NEW MADRID -- The town's history and tales of its hauntings are part of a hayride/tour offered this weekend in New Madrid, and if those along for the ride witness some paranormal activity, well, that's just an extra treat.
"New Madrid has been through so much, so many tragic events -- earthquakes, two major floods, and Civil War battles took place on these grounds. Indians were here, too," said Christina McWaters, director of the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce.
She continued: "Knowing all the things that have occurred in town, if there is the possibility of something being haunted, I believe New Madrid is it."
Beginning tonight through Saturday is New Madrid's first-ever History and Hauntings Tour. The guided walking tour/hayride will be offered in two tours each day at 6:30 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. As of Tuesday, 82 spots of six tours had been sold with the Saturday 7:30 p.m. tour being completely sold out, McWaters said.
Included in the tour are the Dixie Theatre, where footsteps have been heard but no one's there, and New Madrid's oldest home, the Hart-Stepp House, which was built in 1832 and has an interesting past and an unusual story of the family's burial, McWaters said.
"The more we learn about the history of these places then it helps us to understand the paranormal side of it. We want people to walk away knowing more about our town but also having experienced these things," McWaters said.
Tours begin in McWaters' office where a brief history of the town will be given. From there, groups will walk to the Dixie Theatre for a presentation and then to the Hart-Stepp House. The tour will conclude with a hayride along a surprise route, McWaters said.
Among the experiences to be recounted will be the spirits of two young girls playing around an old tree, books flying off of a bookshelf and mysterious disembodied voices calling out to those long past, McWaters said.
"There is no guarantee of paranormal activities, but we will be touring some places in which activity has been previously reported," McWaters said.
Last weekend was the first attempt at trying to really prove or disprove whether or not the town is haunted, McWaters said.
As part of a Sikeston Career and Technology Center workshop, "Ghost Hunting" presented last weekend by the Paranormal Task Force of St. Louis, the Dixie Theatre and Hart-Stepp House were investigated. The two PTF investigators used equipment to detect electronic voice phenomena, McWaters said.
"We went to Hart-Stepp House, and the machine went nuts," McWaters said. "Some people were scared, but I wasn't. I don't feel like any of these spirits, if there any, are malicious. I think they're just as curious about us as we are them."
Similar ghostly activity was also found at the Dixie Theatre, McWaters said.
"We've had a lot of weird experiences, and it makes you want to go and do more," McWaters said.
The night before PTF visited, the Bootheel Paranormal Investigators from Caruthersville visited both sites on the tour, too, McWaters said. The Caruthersville group will present every night of the tour. They will demonstrate their ghost hunting equipment and answer questions from those participating on the tour.
"It's been really creepy, but it's been so cool," said McWaters.
Richard McGill of Sikeston Career and Technology Center, who was also present when PTF investigators visited the New Madrid sites, said he thinks there was enough activity that McWaters could tell people they're possibly haunted locations.
"The group that was there to investigate saw enough to where they want to come back with a full crew. That probably says more than what they saw," McGill said.
Class participants were also impressed, McGill said.
"Most of the people in the class came away less skeptical and more believing than when they started the class," McGill said.
McWaters said there are some people who don't really want New Madrid to be publicized as a haunted town, but she doesn't think the issue can be avoided.
"People are fascinated with the paranormal. Plain, everyday people are fascinated with this," McWaters said.
The tours will be at night and the locations will not be lit; children ages 10 to 15 must be accompanied by an adult. It is not recommended for children under 10 because it may be too scary for them, McWaters said.
It's recommended that participants bring a camera, video camera or any other ghost hunting equipment they might have, on the tour.
"Come with an open mind," McWaters said. "Whether you believe or not, be open to the experiences that may occur -- and if you take a ghost home with you, it's not our fault."
Tickets are $10 per person and must be reserved by calling the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce at 1-877-748-5300, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.