For 22 years, Aimee Aul and Christina Garner have been docents (otherwise known as ghost guides) for the Haunted Walking Tours at the Fullerton Museum Center, escorting visitors to some of the most haunted historical locations around town. Recently, I had a chance to interview them about their experiences.
The haunted walking tours began in 2001. According to Aul, FMC staff wanted to do a Halloween fundraiser at a historic location. She suggested something in the “edutainment” arena, including local history ghost stories. Then museum director Joe Felz loved her idea and gave her complete creative freedom. This is how the tours we know today came to life.
“Stories came from Mike Ritto, Sylvia Palmer Mudrick, Cathy Thomas, as well as numerous ghost eyewitnesses,” said Aul. “I spent countless hours interviewing people and going through archives at the local history room. We premiered the tour that fall…Christina [Garner] contacted me and volunteered to lead some tours. I never expected it to be so popular! We sold out immediately. This was before paranormal tourism was widespread.”
Garner had previously been on ghost walks in other cities and countries around the world and thought it would be fantastic if Fullerton could have its own tours. She felt that Aul had done a wonderful job of finding historical and psychic research and blending them together.
Aul said, “My most memorable experiences include meeting NOPS (The North Orange County Paranormal Society) and joining them on a couple of paranormal investigations.”
“Some of the more interesting groups that I’ve taken on these tours include the psychics from the Queen Mary Haunt, Boy Scout troops, and the Red Hat Society ladies,” Garner said. “Imagine taking a tour with the Phantom Coach Society? They’re also called the Hearse Owners of Orange County…So those were some interesting tours that I took.”
She explained that many cultures believe that the world is full of ghosts and spirits and that it’s our job to take good care of them. She said that, since Puritan times, ghosts were seen as a form of ancestor worship and that it still seems to be a deep-seated need since people all over town are now putting up graveyards and ghost decorations. Because of her interest and background working in world language and culture, Garner did take a group of international students from Cal State Fullerton on the FMC haunted walk, and she shared with me some of their reactions to American ghost tours. Overall, the international students were eager to go on the tour with her.
A student from Kuwait wanted Garner to listen to his phone. She recalls him saying, “There’s a ghost in my cell phone. When I call my sister, I always hear a strange voice. Listen to it; I want you to hear this.”
A Vietnamese student told Garner that in her country, a ghost will take over a person to control them, and you really have to perform a ritual to make it leave. A student from Brazil shared with her that their uncle was taken over by a ghost when he was a child, and he spoke in a strange language in the deep voice of an adult.
“Another student from India had asked me if I had seen the YouTube videos of ghosts and also if this evening we would be detecting ghosts or if we would also be getting in touch with other spirits and demons. One Arabic-speaking student told me that to him, “la llorona” sounds like “you can’t see it” in Arabic. So, we had a very rich night,” said Garner.
The night before my interview with Garner, she had hosted a tour where she’d heard from a student with Japanese heritage about river ghosts and why they might be around.
“So, I hope we can keep adding more from the world cultures to our tour,” Garner said.
There are places around town that won’t fit into a two-hour walk.
Aul said, “The police station is just a little too far for our walk but haunted as all get out. This might have something to do with the arm bone in the cornerstone.”
Garner added that Angelo’s and Vinci’s is now closed, so tours can’t go there, “It’s harder to get into the buildings sometimes because that’s usually more related to insurance and liability, and modern considerations like that. There are places that have great stories, but we can’t get to everything in one night, which means you have to come back the next year to see what we’ve found out.”
Aul has never personally experienced anything paranormal on the tours. “This is probably a good thing! I think I’d be too freaked out to continue! I get excited about the history, meeting people from the past, and telling their stories. Ghost stories are part of the oral history that gives a community a sense of shared history,” she said.
According to Garner, the reason people love to go on ghost walks and join in with great enthusiasm is because, on a larger scale, we need time to honor the dead and for grief and mourning. She thinks our culture doesn’t provide much of that.
“Many of us in the United States, at least those of us who came over as immigrants, now live far from the bones of our own ancestors. Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a very healthy ritual for much of the population to allow them that chance to pay respects to the dead. Actually, having a way to do public grief, collective grief has been lost in our culture.”
One year, Garner had a woman attend a tour who had just lost her family in the last few months. She was going on every ghost tour she could find in Southern California because every time she went on one, it was an affirmation that people’s names would still be spoken and there would still be a connection with life and the living.
“When we have these ghost tours that are proliferating across the country over time, there are three things we can kind of pin down,” explained Garner.
“One of them is that we come to terms with the architecture of the world we’re living in. We process history, and we find some way to gather together and deal with death and mourning. Now, we’re not visiting places where people have suffered recent trauma; we’re looking at places where the distance of time lets us talk about and bring to life these characters around town. Usually, people at the end of the tour really want to keep talking. They want to share stories; they want to tell the psychic investigators who accompany us what they saw at their homes or what they experienced and feel validated. It’s really a way for all of us to grow tighter as a community and process what’s common to all of us: our fear of death and mourning.”
Haunted Fullerton Walking Tours fundraiser for the Fullerton Museum Center’s public education program. For more information, visit the Events & Programs at (714) 519-4461