When I first began collecting ghost stories, I began spending a lot of time with historians and story tellers. I also spent a great deal of time in the Heritage Room at Sarah Hightower Regional Library in Rome. Ga. I made some great friends, I heard some great stories, and I came upon some ugly truths as well.
In one instance, I was reading a rare collection of ghost stories collected in the early 1980s. Copies of this book sold for over $100 on Amazon, as the book was out of print. I read the book front to back and took many notes. There was one story in the book that captured my attention. It was an interview with an old reverend who has since passed away. It was his sincere account of his own paranormal experience, which took place back in the 1940’s. He was sincere in his retelling and I had a great deal of respect for him as he tried his best to integrate his fundamental Christian beliefs with what he had seen. Fast forward to months later- I was searching online about a haunting in that same area and I came across a rather well-known website that covers strange and paranormal experiences here in Georgia. Lo and Behold, I read an account of the reverend’s story- yet is was being told be another storyteller/ historian who claimed it was HIS experience! As a teacher, writer, and former librarian, this set off every alarm in my little brain and heart. This was wrong on SO MANY levels. Call me naive. I was floored! Seriously- this was outright plagiarism in my book.
Later on, I was interviewing another storyteller/ historian who was involved with a ghost tour in her town. As she told me stories from the area, I asked about one of the stops on the tour. “Oh no, honey, that one’s not true,’ she said. ‘I mean, the story happened, but it happened elsewhere, We just needed a story for that building so we could include it in the tour. So we just stuck that one there.”
A couple weeks ago I posted on the history site of a certain Northwest Georgia town (known for it’s “haunted places”) that I am collecting ghost stories for a book on Ghosts of Northwest Georgia. I got a (QUICK!!!) response from a lady in that town who informed me that, if I would PAY for a ghost tour of the town, they would share their stories. Sadly, I don’t believe a single tale I hear from this town now. I feel like that are making up ghost stories to gain tourism. Being noted in a book would bring in business, would it not? They just sell made-up tales for money, in my opinion.
This has changed the way I look at local legends and ghost stories. I still love them. I still collect them. However, I also look at the teller as well as the tale. When the average Joe (or Jolene) sends me their sincere personal tale, I take it for the truth. They believe it, so I believe it. But do I believe every story I hear on a haunted tour? No, I am afraid I don’t. Where there is fame to be gained, or money to be made (or public recognition being sought)…. I take it with a grain of salt.
Am I wrong to feel this way? What are your experiences with tours and such? Maybe I have allowed a few bad apples to wrongfully color my opinions. I DO honestly listen to and read every tale. It’s just that, when certain local celebrities have an agenda… it just makes me wonder….