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Ghost tours bring both personal stories and local history to life

Two people stand in front of a lit up red and green trolley bus. "Cheyenne Street Railway" is written on the side.
Ivy Engel
Wyoming Public Media

At the Cheyenne Street Railway Frightseeing Trolley Tours, Sierra Sinclair and driver Rob Farnam take about 25 guests around Cheyenne, pointing out historic landmarks and local homes that each have an unearthly resident or two and telling their stories. One stop is at the Capitol building.

"Thirty years ago, we thought we had every ghost story in Cheyenne, we couldn't have been more wrong," said Sinclair. "During the first tour, we were asked if we heard the ghost story at the Capitol building. Thirty years later, we're still trying to get to the bottom of several rumored ghost stories in the Capitol."

One story is about a young stable keeper and another is about a young lady in a blue ball gown and petticoats.

"What about a suicide in the 1960s that left an unpleasant body odor in the basement walls? Who is the ghost that pushed the cleaning lady down the stairs leading down to the third floor?" she speculates. "And can you believe the story of Governor Clark not wanting glass over his photo? Each time the glass is replaced, the photo falls to the ground and the glass is broken."

The tour runs for about an hour or so. They're incredibly popular and were created by Val Martin and her father about 30 years ago.

It was just the two of them driving the trolley during the Wild West Trolley Tour, a year round historic tour.

"And every evening, when we got done with our tours, we would kind of talk to the other one about what we had learned or who we'd had on," said Martin. "And oftentimes we would hear somebody in the back of the trolleys saying to, you know, the friends that they brought with them, 'That's my house.' And instantly, we would stop, we would ask about the history of their homes and we started collecting ghost stories accidentally."

Despite her best efforts, Martin wasn't able to squeeze all of those ghost stories into her normal historic tours. So she and her dad decided to put them together and make their own ghost-centric tour.

"We didn't know if it was going to be successful. And we asked our bosses if we could do it together for that first year, because generally, on the trolley, the driver is also the tour guide," she said. "And so we did it together, just because we didn't know if it would succeed, if we'd ever get to do it again, we wanted both to have a chance to do it."

But the ghost tours were incredibly popular and they became a staple in local residents' October plans. Martin said ghost tours are the opposite of the history tours, with more locals than tourists attending. People even attend them several years in a row, because the stories change every year. This year, for the first time, they started the tours in September and they've all been close to selling out, if not completely booked.

That's the same experience Lynnette Nelson, the founder of Ghost Tours of Laramie City, has had. They've been doing tours in Laramie since 2000.

"It's a way to showcase the Wyoming Territorial Prison in a different sense and to showcase the history of Laramie," Nelson said.

They only do tours a few weekend evenings in October, but they almost always sell out. The proceeds from their tours, which focus on the Territorial Prison, but do visit a few other locations, help support the prison.

The stories they share come from historic research and personal stories.

"We do stick to the facts of the story. But then, sometimes we embellish it, like, we'll say, 'Did this really happen?' Or, you know, 'Could this have happened?'" she said. "And so we embellish it, and we like to add reenactments here and there too, just because it's Halloween."

Val Martin with the Cheyenne Frightseeing Trolley Tours agrees - a little bit of theatrics never hurts.

"These are the things that people have reported. These are the things that I have found that fit for history. I always want to tell a story," said Martin. "I mean, it's a ghost tour, I want it to be dramatic. I want it to leave people… my theory was when they get off the trolley, I want them looking back over their shoulder, whether it be that 'I want more stories,' or 'What's behind me?' I want that adrenaline rush for them."

That adrenaline rush seems to keep people hooked, coming back for more. And Martin is already gathering more ghost stories for next year. Like the one trolley driver Rob Farnam told.

"I went around the block, because I wanted to show them the upstairs window. I don't normally do that. But you know, it's kind of funny, oddly enough, Ken was on my trolleys the other day," Farnam recalled. "And a couple of years ago, I used to drive a van and I used to pick up the railroad workers, take them to the hotel. So I'd always come down through here, and I'd always see that doll in the window. And it would always be, like, moving. And so the other day when Ken was on here, I asked him 'Like, how come you don't have the doll moving anymore?' he's like "The doll never moved." Like, yes it did, I've seen it!"

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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