Continuing on the theme of taking a ghost tour every time I go somewhere new, something I wrote about last week, I thought I would talk about my latest adventure. And that would be in Branson, Missouri.
I have probably been a bit spoiled by my recent experiences. In the past two years, Jim and I have visited four cities down south: Williamsburg, VA; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and Gatlinburg, TN. We took a ghost tour in every one of them, and the thing was, we had to decide which ghost tour to take, not necessarily an easy thing to do based on Internet descriptions and some reviews. But we managed.
Cut to Branson, Missouri. We were there last week for a family vacation, and of course we needed to take a ghost tour. We figured, Missouri, that's the South, right? Why, yes it is. But multiple ghost tours? Needing to make a selection from a list of many? Not so much.
The first morning we were there, we went to the reception desk at our lodgings and asked the nice woman behind the counter for information on a Branson ghost tour. She sort of looked at us and blinked, maybe wondering if we were dangerous as well as crazy. But then she said that she didn't know of one, but we should talk to the gentleman at the other desk, since he knew more about events and excursions in the town. So we walked over to his desk, asked him the same question, and pretty much got the same reaction. He mentioned Eureka Springs, an old town over in Arkansas that is both gorgeous and boasts a very haunted hotel. We had already been to Eureka Springs many years ago, and even visited that hotel, although we hadn't taken the official ghost tour. It might not have existed yet at that time. Nevertheless, this was a short vacation we were on and we didn't have a full day -and night- to travel across state lines looking for spectres.
So he obligingly Googled ghost hunts in Branson for us and came up with one result. We took the phone number and thanked him with appreciation, but as we walked away from the desk, even Jim thought that was odd. "One?" he said to me. "Just one?"
Yup. To its credit, the founder of the tour and his wife have been doing supernatural investigations for years and were even featured once on the paranormal series A Haunting. (I used to watch those until it got to the point where I realized I had seen every episode. Maybe they're making new ones; I haven't looked into that yet.) Our tour guide began the evening by playing a little bit of the show so that we could see the expertise of the tour company owners. During the course of the evening, he also mentioned that his boss gets called out for supernatural problems on a regular basis. So yes, Branson is indeed haunted.
And well it should be. It was founded before the Civil War and withstood that conflict, but not without loss. After the War, the town was besieged with crime and violence, and the posse organized to restore order soon expanded into a mob that began to commit the very crimes they had once promised to stop. The gang was called the Bald Knobbers and before they were through, numbered as many as 1000 members. Although their violent acts drew national attention, they weren't disbanded until 1899 after their founder was assassinated. (The man who did the killing was tried and found not guilty by reason of self-defense.)
With that kind of history, there should have been a mob of ghosts hanging around on every street corner. Maybe there were but I never saw them because I didn't bring Cassie and Michael along with me. We took pictures and listened to stories. We saw enlargements of some of the pictures taken on that tour that were sent in by participants, and a few of them were seriously disturbing. One showed a woman sitting on the steps to a church, and the picture included a very large shadowy figure standing just to her left. A picture taken of a wall just adjacent to the church (that had been demolished earlier on the day that we took the tour) showed the silhouette of a young boy, purportedly the murdered son of a woman who was also murdered by the same serial killer. (The killer was caught in Texas, tried there for a similar murder, and executed. They say he confessed to about twenty murders all across the country. His story dates back to the later years of the twentieth century, so fairly recent history, compared to other parts of the town.)
The cemetery close to the heart of the city is a one-acre plot that was established by a very successful businessman back in the late 1800's. It is no longer an active cemetery (I use that term to mean a cemetery where people can still buy plots at this time; in the other sense of the word, it is quite active) and now is almost inaccessible thanks to some teenage vandals who went in one night and vandalized the graves of some of Branson's wealthier past citizens, including the man who founded the city himself. But you can take pictures through the wrought iron fence. I didn't; there was too strong a feeling around the area and I didn't want to have anything like that on my phone. (This is a trait I share with one of my Bridgeton Park Cemetery characters, by the way.) Our tour guide also mentioned that the cemetery had flooded early in the 1900's and tombstones and grave markers were washed away or destroyed. He showed us a large area of ground within that fenced-in acre that is filled with unmarked graves, although historians are working to restore identities to the dead who rest there.
As far as tours go, Branson's ghost tour wasn't as polished as some we have been on. Our tour guide was admittedly new - he had only been on the job for two months, but what he lacked in experience, he made up for in enthusiasm and honest belief. (He did mention that he was a skeptic until he met his boss. Then things changed.) But as far as an eeriness factor goes, Branson was probably the creepiest one we've ever done.
There is something unsettled in that land, something uneasy and dark. Maybe it's the history. Maybe it's the nature of the spirits that tend to hang around that particular town. I'm not sure what it was, but I came away with the very strong sense that quite a number of Branson's dead do not rest in peace.