Taking a Trolley Ride to the Other Side

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The existence of supernatural phenomena and hauntings is a hotlydebated topic, but for those who work on the Ghosts and GravestonesTour, it’s a matter of everyday business.

The tour is one of several offered by Old Town Trolley Tours ofSan Diego, a local subsidiary of the Historic Tours of America.Visitors are taken to a number of allegedly haunted sites in SanDiego in a bus-like vehicle made to look like a trolley accompaniedby a costumed guide. The company calls the format “transportainment,”a combination of transportation and entertainment on acontinuous-loop tour.

Lorin Stewart, director of operations for the company, said that,while confirmation of supernatural haunts is not guaranteed with the$28 price of admission, it is a fairly regular occurrence.

“It’s hard to discredit because some things definitely havehappened,” Lorin said. “There’s a lot more to that tour than meetsthe eye.”

“Pretty much all of our tour guides are convinced at this point. Alot of them have had experiences at different sites on the tour, andwe even had one guide who refused to go into Villa Montezuma.”

According to Stewart, the ghosts on the tour even occasionallyinterrupt operations. Trolleys in perfect running order sometimesstall only at certain sites, and unexplained radio operation iscommonplace.

Stewart said many guests on the tour also have literallyhair-raising experiences.

“The most common thing is for them to feel a presence that raisesthe hairs on the backs of their necks. Some people are a lot moresensitive to it than others, and we get a lot of visitors who havefelt, saw and heard things.”

Stewart said even one high-profile guest, a reporter from Fox 6news, was convinced.

“Her cameraman, a big, burly linebacker-type, felt something touchthe back of his neck and freaked out. He started yelling, ‘I’m noteven supposed to believe in this kind of stuff. I’m a Baptist.'”

The tours depart six nights a week (excluding Tuesdays) from theWilliam Heath Davis House, at the corner of Fourth and Island streetsin the Gaslamp District.

Included in the tour package are guided nighttime walks throughthe 151-year-old house that serves as a starting point, VillaMontezuma, which is a Victorian mansion in Sherman Heights built forthe famous 19th-century spiritualist Jesse Shepard, and arguably SanDiego’s most famous haunted places, The Whaley House, in Old Town.

In addition to these sites, the tour also includes a visit to theexterior of The Horton Grand Hotel and a jaunt through El Campo SantoCemetery to visit the grave of one of the Whaley House’s allegedpermanent guests, Yankee Jim Robinson. Though not on the itinerary,guides also regale guests with stories about other local hauntedbuildings, most notably the Hotel del Coronado.

The tour was recently revamped to include the walk-through toursand Stewart said more improvements are on the way. Old Town TrolleyTours will break ground on a home site in Old Town Nov. 7, and tourswill eventually launch from that location, which was once anearly-20th century rectory. The company has done extensivearchaeological digging and plans to reconstruct the original rectory.

“To me, the whole tour is kind of like street theater,” Stewartsaid. “Once we have a home site, it opens endless opportunities forperformances and special effects.”

Stewart said a portion of the ticket prices are donated to thelocal agencies responsible for the houses they visit — the GaslampHistorical Foundation, Save Our Heritage Organization and the SanDiego Historical Society.

For those who aren’t interested in the supernatural, but areinterested in the city’s history, the tour holds value, and offersthe unique opportunity to visit some sites after they close to thegeneral public.

Tours take place year-round, though the Ghosts and Gravestonestour is especially popular around Halloween.

“It provides a healthy fright factor for people in search of thatthis time of year, but it’s actually really popular all the time,”Stewart said. “I’m kind of amazed that it sells out even in themiddle of March.”

Old Town Trolley Tours of San Diego is offering a special deal toSan Diego residents through the end of the year: local visitors onany tour will receive a pass allowing free admission on tourswhenever they bring a paying guest.

For more information, contact http://historictours.com/GhostsandGravestones/.For reservations, call 1-800-868-7482.