BOO! The tour guides.
You know what you get when you're a 375-year-old New England city where many homes are known more for their past occupants than their current ones? A lot of wealthy white people ashamed that their families were probably involved in the slave trade. Oh, and ghosts. Lots of ghosts.
Which is why the folks at the Providence Ghost Tour have put together a spooky little $15 walkabout on the East Side every weekend (spring, summer, fall) for the past five years.
The tour begins in Prospect Park and takes you past a variety of landmarks, where stoned Brown and RISD kids claim they've seen Revolutionary War heroes riding horses, and then down to Benefit Street, where the people who built the Providence Athenaeum still, in fact, live in the Athenaeum.
Just so you know they're for real, the tour guides come equipped with a lantern and neat EMF device (what, no Proton Packs?), which allegedly monitors paranormal activity, but also starts to blink whenever someone on the tour gets a text message or decides to question the existence of the afterlife.
Along the 90-minute journey, you hear stories about all the usual suspects if you know Rhode Island history at all. There's the one about Brown purchasing and moving horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's home (naturally it burned to the ground), or the time a man claims to have spotted Edgar Allan Poe (still drunk even in death) on the steps of a local building.
And of course, every kid that ever died while attending Brown is also haunting the hell out of Providence, probably because the student loan companies are still attempting to collect.
The one barrier the tour faces is that in order to draw a crowd (nearly 40 people on a recent Saturday), the voyage needs to begin at a decent hour. In the summer, that means 8 pm, making the mood difficult to set. Telling ghost stories with the sun up is kind of like tanning in the rain; it's difficult to achieve the desired effect.
But that doesn't mean plenty of people don't buy into it. As the tour headed toward its final stop (Governor Sprague's former home), a middle-aged woman charged to the front of the line to confront the tour guide with a picture she had just taken.
"Look at this, what is this?" she asked as she pointed to a picture on her digital camera that appeared to show a shadow behind the guide as he told a story at a previous stop. The guide played coy, either because it was part of his act or he didn't have the heart to tell the woman photography isn't her calling.
The woman, Susan Lent, was in from Massachusetts with a friend to go on the ghost tour. Not only does she believe in the paranormal, she says she once saw her dead aunt in a white dress following a funeral.
She wasn't sure what she was seeing in her picture, but she didn't think it should be dismissed as nothing.
"Doesn't that look like something?" she asked the guide.
As long as the Providence Ghost Tour has people looking for "something," it will continue to thrive. Because in Providence, there's no shortage of questionable activity.