Haunts and Jaunts: Hey……. Is this place haunted?

By Rick Hinton

A look at the Biltmore House. (Photos by Rick Hinton)

 

This is the question I most often would ask at some point during various historical sightseeing tours. Enquiring minds wanted to know. These days, however, I don’t ask as much anymore. Often I don’t need to…

   While touring purported haunted locations, this question does not need to be asked. To get a few hours of your time—and money—these locations are going to tell you all about it. Whether it’s a location with historical significance, or a location with ghost activity because of such history, I’m always a sucker for a good story. However, touring a location without the premise of a paranormal angle is a different matter altogether.

   I asked the question – “Hey…is this place haunted?” many times in the past because I really wanted to know. And many times, I asked just to get a rise or reaction. The majority of sightseeing locations do not wish any association with shadowy spooks. It is a taboo subject. (Yet, if they could see the influx of $$ because of such an association, they might suddenly change their tune) Tour guides may very well have had their own personal experiences at their particular location, yet the public cannot be told that; bad for business. There are even prearranged responses when some noodle-head asks a paranormal themed question:

  • The thousand yard stare or deer in the headlights look
  • Thin tight smiles 
  • A shake of the head and “No”
  • A grimace

 

   Sometimes the question will rattle them, effectively throwing them off their A game presentation. Most often they then make a point to ignore you for the rest of the tour. That is, until the end of the tour when everyone has left and they pull you off to the side to let you know what is really going on; “I don’t want to lose my job, but…” This has happened several times.

   My wife Laura’s sensitivity is often an accurate barometer to any spiritual shenanigans going on behind the scenes; even mine on occasion. I no longer feel the need to ask the “question” because between the two of us, we already know. In the past, when I inquired about the Indiana Medical History Museum, the Catacombs, Spring Mill State Park, Monument Circle, or Crown Hill Cemetery, I would get the look or no comment smile. On a recent trip to North Carolina and a tourist sightseeing opportunity—as Tom Sawyer would say—I stayed mum. 

   Biltmore Estate in Asheville was on my wife’s bucket list. George Vanderbilt’s turn of the century mansion is an example of building excellence not matched by anything else in the United States. Tucked into the fog of the southern Appalachian Mountains, it emerged out of the mist of a dream. We crossed into a different threshold when we entered its front door. I started feeling “it” immediately. I watched Laura making her way through the house at her own pace, listening to the tour headphones. She occasionally circled back to a previous room with a perplexed look upon her face. Afterwards we compared notes.

   She felt “it” strongest in wife Edith Vanderbilt’s bedroom and the master kitchen. I felt the vibe in the lower basement level containing the gymnasium and pool. We took an additional behind the scenes tour highlighting the life and movement of the serving staff. Fascinating. It felt heavy, like a thick blanket.

   Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I really wish I had asked the question.

 

A balcony over the rear servant’s entrance in the Backstage behind the scenes tour.