The growing popularity of Halloween has U.S. consumers spending what’s expected to be a record $10.6 billion for this frightful season.
Green Bay-area entrepreneur Tim Freiss will realize only a tiny fraction of that revenue, but he does see a dramatic increase in customers during October. His business, Green Bay Ghost Tours, has been around since 2008 and is ramping back up after being sidelined by COVID-19.
“During the pandemic, I had to just shut down,” Freiss explained. “That hurt because I wasn’t bringing in any income, and then lost my job when the company I worked for closed. It was a rough couple of years.”
It wasn’t until this year that he got the business going again. He now has a full-time job with Brown County and feels like things are getting back on track.
“By next year, I want to be up and running full force,” he said, as he offered only walking tours this year. “I didn’t push too hard this year; my marketing was limited mostly to putting up yard signs around Green Bay.”
In addition, he benefitted from his membership in Discover Green Bay, formerly the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, and as a listed tourist attraction on Tripadvisor. Those postings have been effective in bringing in tourists and make up about half of his customers. The tours take about two hours and go from Captain’s Walk Winery to the downtown YMCA, both places that are purported to be haunted.
“Before I started the business, I did research for about 2.5 years. I compiled stories and took tours in Sturgeon Bay, Fish Creek, and Madison to see how they ran theirs. I wanted to see what I could do that would be different,” Freiss recalled.
He was determined that his niche would be to get inside of some of the haunted buildings rather than just stand outside and talk about them. To that end, he spent hours with the owners of businesses such as Captain’s Walk and St. Brendan’s Inn, and was thrilled that they agreed to the tours. They allowed access during hours when they were open as long as the businesses weren’t disrupted.
Spirit energy, but without the conjuring
For customers of those businesses, on a given night, they might be surprised to see a group of ghost hunters walking in with EMF meters similar to those used by electricians. The meters were added to more recent tours to detect unusual magnetic fields, and add another layer of fun to the experience.
“The meters work well for ghost hunting because a spirit is energy, so it can be detected,” Freiss said. “At a tour last night, there was a woman who detected that and also felt cold around her. I told her that there might be something standing by her, and it could be paranormal.”
But if this all sounds pretty serious, Freiss said that it isn’t. Dressed in period clothing, he says his tour is full of corny jokes and very much on the light side. He has never had a customer leave the tour frightened. And, while he believes that there might be some ghosts haunting buildings, he stays away from the darker side.
“There are a lot of people who say that they have things happening to them that they can’t explain, and there are things that should be avoided,” he noted. “I don’t conjure; I don’t agitate; I don’t try to encourage that. I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to use a Ouija board or try to communicate in that way.”
Instead, he emphasizes the history of the buildings and says it is one of his passions to study and validate why a place might be haunted. A good ghost tour, he says, will explain why something might be there, who they might be, and why they might be attached to the building − the here and why of it.
Freiss collects ‘fascinating’ information, and artifacts
One of his favorite stories involves Captain’s Walk where Helen Morrow is believed to be a ghost in residence. She inherited the building in the early 1920s from her dad, but lost it due to economic hardship. It is said that she never left. He tells this story along with other legendary tales and folklore. There is no shortage of information – he estimates that there are several hundred potentially haunted locations in the area.
Freiss has published many of these stories in his book, “Haunted Green Bay,” and continues to look for new material to feature. But he also spends hours studying the history of the area with ghosts not included, and does a cemetery tour.
“This tour includes Victorian to modern day cemetery customs, the influence of the privatizing movement of cemeteries and the meanings behind gravestone styles, insignias, and motifs.” he said. “You will also hear several fascinating stories about some interesting local figures. It is not a haunted tour.”
Freiss says that the best part of the business is that he is having fun. He finds the history to be fascinating, and he’s a collector of artifacts. He has leased a space on Oneida Street, and people can view the collection by reservation (on his website, www.greenbayghosttours.com). He has named it “Night Shades,” a term for ghost spirits.
Visitors will find African tribal items, travel masks, statutes, and even a bone flute, an item used by a shaman for conjuring spirits. It is made out of an actual human femur bone that is hollowed out and decorated with metal.
Continuing to develop the museum is only part of his future plans. He considers the possibility of having ghost tours with trained hosts in other communities along with other types of tours.
“Cities need to know their history and I’d like to have a history tour and maybe an architectural tour,” Freiss said. “But I need to do it as I can. It can be overwhelming at times.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.
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