The House That Scared Me Most – Part One

Quote

“Is there a house where something scared you?”

As simple and perhaps as obvious as it is? It’s a good question. Especially when getting asked on a daytime cemetery or evening cemetery tour. Anymore I get asked this question or some variety of it by tourists who both have a keen interest in such subjects but who have undoubtedly read up a little on my background. For the record, I’ve conducted more ghost tours than any other figure in Savannah and I don’t mind saying that aloud as in my heyday of doing them, I took the craft to an entirely new level by creating different ghost tours and inside of neighborhoods previously not toured that way. We’re talking many thousands of tours between 1995 and 2012. I’ve also lived in one 1850s haunted Savannah home and have had unexpected psychical experiences in a few others without actively seeking them out. Which is what I try to remind people when I discuss the subject of hauntings. As I used to tell crowds, “I walk into a building the same way you do, through the front door.” 

There was a day in my early life in Savannah, late 1980s & early 1990s, when there were no ghost tours. The many vacant buildings and eerily empty streets haunted Savannah on the precipice of the coming Tourist Boom. There was talk of ghosts yes, but no dedicated tours. Such spectral conversations had a sort of salon-quality around the dinner tables of the old Savannah-guard set. The 1980’s classic by Margaret Wayt DeBolt, “Savannah Spectres,” was mentioned on occasion like an odd cousin but often with a note of respect as a real source. Which it is and to Ms. Debolt’s eternal credit is still a Top 10 seller in most area bookstores. I miss those purist hours really, but after I landed the America’s Most Haunted City award for Savannah in 2002, the ghost tour culture took on a life all of its own that not even I anticipated. So yes, before my brain or the city was rife and saturated with such things, I just wandered around in old buildings as I’d always done since I was a young kid. A past-time that survives in my life to this very day.

Beyond Savannah, having worked for “Scariest Places On Earth,” “Ghost Hunters,” MTV’s “FEAR” and ABC Family’s “Real Scary Stories,” I’ve researched and been inside of my share of haunted hospitals, asylums, castles, monasteries, forts and homes. The whole nine. But that was work and typically I never felt scared in them or by them. TV shoots seem to dilute such things for at least myself. Nothing makes a building less scary than a bunch of monitors, generators, lights, cameras, crew and people talking all of the time.
In my life, I’ve been party to dozens of ghosts hunts, including a weekend at Savannah’s Marshall House the weekend before it officially opened and around the same time, organized the first investigation of The Moon River Brewpub ever conducted by a bona fide scientific organization, The American Institute of Parapsychology. Even so? Other than being fun social events with some interesting people and findings, bringing great attention to Savannah and in some cases, re-energizing businesses, the investigations themselves never much held my attention. I enjoyed it for others but at heart, I’m a solo artist. I like to go into old buildings alone or with one other person, feel them out for themselves without all of the gadgety stuff. I like to let buildings be themselves and reveal what they want to show me. You can’t really do that in mixed company in my opinion. Or in the same way.

PART TWO of “The House That Scared Me Most” Tomorrow!

 

 

Shannon On National Public Radio

Click To Hear Shannon’s Interview

When I was growing up, I loved the radio. WLS in Chicago and “Animal Stories” or Paul Harvey (who once mentioned me on his show!), Wolfman Jack, Kasey Kasem and so many others. I would buy crystal radio hobby kits and build them with my solder iron and at night, move the antenna wire around my headboard to catch the signal just right. I would also play with my voice and create characters and did my best to emulate and immitate the rise, fall and other nuances of my favorite MC’s voices. All of this made more ironic later when at 15 I learned that my biological father had been a radio announcer and confirmed without doubt, I’d inherited at least his voice.

Before the video game craze

Before the video game craze

Eventually, like lots of young intellectuals and music snobs in the making, I learned there was nothing cooler than National Public Radio. Other than sugar & cream, it was the other condiment for your coffee. And I lived for this station and their relative affiliates from state to state. I couldn’t wait until announcer Karl Haas opened his “Adventures In Good Music” with his intellecutally amused, “H-E-L-L-O every-one, I’m Karl Haas.” And of course Garrison Keillor to modern day storytellers, was the Mark Twain we never got to meet. My co-pilot is Lake Wobegon Days! In High School, when public radio was still largely classical music, it was my soundtrack for artistic all nighters, and continued later in my art school college years. Sadly my affections have waned as now, NPR has just become a government control tool funded by the worst of government operators and the wildest of liberal, Leftist political circles. I know, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but let’s just say I savor my memories and my fingers, eyes and ears now shun the call letters. You know, Paradise Lost an’ all of that.

Karl Haas & Arthur Rubenstein

Karl Haas & Arthur Rubenstein

But “Back in the early 2000s,” a tall yummy writer with naturally licorice red hair, Heather McHelhatton, contacted me about doing an interview for the Minnesota NPR show, “Savvy Traveler.” That was also a goodie back then. The show’s announcer, Diana Nyad (Champion Swimmer) had one of those smart, sardonic, even bedroom tonalities that you just wanted to worship and take a bath in. Sticky good. So when one of her field agents, Heather wanted to interview me about Savannah’s growing paranormal reputation for the show, I was beyond thrilled. I really wanted to do a good job for Savannah and myself. Which I was all about promoting Savannah to the greater world and having my name on the marquee as such. I’ve been criticized and hated for what people have called self promotion through the years, but if that’s all people think its been, they just don’t get it. Anyway, Heather was familiar with Savannah and had lived here for brief writer meditation periods, but didn’t know much about the ghost scene of Savannah. She arrived with headphones attached to a very cool 4-Track recorder and after sitting on a bench in Monterrey Square around sunset and did a “Testing, Testing, Testing 1-2-3,” we went off into the night together as we discussed many subjects tied to Savannah’s weirdness and mysticism, real and imagined.

Heather & Her Map

Heather & Her Map

Heather’s Website (Click To See)

Heather has a very silly kind of demeanor and was a lot of fun to be around. We had a natural repoire and I just did my best to conceal that I really just wanted her job instead of my own. She made it easy really and it was kind of like we were just hanging out as friends more than as interviewer and interviewee. To our credit, the NPR folks after hearing it, told her they didn’t just want to use me in a soundbyte, but wanted me to have the whole 7 minutes of the episode. This was manna to my ears! I felt like I was following in the footsteps of my heroes or something! Joining the ranks! And yeah, as my mom was a fan of NPR, I think as her son I couldn’t wait to tell her!

On premiere night, which was around Halloween if I recollect correctly, it sounded so smooth. Diana narrated the front end and the back end, introducing the episode and to me the coolest thing of all, was the music that they used to close out the episode and not sure if that was Heather’s choice or not, but it was music after my own heart — Massive Attack. Which at that time, was the coolest kid on the block. Unfortunately my own recording version in this article doesn’t really let you hear it-hear it but to me, it was the icing on the cake. Heather also did an amazing job with the narration and of course, I bow to her for her production of it and honoring me with the participation. Heather has since become a novelist, writing several smart story books that allow the reader to kind of go their own direction with different options. Yes, like grown up Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Books. I’ve got them all autographed. Last I heard she’s writing a novel where I’m a character driving a tour bus in Bonaventure and something about me carrying around the head of a statue but that’s that last thing I’ve heard….

One of my greatest validation moments regarding came later, at go figure, a coffee house. My home away from home was Savannah’s The Sentient Bean on the south end of Forsyth Park. Still the city’s best I think and occasionally I moonlight there reading poetry and telling an adventure story on stage. I was talking to a newly arrived barista, and while he was making up my latte, we mentioned what brought him to Savannah. He said, “well I grew up in Minnesota and years ago I heard this story on NPR about Savannah being haunted and after that, I knew I wanted to be here.” Yes, job well done and one more recruit secured for Savannah.

Massive Attack

Massive Attack