Ghost tours scare businesses off during COVID pandemic

Larry Widen, a guide with Ghost City Tours, recounts some of the ghost sightings that allegedly occurred in the window of the Tombstone Motel behind him. (Photo by Brock Blasdell / Cronkite News)

Sparse, thematic lighting illuminates a strip of Western-themed restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops on Allen Street. (Photo by Brock Blasdell / Cronkite News)

Xenia Kiever points out a possible ghost in a photo the Tombstone community provided to guide Larry Widen. (Photo by Brock Blasdell / Cronkite News)

TOMBSTONE – Larry Widen thinks ghosts and spirits have unfinished business in the human world. In what is considered one of Arizona’s most haunted towns, where ghosts lurk in virtually every corner, his Ghost Town tours combine Tombstone’s Old West history with tales of spirits that still linger.

“This town is one of the 10 most haunted towns simply because so many people have lost their lives here in such a short period of time,” Widen said of Tombstone, which was founded in 1877. “There has been a lot of haunting. suicides, a lot of shootings, a lot of people get their business wrong because once the money started rolling again, friends weren’t friends anymore.

Ghost tours to Tombstone and Flagstaff saw an increase in business during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many businesses closed due to social distancing requirements and a lack of customers. Ghost tours were safer outdoor options.

Widen is a senior tour guide for the National Tourism Society’s Tombstone location. At night, he takes paranormal-fascinated patrons on a city walking tour of haunted locations including Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and the infamous Bird Cage Theater.

Tombstone is best known for the shootout at OK Corral, and he saw many less notorious clashes between cowboys, prospectors, and thieves before the silver mines unfolded.

But when the pandemic struck, Tombstone literally turned into a ghost town.

“Normally you come on a given day and find 200 people walking down the street, and then for a while it was cut off because people were afraid to be in the crowd,” Widen recalls. “Everyone who relies on visitors to make their city prosperous has suffered, but it is starting to bounce back, and the good news is that the city has a legend behind it. “

Susan Wallace, president of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce, said the pandemic had shut down the town for a time, but the chamber still received requests for information about the world-famous shooting outside OK Corral in 1881.

A sign welcomes tourists to the historic Bird Cage Theater, a once popular bar and brothel, now acclaimed for its seemingly frequent ghost activities. (Photo by Brock Blasdell / Cronkite News)

“We are very grateful that so many people have returned to the city, and not just for the day, but for the weekend and even for extended stays,” she said in a statement. “Our small town has a lot to offer and is an ideal base for those visiting the other wonders of Cochise County.”

Ghost City Tours began offering ghost walking tours in Tombstone last year during the pandemic when other tourist attractions were forced to close.

Widen said Tombstone’s call for Ghost City Tours was the shootout between the Clantons and Earps at OK Corral. Other ghost tours work in Tombstone, but with the outdoor tours of Ghost City, he said, people could safely hide and distance themselves.

“People are traveling again, and that’s the good news,” Widen said. “I think the walking tours are the best because I can guide you to things and bring you to what I call a piece of sacred grass.”

Widen said as more people rate visits to travel review websites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor, demand is increasing.

“Fortunately, we are busy all year round,” he said. “It dips a bit during the winter months, but for the nine months it’s great.”

Nick Jones of the Freaky Foot Tours in Flagstaff, or “Nefarious Nick”, has grown exponentially since the pandemic began in March 2020.

“Between last October’s growth and this year’s growth, we’re close to a 3,000% increase in activity,” he said. “We started out advertising more to international travelers, but now it’s the people who are regional. “

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Freaky Foot Tours began in 2015 as a mother-and-son start-up team when Jones’ mother Susan Johnson, a local historian, wanted a ghost tour in Flagstaff. After researching the town’s roots and its founding in the late 1880s, Johnson created a ghost tour that combines spooky ghost stories – including a murderous maintenance man in the town library and the woman in white on the balconies of the Orpheum Theater – with the history of Flagstaff.

Before the pandemic, Jones said, the company had a guide that offered tours on Friday and Saturday nights. But as artists and friends in the entertainment industry were made redundant and families wanted to travel again, the company saw a business opportunity. Now they have five guides who give tours Tuesday through Saturday, with a special tour for children ages 5 to 12.

“We’re in a unique position because COVID didn’t hit us until October of last year because we’ve just completely changed the way we do business,” he said. “My business is very privileged in the sense that it does not operate indoors, so a lot of the stress that has occurred for indoor business owners has not directly affected us. “

In order to help other businesses get back on their feet, Freaky Foot Tours tries to direct tourists to other businesses in the city center.

“I think everyone benefits when the local economy is doing better,” Jones said. “Almost all of the stops are places you can actually go, so we’re trying to plug them in as well. “

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