Supernatural immersion goal of new "Haunted Williamsburg" program

aheymann@vagazette.com

Mel Horan, a storyteller with Colonial Williamsburg, lures a group of visitors into the Everard House with only a lantern lighting the way.

There, he regales visitors about one of the home’s ghostly encounters.

“I’m very grateful I got to share with you this story in the house — but still we have not experienced the room where it happened,” Horan said. “I’d like to take you downstairs into the cellar to feel it for yourself. What do you think?”

The group silently stared at Horan, a sense of uneasiness filling the room.

“No? Well you’re in luck. The (Colonial Williamsburg) Foundation drew the line there; they said we are not taking anyone down into that basement,” Horan said. The group burst into relieved laughter.

This is “Haunted Williamsburg,” the only ghost tour that goes into the buildings at Colonial Williamsburg, and this year it offers several new stories and locations to give guests a fright. It runs twice nightly in the Historic Area.

“That’s a really special thing,” said Lindsey Foster, creative director for the program. “… If you want to experience up close and personal, literally the only way to do that is ‘Haunted Williamsburg.’”

Foster said part of her inspiration for the updated ghost tours was that visitors wanted stories that were unique to Williamsburg.

“We have a lot of things that are recounted to us by employees that work at (Colonial Williamsburg) and guests that visit here, so we wanted to be able to share those stories more broadly and also pepper in tales and paranormal experiences from the 18th century that have made their way through time,” Foster said.

“(We) wanted to give guests a little bit of everything; some of that ancient sort of ghost tale vibe but also remind them that these sorts of these are claimed to happen even now.”

Foster said the kind of storytelling that takes place on this tour helps connect people to the past because it’s a practice humanity has engaged in since the beginning of time.

“Our storytellers are an amazing ensemble to work with, each chosen for their ability to connect and communicate,” Horan said. “Each of us has a little something extra to contribute beyond our personal experiences with the unexplained in the Historic Area, some for more than 30 years.”

Horan said storytellers had an intensive training program where they would recount the same stories to each other in different ways.

“We tried to give good feedback and encourage everyone to step outside of their typical approach to storytelling to really see what we could do with what we call ‘our storytelling bones’ — those kind of core ideas being told in that story, how can those bones get dressed up and look unique to each teller that uses them,” Foster said.

For example, Horan said he’s a sucker for post-modem gossip and loves researching the stories he tells to find details that led to their existence.

“It has been so wonderful to encourage and facilitate these storytellers in their process,” Foster said. “I’ve heard some of these stories many, many, many times, but with this particular season and these storytellers we are so very fortunate to have, it was like I was hearing them for the first time.”

In addition to each storyteller having a unique take on each tale, Foster said there is a large pool of stories and historic spots tour guides use. She said storytellers switch up the tour nightly based on what they feel like telling and the mood of the group.

“You could take that same tour for weeks on end and never get the same tour twice,” Foster said.

In addition to new stories, Foster said new historic sites have been added to the tour as well.

“We have access to a place that’s pretty much never been used before and that’s the laundry of the Everard House. It’s an original building and it doesn’t get used for anything else, and so that we get to have access to it is really, really special,” Foster said.

Horan said guests experiencing their own supernatural happenings isn’t uncommon.

“Last year, a week wouldn’t go by when somebody wouldn’t experience something,” Horan said.

“I’ve had people see things. There was a photograph taken of the campus headed window on the back of (a) house, and the people were really excited because there was a shadow. I didn’t wanna say ‘well, that’s the shadow of the roof,’ but then I looked at the photo, and there standing on the balcony was a woman holding a porcelain bowl. They’d been looking at the shadow, they hadn’t noticed the woman standing there, and there was nobody inside because we didn’t have anybody indoors those days.”

Dare to go on a tour?

Tours are 7 and 8:30 p.m. daily. Meet at Playbooth Theater, 214 Palace Green St. Recommended for ages 8 and older. Tickets $12-$19; purchase at colonialwilliamsburg.com/plan/evening?from=tickets.

If you manage to catch a ghost on camera, share your photo with the #HauntedWilliamsburg.

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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