Bewitching Businesses

For these entrepreneurs, every day is like Halloween. Ghosts, spirits and other things that go bump in the night help bring in the chills and the business.

Halloween is a frightfully big business. People will spend an estimated $5.07 billion this year to dress up as pirates and fairies and to outfit their homes with all manner of spooky accoutrements, from foam gravestones for the front yard to motion-sensitive, shrieking ghosts.

Some folks are lucky enough--or perhaps unlucky enough, depending on your perspective--to not need to purchase a wire-and-fabric ghost manufactured overseas. They've got the real deal. Their homes, businesses and towns teem with spirits who hang about, causing a ruckus, scaring the uninitiated, and bringing in customers for businesses smart enough to capitalize on their own personal Caspers all year round.

Sometimes You Look for Ghosts .
St. Augustine, Florida, is quite the haunted hamlet. Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, the small town is the oldest, continuously inhabited European settlement in North America. With a colorful history that includes many battles and lots of pirate activity, it's not surprising that the town often makes the lists of America's most haunted places.

Sandy Craig started her tour planning business, Tour St. Augustine, which specializes in school groups, in 1994. She soon realized that once the town's tourist attractions closed at 5:00, there wasn't much to do. She figured a nighttime ghost tour would take care of that and started Ghost Tours of St. Augustine.

Now in its 13th year, Ghost Tours of St. Augustine offers walking tours, riding tours by streetcar, boat tours that concentrate on pirate lore, and PJ-friendly storytelling at hotels for school groups. With an average of 25 tour guides, the business is doing very well, having been named No. 1 guided tour in Florida by a reader poll in Florida Living magazine. Allison Edwards, assistant manager, creative director and tour guide, says they change their specialty tours annually for Halloween--the busiest time of year--and add new ghost stories as they're discovered and documented.

"A lot of times people on the tours will come to us and say, 'Have you seen this ghost?'" says Edwards, who's been with Ghost Tours for five years. "They'll tell us the story, and we'll go through the historical library [to] find out some information." Edwards says they often rely on historical journals for clues. "We have hundreds of journals where people would write every single detail down. So the neighbors would say, 'I saw the widow at the Casa Blanca. She was up on the roof, swinging the lantern last night to welcome the rum runners in,'" says Edwards, recounting the tale of a 1920s ghost often seen at a local hotel.

In a town with more than 200 documented ghost stories, Edwards has a few tales of her own. A sea captain at the local lighthouse often blows cigar smoke in people's faces. "I was out collecting tickets one evening and it was a very, very slow night. And I smelled this cigar smoke and no one was around," recalls Edwards, who's also heard footsteps and clacking keyboards in the empty and haunted offices of Ghost Tours of St. Augustine. "Then all the lights around me shut off. That was the creepiest thing that ever happened."

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