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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.
October 29, 2007
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/186070

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."

Sometimes Ghosts Find You .

Sometimes Ghosts Find You .
When Peggy and Grover Moseley purchased the run-down Groveland Hotel in 1990, they didn't know a ghost named Lyle was part of the deal. The couple, who had retired in Groveland, California, a historic Gold Rush town in the Sierras, paid $340,000 for the near-abandoned 1849 property, and began to notice that things were amiss when they started cleaning up the hotel.

"We realized we weren't really alone," recalls Peggy, who eventually spent about $1.5 million to fully restore the two-building hotel and restaurant, a California Cultural Landmark. "Things kept happening that were too strange, like buckets of paint would get turned over and things would get moved--just subtle things you couldn't put a finger on."

Then a long-time local resident told them about Lyle, a miner had who lived in the hotel and died in 1927--in his bed with a box of dynamite underneath it. Guests have witnessed strange happenings in "Lyle's room," and Peggy says almost every employee of the hotel has had "some kind of experience." Lyle has been confirmed by psychic Sylvia Browne, and recently ghost hunters from the NorCal Paranormal Institute found a second ghost in the restaurant. "They found significant temperature changes, really cold spots," says Peggy. "Then down in the restaurant, there was a lot of activity. They said it was very magnetic and would almost knock you over."

Peggy plans to put the film from the investigation on YouTube to promote the hotel. She's fully embraced Lyle and uses him for marketing. "People are either uninterested or they're excited about the idea that they're gonna get to be where there might be ghost activity," says Peggy, who also hosts murder mysteries at the hotel and a Halloween celebration in Lyle's room. "It is our most popular room--and our most expensive single room."

And Sometimes You Need to Give Ghosts the Ol' Heave-Ho
In a nice way, that is. When Andrea Hess hears about a person or place haunted by an entity, her first instinct is to help the spirit get back to where it belongs.

"I clear attaching entities--departed loved ones who are still attached to people or places, and also earthbound spirits [like] ghosts and poltergeists," says Hess, who runs her "intuitive consulting" business, Empowered Soul, from her home in Tempe, Arizona.

Hess, who has worked as an opera singer, massage therapist, yoga instructor and certified life coach, fell into this work after receiving a reading herself. She decided to go through training and offer the service as a supplement to her life coaching business.

"As it turned out, my readings became the heart of my business," says Hess, who averages 20 clients a month and mainly finds them through word of mouth and her website. "I'm the first to volunteer that I have the strangest business in the world. I'm like, 'I'm a perfectly normal person, [and], oh yes, I'm a psychic.'"

But despite having a profession that's difficult to explain at dinner parties, Hess finds it very rewarding. "If someone has just died and they keep popping into our consciousness, and we feel their spirit all the time, they may be asking us for help. And so a big part of my work is helping those souls transition because they're stuck here," says Hess, who also offers an intensive course in intuitive consulting for those who want to become psychics, too. "It's bizarre work, but it's rewarding because it makes such a difference in people's lives." And in their afterlives.