To Ghost or Not to Ghost? Promoting Your Downtown's Legends

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Many a Main Street has a tale or two about ghosts and spirits but what do you do with these stories? Do you suppress them or capitalize on them? Do you cultivate or ignore? As enterprising entrepreneurs of Main Street, the answer should undoubtedly be YES. Embrace, capitalize, and cultivate! So how do you coordinate your phantoms?

Of course there are many ways to skin a “black cat,” so let’s examine this from the Main Street Four Point Approach®. We’ll start with the most obvious: Promotions. There are many events and other promotional activities that can be used to promote ghostly legends, from costumed walking ghost tours to Halloween balls and parties; but my community, Excelsior Springs, Missouri, took a much bigger approach—the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters.

Gathering Your Spirits

The Elms Hotel and Spa, a historic icon and active “spirit gathering” location, requested the expertise of the Ghost Hunters’ hosts to look into the eerie tales related by guests and employees over the years.  The 1888-era hotel recently underwent a multi-million dollar restoration that seemed to excite the spirits, leading to greater activity and more stories. Construction workers from the restoration told stories of unexplained happenings, newly christened rooms have welcomed guests with strange goings-on, and employees have heard and seen mysterious activity. 

Excelsior Springs was founded on the healing qualities of the mineral water found beneath the soil. Some say the concentration of these various minerals seems to attract and bind the spirits.  Many other buildings in downtown Excelsior Springs have similar stories of strange and inexplicable happenings. The Elms Hotel is ripe for ghostly legends, having burned to the ground in 1898 and again in 1910.  The current hotel building opened in 1912 and has stood ever since. While news reports don’t mention any loss of life in the fires, folklore suggests the opposite. It is rumored that guests have seen a maid in a 1920s uniform roaming the hallways and supervising the current hotel staff. Another story claims that the spirit of a gambler from the speakeasy days of Prohibition lingers around the hotel pool. Research for the Ghost Hunters episode also uncovered a 1906 newspaper headline that mentioned how a few men were frightened by an eight-feet-tall apparition garbed in white.  More than a dozen other stories have been shared.

So why SyFy’s Ghost Hunters? Well, if you have questions about your ghosts, you call in the professionals. At various times, local ghost hunters or paranormal investigators explore The Elms, looking for evidence or explanations. In fact, we’ve turned this into a great promotional event by allowing guests to participate in the hunt. After a short explanation and demonstration of the equipment, the ghost hunters and guests venture out into the most active areas of the hotel. But if you want to maximize your promotional exposure, call in a nationally syndicated television ghost hunter group and SyFy’s Ghost Hunters are among the best. The Ghost Hunters accepted our request to explore the uptick in spooky activity at The Elms and sent their team to downtown Excelsior Springs.

Captivating Your Audience

The promotional aspects of the “ghost industry” are obvious but what about Design? Many ghost tours are walking tours and you can’t really conduct those tours without sharing the history of the building or neighborhood. So these tours are not only fun outings; they also increase awareness, educate tour goers about architecture and other aspects of the downtown; and, perhaps most importantly, get people out and about in your district.  Many tour guides dress in period costume, which adds to the appeal of the event. Syfy’s Ghost Hunters not only utilized the resources provided by The Elms but also solicited help from the Excelsior Springs Museum and Archives to gather background information on the community and the downtown, along with photos and newspaper articles. All good ghost stories need to interweave a thread of hometown history to fully captivate the listeners. 

So now let’s look at Economic Restructuring. Of course, ghost tours are big business in Salem, Massachusetts, and Savannah, Georgia, and many other communities take advantage of ghostly history near Halloween but it can be utilized year-round. Some downtowns have great old buildings that can be used haunted houses during the month of October. What about a midnight tour of the local cemetery?  Some creative entrepreneurs have taken advantage of these opportunities and built businesses around the spectral stories and legends in their downtowns.

The Elms was reluctant to embrace its “ghostly” side until a few years ago when several guests wanted to come and explore the hotel for paranormal activity. So would others want to do the same?  The hotel found that more people wanted to visit the hotel because of ghostly stories and rumors than wouldn’t stay at the hotel because of ghostly stories and rumors. Basic Economics 101.

As I have always said, Organization is the sexy side of Main Street! Not really! So how is the organizational aspect of Main Street affected by the ghost population? As we know, the Main Street’s organization committee is responsible for recruiting volunteers and you have to start with the spirits and ghosts. Without them, you have nothing. Seriously, it takes volunteers to coordinate these activities, and they can also provide fund-raising possibilities if coordinated by the Main Street program. 
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Back to SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. The show will air sometime in the near future, hopefully in August, and The Elms is planning a watch party with a paranormal investigation to follow. The hope is that the national airing of the show will bring additional public exposure for the hotel, the downtown district, and the community. If your town has something that provides a competitive advantage, whether it is a single haunted building or a few ghostly spirits, take advantage and figure out a way to use your history to bring money, people and acclaim to your district.

Interested in reading more about the ghosts of Excelsior Springs. Check out these stories:

http://www.legendsofamerica.com/mo-elmshotel.html
http://confoundedcook.blogspot.com/2012/01/ghost-hunting-at-elms.html
http://www.kshb.com/dpp/lifestyle/mo-is-home-to-one-of-the-nations-most-haunted-havens

**The Elms cannot talk about the results or findings of the investigation until after the show airs.  Please check your local television listing if you interested in seeing this episode.