A man with a banjo and a cowboy hat strummed a tune on a chilly October night as a small and curious crowd gathered for what the Lawrence Arts Center calls “Ghosting Lawrence,” a walking tour of some of the haunted and spooky spots in in town.
The tour dates lasts throughout October and ends on Nov. 1.
The COVID-19 pandemic didn't stop the arts center from spreading Halloween spirit around town. Artistic Director of Performing Arts Emeritus Ric Averill led the tour on a one-mile walk around Massachusetts street.
According to Ghosting Lawrence's website, the tour, which started in 2019, is based on authenticated history in Haunted Downtown Lawrence from Quantrill’s Raid through the mid 1900s.
The event was "assisted by spirits dancing, playing, and singing their way through the rich haunted history of Lawrence," according to the website.
The ghosts were played by four performers, including two actors and two instrumentalists, who met the tour throughout its path to interact with the audience and provide information about their lives and deaths.
The eerie excursion began at the arts center, and circled around Massachusetts Street. As a non-Lawrence native, I was previously unaware of some of the uncanny folklore that makes up the town, but I was interested in learning more.
As soon as I arrived at the tour, I was greeted by the banjo-playing tour leader, Ric Averill. Our group consisted of about 20 people, and we were all masked and socially distanced outside.
The tour began by learning about Billy Waugh, the Lawrence Arts Center’s own theater ghost who was killed in Quantrill’s Raid in Lawrence in 1863.
Besides occasionally playing with the lights, Averill says Billy does not cause the theatre any trouble.
“We like to think Billy is a friendly ghost,” he said.
Averill says the most haunted spot in Lawrence is the 700 block of Massachusetts Street. As the tour walked to its next destination, we were greeted by an actor portraying the ghost of Andrew Carnegie, at the front of the Carnegie building.
The ghost was upset that the building, which was constructed in 1904 from a $27,000 grant from Carnegie himself, and was intended to be a library, is now used as Freedom’s Frontier, according to the City of Lawrence website. Carnegie eventually came around to the new space when he learned that the building holds all the stories of Lawrence’s history.
The tour then explored the legend of “The Toy Store Ghost,” the wife of the original building owner who died of malaria. According to the tour guide, once after employees rearranged the entire store, they came into work the next day to find an Ouija board in its original place, as if it had never been moved.
We continued our spooky stroll until we were stopped by an actress portraying a medium just outside of 715 Restaurant. The medium channeled Carry Nation, who came out to shame the men in the crowd for their drinking habits. Oscar Wilde eventually came through the medium, and he invited us to his 1882 lecture over decorative arts in Liberty Hall.
We walked past the Eldridge Hotel, and heard about the infamous ghost of Shalor Eldridge in room 506. Since the Eldridge House's original cornerstone is located in room 506, Eldridge's spirit manifests in that room, according to the book “Haunted Lawrence.”
We ventured out to a haunted block on Rhode Island Street made up of homes that survived Quantrill’s Raid. We met up with a resident of one of the houses, who told us that the ghosts that dwell in his house are friendly, as they made a civil agreement to not bother each other.
While making our final round around the block, we met one last apparition: The Ghost of Students’ Past, who was on the lookout for a treat from Joe’s Bakery. The ghost was disappointed to discover that, like him, Joe’s is a thing of the past.
After several more stops, filled with ghosts, spooky stories and macabre history lessons, the tour ended where it began, back at the Arts Center, where Averill performed one last folk song, and we went our separate ways.
The tour adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and continued with increased safety measures including masks and socially-distanced spectres.
Elizabeth Sullivan, Director of Performing Arts at the Lawrence Arts Center, says that putting on this tour is important for the community especially during the pandemic.
“It’s vital that we keep the arts alive at this time,” Sullivan said.
“Ghosting Lawrence” was the perfect safe and socially distant activity to get one into the spirit of the season.