By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester embraces history and each October when the moon hangs high in the night sky, the ghosts of its past come alive and share their stories with visitors.
Costumed characters portray individuals who helped shape the city and are stationed throughout the downtown area. Their mission is one of a historical haunting intended to educate, not scare.
The Canal Winchester Area Historical Society’s annual Ghost Tour, which began in 2005 with the genesis of an idea by a resident and brought to fruition the following year by original tour organizer Elaine Thomas and a group of dedicated volunteers, takes place this year on Oct. 21 and 22.
“There are several stops that have been researched over the years and we research new stops,” said tour coordinator Jill Amos. “Last year we met with the Hockman family for stories that were used in the script for the Hockman/Chaney Mill. This year we were able to meet with the Caslow family and not only confirm some of the facts for the Caslow Pharmacy but also to establish a new stop. Although the owners of the property do not usually participate in the process, we have had owners who wanted to play the part of their characters, which was a fantastic addition to the tour.”
Before the first tour stepped off in 2006—led by lantern-carrying guides—countless hours were spent on securing sites and delving into the society’s archives by Jeanette Schneider and Judy Fleming in researching potential tour stops.
Readying the inaugural event involved planning on many levels and in areas unfamiliar to historical society volunteers, such as publicity, ticketing and tour logistics.
And while problems occasionally pop up—in the first year, two actors on opposite sides of the street thought the tour was over, changed clothes and started to leave (one was eventually flagged down, changed back into period dress and made it back in time for the next group) or church doors that do not open—visitors are rarely aware of any glitches.
Actors are now notified when the last group passes their stop by a simple system of forward and reverse cards given to them by the last tour guides.
In 2019, students from the Canal Winchester performing arts department started participating in the ghost tour as teen volunteers and historical characters and now hone their performances in the weeks leading up to the tour.
“This is the third year that the drama team has partnered with us,” said Amos. “They usually have about 10 to 15 students participating in the tour and they are incredible. They bring a lot of energy to the tour. We start meeting with Director Abbey Phillips in March to start setting the stops, seeing what new stops we want to research and creating our plan for the year.”
Once locations are determined, previous scripts are updated and rewritten and new scripts are created, as necessary.
Amos said, in working with the drama department students, the historical society created a number of smaller, additional stops or run-ons along the way, which help break up the walking portion of the tour.
“The potential for ad-libbing is totally up to the character,” said Amos. “We provide them with a researched script and ask that they stick to the facts since we are a history based tour, but I do know that some of our characters are very interactive with the guests and ask questions or talk with them.”
The rain or shine walking tour of seven stops takes place Oct. 21 and 22. Tours last approximately 90 minutes and begin at 7 p.m. with a new tour departing every 15 minutes.
Tours starts from the historical complex located at 10 W. Oak St. Tickets may be purchased at the Queen of the Line Train Depot beginning at 6:30 p.m. with the last tour departing at 7:30 p.m.
Ticket prices have not changed since 2006 and are still $10 for adults and $5 for students, ages 6-18. Children under age 5 are free. A bus tour runs Friday night and has limited seating. Tickets must be purchased in advance for the bus tour. For more information, visit www.cwhistory.org.
“This is a great partnership that shares some of the great history of our amazing city,” said Amos. “Today’s memories are tomorrow’s history.”