Tour gives ghostly glimpse of downtown

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 20, 2003

Bob Ward leads Faye Pitts, from left, Vickie Turnbon and Renea Shaw of Jackson down Monroe Street during a Vicksburg Historical Ghost Tour Friday night.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[10/18/03]As if on cue, a black cat jumped from the dark shadows as the small tour group walked up China Street Friday night. The cat quickly scurried away through a broken window in a nearby building.

It wouldn’t be the last black cat they saw that night.

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“Vicksburg is an old town with lots of history and yes, there are ghosts,” said Bob Ward dressed all in black and carrying an old wooden cane as the group’s tour guide.

The stories he told are known to many Vicksburg residents. Civil War soldiers who still visit Duff Green Mansion which served as a hospital during the siege of Vicksburg, Mayor Hamilton who prowls the upper floors of City Hall and rides the elevator at night, and Mrs. Lake whose perfume is said to still fill the air at Lakemont.

But for visitors to Vicksburg, even those who don’t come from very far away, the stories are an interesting way to learn a little of the 178-year history of the city.

“I thought (the tour) was great,” said Renea Shaw, one of the group who walked the Vicksburg Historical Ghost Tours.

“I didn’t know any of this and to live in Jackson, that’s sad.”

When not telling spooky stories to tourists, Ward is the economic development coordinator for Vicksburg’s Main Street program. Along with Chris and Cheleste Tillotson, owners of Griz Old Tyme Photography, he operates the tours that start at the store on Washington Street.

The 45-minute tour takes people along Washington, China, Monroe and Jackson streets at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Tickets are $5 and are available at Griz, 1100 Washington St.

A crisp, autumn breeze cut down Washington Street Friday night when the group saw the first black cat along China, but soon Shaw and the others joked that their feline companions had to be the work of Ward, who swore it wasn’t.

A second black cat perched itself on the corner of Monroe and Grove streets as the troop stood under a gas street light looking up at the Old Court House Museum where Ward told the tale of a recent spook sighting at the Baldwin House on Crawford Street.

“It was about three months ago when a lady dressed in black came to the door of the restaurant. A young waiter seated her and turned around to get her a menu, but when he turned back, she had vanished,” Ward said.

“We think she was there to attend the funeral of Aunt Gertrude,” he said. Aunt Gertrude is the lady who rented the second floor of the home in the 1920s and is sometimes still reported to be heard walking around upstairs.

The group was visited by a third cat, this time black with some white patches, along Jackson Street where members of the tour asked Ward if he believed in ghosts.

“I’m not saying I’ve seen any ghosts, but I’ve seen some things I can’t explain,” he said.

But, he added that there is little in the town that people should fear.

“We find very friendly ghosts here in Vicksburg,” he said.

The idea for the tours came from other cities including New Orleans and Gettysburg, Pa., where similar tours have boosted tourism and helped revive interest in historical sites. Ward said his hope is that people who take the tour will be intrigued by the stories and visit places from which the stories emanate.

The tours will run until around Thanksgiving and begin again in the spring, he said.