Of course I love October. How can I not love a month dedicated to horror and beer? Exactly.
In honor of this very best of all months, I present to you a very sporadic, guaranteed to be inconsistent, "31" Days of Halloween, during which I'll try to blog nearly every day about all things ghoulish (and maybe even beer-y).
I begin with an interview with Tim Krepp, tour guide and author of "Capitol Hill Haunts." Check out his book on Amazon, and if you're in the D.C. area, be sure to check out his blog and Facebook page for live event listings.
And of course don't forget to check back here frequently for more Halloween-y goodness! (And if you're a writer, filmmaker, critic, historian, what-have-you, with a passion for all things ghastly, feel free to contact me to tell me what you're working on, or just why you love Halloween -- I'd love to hear about it and share it here!)
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Tim Krepp and Capitol Hill Haunts
1. How did you become interested in ghosts and ghost stories in the first place?
Hmmm, I guess because as someone who's always loved history, I want an opportunity to go back a talk directly to the participants. You really were that into the play you couldn't turn around, Mr. Lincoln? No, knock down that dirty, old Penn Station and build a new one, people will LOVE it in 50 years. So perhaps it's more heckling than a spirit of inquiry, but ghosts seem like a perfect shortcut for historians, especially where the, um, conventional, record is skimpy. Not to mention who first told the story and to whom are interesting data points in their own rights.
2. Do you think DC has a disproportionate number of ghosts? or just the right amount, given its history?
Yes, sadly disproportionate! So much of our history has been destroyed to build the Federal buildings and grand vistas that we've lost quite a bit of the real fabric of the city, where people lived and died. The White House, Capitol, etc., used to be surrounded by houses and shops. That's all gone. You can hardly blame ghosts for not sticking around when entire neighborhoods were bulldozed. No ghost wants to haunt some sterile neoclassical marble clad monstrosity. For true DC ghosts, you've got to get off the Mall and into the real neighborhoods.
3. Is any part of you a believer? What have you seen that has made you believe, if anything? what have you seen that has made you skeptical?
Yes? No? Maybe? I maintain a studious agnosticism, with perhaps a slight wistful bias. I like to say that my role is to share the stories and help listeners fit it into the real "history" of a site or person. I'm skeptical of many a story, but more than a few give me the chills. But no ghosts have chosen to reveal themselves to me. Yet.
4. Paranormal pop culture is bigger than ever. How do you feel about that?
I'm looking to tell fun stories to people who want to hear them, and perhaps in the process explore a little of our shared history. Ghost stories are a gateway drug to exploring our past, which I love to do. If it can hook a few more folks, why not?
5. What do you think is the best way for people to experience a "haunted" location? a guided tour? alone in the dead of night? or some other way?
Alone, at night, reading my book by candlelight! Seriously though, there's a lot to be said for letting your mind fill in the gaps. Any good ghost story, or any story for that matter, is like yeast. You sprinkle it in warm water and let it grow on it's own. I love giving a tour, but on a tour, you aren't' thinking, you're just receiving information. Reading, especially alone, gets the mind going on its own.
6. You've said the truth shouldn't get in the way of a good ghost story (on your blog). What do you think the elements of a good ghost story are?
Details! But not all of them. Details capture what it was like to hear a ghost, or what life was like in, say, John Quincy Adams's Washington. But you can't footnote yourself. You have to stay focused on the story at hand and not wander off on tangents. Hence, my line about truth not getting in the way of a good story. You wouldn't introduce a ghost story as a master's thesis, you shouldn't attempt to do the reverse.
7. What is your take on "dark tourism" (the phenomenon of visiting macabre, haunted, or deathly sites, such as battlefields and the sites of mass murders, tragedies, etc.)?
We all digest the past in our own way. Some of it's plainly exploitative (I'm looking at you, Gettysburg!), but I don't think we should be too judgmental. It's hard for the mind to comprehend the miserable things we've done as humans to each other, and sometimes a good, campy, ghost tour let's us explore horrific events and not lose our minds.
8. Finally, is there one myth you're sick of hearing perpetuated about DC? one ghost story you're sick of hearing?
The Demon Cat. It reportedly haunts the Capitol, and some of the early stories are great, but he's too damn unreliable. Lot's of great stuff around the Civil War, and supposedly he's seen just before every great national tragedy, in particular the 1929 stock market crash and Kennedy's assassination but interestingly enough neither Pearl Harbor or 9/11. I'm dubious about the time with Kennedy. I think it's someone taking a pretty good ghost story and adding more recent sitings. I'm keeping my eye open for the Cat appearing before 9/11 so I can call shenanigans.
Tim Krepp is a tour guide and author in Washington, DC. His new book, Capitol Hill Haunts explores the ghostly history of one of DC's oldest neighborhoods. To his knowledge, no ghosts live with him, his daughters, or his wife in the Capitol Hill row house.