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Paranormal profits: October brings business boo-st for haunted tourism

Steve and Judy Skinner offer tours at Haunted Castle House in Brumley.
Courtesy of Steve Skinner
Steve and Judy Skinner offer tours at Haunted Castle House in Brumley.

Steve Skinner, a retired dermatologist in Alabama, was a ghost skeptic for most of his life. The paranormal was never an interest of his. He didn’t believe it was real.

In 2012, that all changed. Skinner’s daughter was convinced the family’s house was haunted. To put the debate to rest, he took his family on vacation to the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, known as one of America’s most haunted hotels.

That weekend, Skinner said he saw things he couldn’t explain.

“It just totally blew my mind,” Skinner said. “I just had to change my world paradigm. I was fascinated with the paranormal because I knew it wasn't real. And now all of a sudden, I found out I was wrong.”

He began to explore more locations, but Skinner was frustrated by the amount of ghost tours he deemed to be staged. So, in 2018, Skinner and his wife Judy purchased an old house in Brumley, near the Lake of the Ozarks. The couple fixed it up, and began investigating for the paranormal.

The Skinners have created a business out of the location, which they call the Haunted Castle House. They take reservations for tours and events. This year, Skinner expects to bring in about $6,000 to $7,000.

Fall is by far the busiest time of year. October accounts for about one-third of the year’s total income, Skinner said.

“(When) we get to September, October, the tours that we offer usually fill up very quickly,” he said.

Businesses like the Skinners’ thrive during the fall. The demand for ghost tours and spooky activities increases drastically in October during the Halloween season.

In Missouri, old houses and mansions accounted for about 2% of the state’s tourism before the pandemic. Nationally, attractions advertised as haunted generate as much as $300 million, according to industry group American Haunts.

Many locations are seeing increased revenues this year after taking a hit from the pandemic, managers and ghost hunters from across the state said.

Every tour offered at the Haunted Castle House filled up in 2022, Skinner said, including overnight investigations, four-hour tours, one-hour tours and a Halloween candlelight tour new this season.

In 2019, its first year open, the house brought in $3,000. Last year, The Skinners made $500, which he said was because of the pandemic.

The house typically attracts about 100 visitors per year, he said, but the Skinners have to turn away many requests. They still live in Alabama and only make trips up to Brumley for a few weeks at a time.

National attraction

The Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City is one of the more well-known attractions among ghost enthusiasts. The city began offering history tours in the penitentiary in 2009. In 2011, the ghost tours began.

The penitentiary has been through a lot in the past few years, but it still attracts business for the city. A tornado took the roof off of the property’s oldest building in 2019, which affected the penitentiary’s tour numbers, said Alexandra Bobbitt, the communications and field manager for the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Then, revenue took a hit due to the pandemic. But business has been rebounding, Bobbitt said.

Last year the penitentiary brought in about $550,000. As of Friday, it had made about $783,000 this year, Bobbitt said.

Ghost tours have accounted for just over 22% of this year’s sales. And, the ghost tours accounted for more than 60% of October's sales heading into the Halloween weekend.

“In October with Halloween, everybody's in that spooky, fall mood,” Bobbitt said. “Revenue does go up because our ghost tours are more expensive than our normal history tours. “

The Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City makes a little less than one-fourth of its revenue from ghost tours.
Via Missouri State Penitentiary on Facebook
The Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City makes a little less than one-fourth of its revenue from ghost tours.

The tours vary in length and intensity. The most offered tour is a $35, two-hour ghost tour of the former prison, but the penitentiary offers ghost hunting classes, five-hour overnight tours and eight-hour overnight tours. The overnight tours, which range from $75 to $100, are by far the most popular, Bobbitt said.

“We typically put our schedule out at the beginning of February. And typically those are the ones to go the quickest,” Bobbitt said. “So (in September), both three-, five- and eight-hour overnight tours and the class, they're already sold out for the season.”

The penitentiary has been featured on television shows like Ghost Hunters and movies like the Haunting of Cellblock 11, which Bobbitt said drives customers to the prison in droves.

“It doesn't matter if it was on Discovery+ and then aired later on the travel channel, we still reap the benefits of being on television,” Bobbitt said. “It puts Jefferson City on the regional and even on the national map.”

Year-round ghost hunting

In St. Louis, one of the most popular destinations for ghost tourism is the old mansion of the Lemp family.

The Lemp Mansion hosts mystery dinners, weddings, private events and bus tours. It also offers five rooms for overnight accommodations and a full-service restaurant.

A popular attraction during the fall season is its ghost tours, which have been run by resident ghost hunter Betsy Burnett-Belanger for 27 years. The weekly tours, which are offered year round, give visitors an over two hour tour of the house.

“We kind of joke a little bit that people think the mansion is really only haunted in October,” Burnett-Belanger said.

The Lemp Mansion in St. Louis and other sites across Missouri attract tourists interested in ghost hunting.
Courtesy of the Lemp Mansion
The Lemp Mansion in St. Louis and other sites across Missouri attract tourists interested in ghost hunting.

An annual Halloween party that costs about $80 to $90 per ticket draws about 800 people, she said.

The Lemp Mansion is more than 150 years old, and the operation has thrived on the history of the house since opening to the public in 1977. The variety of offerings helped the business through the pandemic, and the ghost tours have since resumed, Burnett-Belanger said.

After the Halloween season is over, the haunted business inevitably begins to slow down.

While the Lemp Mansion and Haunted Castle House keep their doors open despite a tailing off in paranormal interest, the Missouri State Penitentiary closes its doors for the season at the end of November.

The Lemp Mansion’s mystery dinners, comedy shows and other offerings not necessarily geared toward the paranormal may take the spotlight from the ghost tours during the rest of the year. But visitors are still drawn in by the possibility of the paranormal.

“You can't separate the ghosts from the place,” Burnett-Belanger said.

Teddy Maiorca is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and works as a reporter and producer for Missouri Business Alert.
Missouri Business Alert keeps business decision makers and entrepreneurs informed about the stories important to them, from corporate boardrooms to the state Capitol.
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