Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Has the summer heat gotten to us? Have we abandoned our post to take the newest ghost tour in town? Nah, just preparing my annual report for the year and found a small bullet that might be lost in the FPAN northeast chronicals that's worth mentioning.

Last year former intern Matt Armstrong (now with the St. Augustine Lighthouse) and I set out to better understand the impact of ghost tourism on archaeological sites. It seemed site after site that ghost hunters were showing up to make use of historic sites after dark, or a new ghost tour from cars to bars was captializing on archaeological resources in the Oldest City. Our results are preliminary and I'll disclose our return rate on surveys was 10% (or n=13). However, as a result we became more literate in discussing the economic impacts of the trend on heritage sites and met some wonderful participants who allowed us to observe.
Dustin from Ghost Hunters International preps a group I was allowed to observe before their investigation of the lighthouse:
Text from the "Ghost Economy" poster we presented at the Society for Economic Anthropology can be found below:

Walking downtown St. Augustine it is hard to miss the burgeoning trend in heritage tourism of ghost tours. The trend is fueled by the popularity of the Ghost Hunters television show, with the frequent airing of the St. Augustine Lighthouse episode, and increased interest in ghost hunting measured by the rise of ghost destination packages (walking tour, trolley, hearse, carriage, boat…) and paranormal investigations at regional historic sites (including the Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Lighthouse, and Olustee Battlefield).

How do we, as heritage professionals, stay true to our ethical responsibilities to provide public reliable information without ostracizing audiences and limiting the stewardship potential of historic sites?

Our main goal was to understand the impact of paranormal activities on archaeological sites in St. Augustine’s historic district. Questions that guided our research include:
- Do paranormal offerings increase visitation to historic sites?
- Do paranormal destinations encourage stewardship of archeological sites?
- Who benefits from the ghost economy, and what form do those benefits take?
Photo from a Dark of the Moon participant showing what they belive to be an apparition of a child on the stairs:

Methods

For this project we collected several forms of data. First, we inventoried ghost destinations and offerings in St. Augustine. When appropriate, we observed several ghost tours and paranormal investigations of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Second, we collected informant interviews, which included tour operators, tour attendees and paranormal investigators. We also collected mediator interviews that included tour creators, promoters of events, site directors, resource managers, and gift shop managers. Last, we conducted a survey of ghost destination consumers to better understand the impact of one specific product on local historic resources.

See results from the Dark of the Moon ghost tour survey done to see how consumers are getting information about paranormal topics in St. Augustine (represents 10% response rate from group surveyed):

This graph below demonstrates that those who partake in paranormal tourism of historic sites do follow-up by visiting authentic sites, some times as many as four or more.


Preliminary Results

- Ghost tourism is a highly mediated industry in St. Augustine. Mediators include, but are not limited to: St. Augustine Department of Heritage Tourism, St. Johns County Tourism Development Council, Historic Tours of America and other heritage franchises, advertisers, historic site staff, and down the line to bloggers and social media networkers.

- Similar to historic sites, like Colonial Williamsburg (Handler and Gable, 1997), the ghost industry is a complex social arena where the triadic mode of cultural producer—cultural product—cultural consumer needs to be modified as practitioners of ghost destinations are both producers and consumers of the product.

- The irony of ghost tours is that the phenomenon of ghosts transcends time and space; the niche is not unique to St. Augustine. If people want historic information on St. Augustine, that is already provided in copious amounts, and is often free. Ghost destination consumers are not after historical information as much as an experience. Therefore, the true commodity is a memory of St. Augustine.


Conclusion

If sincere stewardship can be one of the results of participation in ghost destinations, then we should not dismiss the industry. Our research has shown that 85% of Dark of the Moon respondents did follow up by visiting at least one historic site, with 15% visiting four or more sites. As heritage professionals, we must understand the complex social arena of niche tourism and inventory the mediators involved to inform our decision making processes.

References

Chambers, Erve
2000 Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Waveland Press Inc., Long Grove (IL).

Feder, Kenneth L.
1990 Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View (CA)

Handler, Richard and Eric Gable
1997 The New History in and Old Musem: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg. Duke University Press, Durham.

Osif, John
2002 “Ghosts: North Florida Legends.” Documentary on WJCT, Public Television,
Jacksonville.

Pine II, B. Joseph and James H. Gilmore
1999 The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business is a Stage. Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

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