Monday, October 01, 2007

Lovecraft Featured in 2008 Providence Ghost Walks

From Michelle at Strange Maine:

Brianna Barzola - Staff Writer

As dusk enveloped Prospect Terrace Park, a group of curious customers gathered around Courtney Edge, one of the founders of the Providence Ghost Tour, and listened to a story about Providence founding father Roger Williams. His bones, Edge said, now lie directly in front of them, resting in a tomb that watches over the city. The group listened more closely as their tour guides led them away from the park - and warned them of the menacing ghosts they might encounter as they strolled past the historic buildings and colonial houses of the East Side.

Two of those guides - Marta DaSilva '09 and Bernie Larivee, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialist for Facilities Management - say they are eager to divulge some of Providence's darkest secrets. They say they joined the tour, which is in its second year of operation, for the opportunity to tell the stories of strange deaths, murders, suicides and purported paranormal activity on the East Side.

DaSilva, a tour guide-in-training, began working for the Providence Ghost Tour earlier this month and will soon be leading her own tour. "This is a great job to have as a college student," she said. "I have background in drama and I'm a history buff, so that's mostly what drew me into applying."

DaSilva said she finds not only the history of Providence fascinating but also some of Brown's unmentioned history. "It has given me a different perspective of Brown too, because I didn't know the history of the buildings, like University Hall, which we talk about on the tour," DaSilva said. "(On the tour) you forget about all of the academic history and focus on the people that were involved in the history of the campus. The tour brings you down to Earth - it gives you a separate perspective from the University microcosm."

Larivee took on the job as a tour guide because "I do some acting on the side, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to get some excellent training and do a fun job," he said. "It's fascinating to see that most students don't get a lot of this history in their Brown packets. It has more to do with people who once lived in the city and the problems they had."

The tour began in September 2006 - but not before founders Edge and Mike Gertrudes devoted endless hours to studying ghostly lore. The tour follows a 1.5 mile loop that begins and ends at Prospect Terrace Park on Congdon Street, and lasts about an hour and a half.

Guides lead visitors to several buildings along the streets of the East Side, including the Providence Athenaeum on Benefit Street, author H.P. Lovecraft's residence on Angell Street and several Rhode Island School of Design and Brown buildings - even a few residence halls.

The tour guides don't do the spooking - the stories take care of that themselves.

"Mike and I spent about nine months researching all the stories and digging around for more before we started it up," Edge said. "It's an ongoing research project, but we were looking for an alternative to the nine-to-five job and this seemed perfect."

Edge is no rookie to ghost tours: she worked at Ghost Tours of Newport, R.I., before founding the Providence version. "That was a lot of fun, and we thought we could do the same here," she said. "Mike and I have a general interest in ghosts and go ghost hunting as a hobby."

Though Edge said many customers doubt the truth of the stories, she and the tour guides stressed that the tour is based on "research and historical documentation." They have taken the time to make sure that all of the people in their stories really existed, and that all of the discussed incidents were recorded.

Edge said the Rhode Island Historical Society provided the bulk of material for their research.

"It has lots of journals and private letters that belonged to many of the people we talk about on the tour," she said. "We've gone through tons of microfilm of death records that took us hours and hours to read and sort out."

Larivee said he liked the idea of reenacting events that actually happened to Providence residents.

"Yes, some of it is spooky, but a lot of it is sad," Larivee said.

Edge and Gertrudes have hired eight tour guides, all of whom had to compete for their positions.

DaSilva recalled seeing 12 or 15 people at her interview. "We had to perform and tell a story in front of everyone applying, and they picked the ones who did it best," she said. The other tour guides are Providence residents who work elsewhere by day and scare both residents and visitors by night.

All tours in the fall begin at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $12 online and $15 in person on the night of the tour. Currently the tour only runs on Friday nights and weekends, but the founders are looking to expand the enterprise in the future. Edge said the tours draw about 40 people a night, with variation according to the month.

"October is obviously a very busy month" due to Halloween, Edge said. "We would like to add multiple tours to accommodate large numbers of people and the stories that we have. We have a lot more stories that don't make it on the tour because the tour would be too long if we added them."

Participants are encouraged to take pictures of all the buildings on the tour in case a ghost makes an appearance on camera. Then again, if one does show up, visitors might be too engrossed in the stories to notice it.

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