Does the potential existence of ghosts signal life beyond the grave?
It's a spooky question with extra significance as Halloween nears this weekend. For scores of workers in the scares industry, the answer is a "maybe" lying between the secular and spiritual realms.
"You can believe or you can't believe," said Bill Ott, director of marketing and communications for the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka Springs, Ark. "There are hundreds of things in God's world I can't explain. Who am I to say it doesn’t happen?"
Located atop scenic Mt. Crescent in the Arkansas Ozarks, Ott said the 1886 is a resort member of Historic Hotels of America that often serves as a romantic getaway or wedding destination. It has a beautiful spa, he said, and is in direct view of the Christ of the Ozarks, the Northern Hemisphere's largest monument to Jesus. Last but not least, he added, it's also ranked among the nation's most haunted hotels.
"We run our resort 24/7, 365 days a year, and by the way, there are ghosts here too," he said. "I accept it not as a fact but possibility. People here hope to see something they've never seen before."
Ott said the 1886 immediately attracted notoriety when an Irish stonemason fell to his death from its upper levels after its construction but continued reappearing to witnesses. Later serving as a poorly run cancer hospital where scores of patients died, its current incarnation stands above a morgue Ott calls the "ghost hunter's holy grail."
"I refer to our ghosts as guests who checked out but haven't left," he said. "They're people who don't know they've died yet."
Frank Harris, manager of Nashville Ghost Tours in Tennessee, said the haunts he frequents have similar stories. Most of the spooks he shows tourists, he said, are those with unfinished business.
"Rarely do ghost stories have someone who lives a long, fulfilling life," he said. "Ghost stories tend to have a lot of scandals, murders and tragic love stories. I enjoy the historic aspect of it."
Chief among Harris' paranormal places of interest is the Tennessee State Capitol. He said that two rivals entombed near the historic location are known to yell and shout at each other, carrying on their feud for all eternity.
"I've had things happen there I can't explain," Harris said. "That site has always been a hotspot for this kind of activity."
Ott said he too had seen the supernatural firsthand. Filming an episode of the Biography Channel's "My Ghost Story" television show three years ago, he said he saw a long, heavy strip of metal sway without any visible breeze right before his eyes.
"It was not explainable by physics," Ott said of the experience. "It's a good chunk of steel and it wouldn't move on a whim."
Angela Lynn, president and CEO of 6th Sense World, a group that runs Savannah's "Sixth Sense Savannah" tour, said the stories her organization shares satisfies people’s curiosity about death.
"The death experience is not the end," she said. "Life is a metamorphosis. I compare it to the butterfly. It goes from a tiny egg to this beautiful creature."
Ott said his Lutheran background has forced him to conclude some things are known by Christ alone. Citing his own standoffs with the spectral realm, he said he believed that ghosts, if real, are harmless rather than hostile.
"Catechism taught me that when you die your spirit leaves your body and goes up to Heaven," he said. "We try to find out as much as we can about these spirits. There's nothing scary about them."
Harris said his tours teetered between true believers and relentless skeptics. As such, he believes both camps could find common ground in the history, entertainment and inquisitiveness they share instead.
"Whether or not you believe the stories is irrelevant," Harris said. "Everyone is curious and wants to know what happens after death. That's the big question."