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Arts & Culture

Old Town Haunted History walking tour

Paranormal Paparazzi Michael Gavin and Legends Dark Amusements co-owner Dan Carro pursue a longtime passion




Is anyone who reads my column knows, Halloween is easily my favorite time of the year. But there are still more than six long months to go until 2014’s spooky season, and while I enjoy Orlando’s haunted attractions for their ingenious effects and enthusiastic actors, it’s exceedingly rare for one to startle me, much less send a genuine shiver up my spine. Thankfully, the same cannot be said about the new Haunted History tour now being presented by Legends Dark Amusements, the same folks who resurrected Old Town’s defunct Grimm House late last year. Unlike Legends’ year-round A Haunting at Old Town walk-through attraction, there are no grease-painted scareactors or gory animatronics to scare you on this excursion – only good old-fashioned (and allegedly genuine) ghost stories.

The Old Town Haunted History walking tour, which will be conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings during the off-season as well as weekend late nights at peak times, is the product of two men’s longtime passion for pursuing the unexplained. Michael Gavin (aka “the Paranormal Paparazzi”), who has decades of experience with horror-themed entertainment and ghost-hunting groups, helped research and write the 90-minute tour. Legends co-owner Dan Carro, who portrays the haunt’s patriarch Archibald Ashdown and led the exclusive media preview I experienced earlier this month, contributed personal tales from his experience working in many of Orlando’s fabled haunted attractions, including the late, lamented Terror on Church Street and Skull Kingdom.

So why stage a survey of supposedly “real” spirits inside a blue-collar tourist trap like Old Town? Was the Kissimmee complex of cut-rate gift shops and carnival rides built on top of an ancient Indian burial ground? Were a slew of ghastly murders committed there? In a word, no. But as Carro says, as a long-running attraction the area has drawn hundreds of thousands – both living and dead – and perhaps some of their presences remain even after they have departed. After all, as Carro half-jokingly suggests, “We are all ghosts; we’re just still using our bodies!”

I’m a cynic at heart, so I can’t say my stroll around Old Town turned me into a true believer. And I promised Carro I wouldn’t divulge all of his tour’s spirited secrets, but here are seven freaky facts I learned during our voyage into the netherworld. If you’ve got $20 and a free evening, take the trip down to 192 and decide for yourself if there’s really a portal there to the great beyond. Just be warned – though some guests have reported experiencing a ghostly presence, supernatural sightings “are not guaranteed.”

No. 1: The Old Town Portrait Gallery, where guests can be photographed in old-fashioned costumes, has been a staple of the complex since 1986, and original owner John Howard Thompson still stops in regularly. The only catch is that he died in 2005. Employees report seeing hats and other objects fly off shelves, but they find his prankster presence comforting rather than frightening.

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