouse. This was before paranormal TV shows and podcasts had taken off. In fact, French had to drive to Oklahoma City for years to meet with others interested in paranormal research. The more investigations she did, the more she gravitated toward researching the history of the buildings with confirmed paranormal activity. So, if she learned that a woman had been murdered at a location and there were sightings of a female ghost there, French wanted to delve into her story to figure out why she was appearing.

Tulsa Spirit Tour Bus
Spirit Tours bus
Photo Courtesy of Tulsa Spirit Tours

“I finally started researching around Tulsa, and we have a lot of secrets in our backyard with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and other things that went on back then,” French says. “Eventually, a friend told me I’d learned so much about the history and the haunting that I should try [leading] a ghost tour.”

French rented a trolley, created a script and route, and offered a one-time-only tour for Halloween 2003. After her inaugural tour, she received phone calls asking her to schedule another. One more turned into Tulsa Spirit Tours, now in its 16th year and still offering a variation of the original Haunted Tulsa Bus Tour. The two-hour bus tour drives by a dozen historic locations, from the legendary 1924 Cain’s Ballroom music venue to the Gilcrease Museum complex, comprised of museum buildings holding a large collection of North American art, culture and history as well as the century-old home of oilman Thomas Gilcrease.

Cains Sign
Cain's
Ballroom is on the Tulsa Spirit Tour route.
Courtesy of Visit Tulsa 

“We’re an actual paranormal research group, not just historians or people who know stories,” says French. “On this year’s Haunted Tulsa, we go into Peace of Mind bookstore, a very old bookstore with some dark history, with [research] equipment and let people use it if they’re interested.”

Because she gets many repeat customers, French refreshes the stops every five years and has added about 10 options. Among the tours booked most often are the Haunted Pub Crawl and Ghosts, Girls & Gunslingers Walking Tour.

“So many people have taken this tour and told me they’ve lived in Tulsa all their life and had no idea how intriguing, exciting and fun our history is,” she adds.

Tours run year-round, with more frequent times and dates in October. Reservations are required. tulsaspirittour.com

 

Spooks, Spirits & Scoundrels Walking Tour
Like Guthrie, Oklahoma City also grew to 10,000 citizens in a single day with The Land Run of 1889. Destination Oklahoma’s two-hour evening walking tour Spooks, Spirits & Scoundrels shares the mysteries and scandals from the city’s earliest rough-and-tumble days.

Bricktown Nightlife
Spirits and Scoundrels is a walking tour through the popular Bricktown entertainment district. 
Photo Courtesy of Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau

The route covers two-and-a-half miles in the center of the city, walking into the Bricktown entertainment district and among such well-known landmarks as the three-towered Skirvin Hilton Hotel and the 17-acre Myriad Botanical Gardens.

“This is our most popular tour because people are looking for something different to do to have a little fun and maybe get a little scared,” says Laura Wheeler, manager of Destination Oklahoma, which operates about a dozen tour varieties. “The tour talks about the tumultuous past and many of the colorful characters, some whose spirits are still with us.”

Guides share the legends behind who is haunting the 108-year-old Skirvin and some of the spirit’s best pranks that, while playful, can still cause sleepless nights. They also tell the story of the 1920s Chinese immigrants who came to the city to build the railroad and lived in underground tunnels.

Skirvin Hilton Hotel
The Skirvin Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City  
Photo Courtesy of Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau

Destination Oklahoma offers tours year-round, including more frequently in October. Reservations are handled online. okctours.com

Check out these Oklahoma spirits in the spirit of Halloween, and remember, if the tours are full this fall, they are offered throughout the year.

 

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of AAA World.

 

 


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