“Ghosts and Gravestones” tour shows corpse to ward off unsafe pandemic practices
Halloween attractions from Salem to Boston rethought their approach this October, as the virus was largely deemed scarier than most monsters in 2020. From little changes to shutting down events, the Commonwealth’s spook-seekers were also forced to adjust. In one example, Boston’s Ghosts and Gravestones tour stayed open this fall, though its parent company, “Old Town Trolley Tours,” shut down its normal programming and canceled the winter holiday tour. Steven Johnson, the Tour Entertainment Manager, said, “Ghosts and Gravestones is the thing we feel like we can do safely.”
Johnson said the conversation was a “pretty easy decision,” and further explained, “A ghost tour is not like our other tours… It’s easy to do removed. It’s easy to stand back from people. Of all the three products that we have we were like, ‘This is the model that makes the most sense’ We can do this in COVID.”
At first there was a bit of a reluctance getting people to sign up. Johnson said, “When we first started, it was sparse.” Closer to Halloween, they were “definitely not having trouble getting people interested.” Half the cast was hired back for the season, including Will Munoz, also known as “Jonathan Goodspeed.” He said that despite the adjustments, he’s “having a blast.”
I took the tour, which was not only a lot of fun but also equipped with clear safeguards. Those in charge said that the trolleys are cleaned daily and thoroughly, among other precautions. An added safety page to their website lists multiple adjustments for the virus and notes:
“While we want you to enjoy your tour, relax and have fun, it is our goal that you do this in a safe environment….Ghosts & Gravestones is taking enhanced safety and health measures for the benefit of our guests. Inherent risks to COVID-19 exist in any place where people are gathered.”
In practice, despite being at half capacity, social distancing was difficult to maintain throughout the tour. Groups were each seated with rows between them, though not six-feet apart, and during the walking part of the tour, guests tended to clump together, despite encouragement from the staff to do otherwise.
Both Munoz and Johnson explain that while they were happy to make the safety adjustments, conducting the tour with masks was the most difficult part of adapting to COVID-19 restrictions. The scary-funny balance that the tour maintains so well is only possible with a constant narration over the course of the 1.5-hour tour. When walking through the graveyards, microphones were not available, adding an extra challenge.
“The biggest struggle …” Johnson said, “…getting used to giving the tour through a mask.”