Spooky tales by lantern light

3 years ago

October is the month in which kids start looking forward to picking out Halloween costumes and some people decorate their front porches with mums.  It is also a time when spooky tales seem to come to the forefront of everyone’s minds.  

Having been forged literally out of the wilderness in 1828, Presque Isle has its share of spooky tales.  These tales are the basis for Presque Isle Historical Society’s annual Haunted Lantern Tours coming up on Friday, Oct. 15, and Saturday, Oct. 16.  It being Halloween time, the society has conjured up 13 such tales for the event with historical interpreters at each of the 13 sites to entertain and educate.  The tours are billed as the “slightly scary, kinda creepy true tales of historic downtown” and are suitable for all ages.  The true stories include ghosts, missing digits, murder, leaving town under mysterious circumstances, espionage, fires, gravestones, caskets and more.  

One such tale involves the R.W. Wight & Son Furniture store, which was also the former home of Wintergreen Arts Center on State Street.  One of the earliest uses of the building was as an opera house, one of the major social venues in the village.  As a remnant from the opera house days, one can see the remnants of a beautiful ballroom on the second floor.  During its life as a furniture store, the Wights also sold caskets, which interestingly enough were displayed on that ballroom floor.  In relation to those caskets, an embalming room was established in the basement, which still remains today.  

One of the previous executive directors of Wintergreen Arts tells the story of working quite late into the night, getting ready to leave for vacation the following day, when the sounds of what appeared to be the children of the tenants upstairs running across the ballroom floor could plainly be heard.  It was later learned that there was no one upstairs or even anywhere in the building other than the director at the time.  Others tell the tales of people seemingly coming to life while on the embalming table.  

On the humorous side of stories from the building comes the tales of a teenage Billy Wight.  In 1959, he and his friend, Albie Walken, bought a 1928 Nash automobile for $40.  The car was in desperate need of a new roof, so the two unfurled the green and white striped fabric awning over the building, thinking Billy’s dad would never notice, and cut some of it to use as a new roof for the car.  Needless to say, the deed did not go unnoticed.  

To hear more of these tales of downtown, join Presque Isle Historical Society on Oct. 15 and 16 for the Haunted Lantern Tours.  The tours include two walking tours (at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and two trolley tours (at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) on each of the nights.  

Reservations are required for the trolley tours by emailing pihistoricalsociety@hotmail.com.  Tickets can be purchased on the nights of the tours, which begin at the Historic Fire Station at 11 Church Street.  The tours are rain or (moon) shine.

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.