Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Haunted Vegas Tour (Part 2)

When we last left our heroes, they were intrepidly boarding a tour bus bound for the most haunted locales Las Vegas has to offer. Will the spirits of Sin City's most famous dead seek their revenge on the two sarcastic skeptics? Read on to find out.

The first thing that struck me about the inside of the Haunted Vegas Tour bus was its lack of offensive odor. All my previous experience with tour buses, as small as that may be, prepared me for the recognizable smell that humans seem to produce when seated anywhere for an extended period of time. Fortunately, this particular tour bus was noticeably devoid of that. I took that as a good sign.

Kelsea and I were greeted instead by the amicable tour guide; the man in the top hat we had previously seen while driving past the bus. The tour guide (whom I would later find out was named Jac thanks to the guide bios on the Haunted Vegas Tours website) had since removed his slightly overly-dramatic head gear to reveal a head covered half-way with wispy, white hair. Jac's overall undertaker-like image was furthered by the all-black suit he wore, and by his stature (He was taller than my five foot eight frame, which really isn't saying much). To my surprise, Jac did not make as big a deal of our late arrival as I had expected. He only inquired where we were from, and what had held us up. I repeated the whopper that got us on the bus in the first place, to which Jac reacted with a surprising amount of concern. He asked if Kelsea and I were okay, and even made sure our car was in good-enough condition to get us home. I sheepishly responded, "Yeah, we're fine," to all these questions.

After Jac was done making me feel bad for even telling the lie, he went on with the speech he had been giving before Kelsea and I interrupted him. Jac's general introduction of the haunted sites we would be visiting was aided by a roughly 13-inch television monitor at the front of the bus. The screen seemed to be showing as a slide show of sorts, adding a visual component to Jac's tales of deceased Las Vegans. As I had familiarized myself with the sites on the tour beforehand, I took this time to shift my gaze to my fellow tour-goers. The walk from the entrance to our seat revealed the approximately 12 rows of the half-full passenger compartment. The rows were split by a short aisle, with two seats on each side of the aisle and next to a window. The seats were filled by mostly couples, with a few loners and a pair of young women; approximately 15 people in all. Quite laughably, a Halloween-store plastic skull hung from the rear wall of the bus. From Kelsea's and my vantage point, roughly the middle of the bus, the ones who thought themselves serious ghost hunters were easy to pick out. Their intentions were revealed by the expensive-looking cameras slung from their necks. In general, though, this particular tour seemed to be serving as date night for a number of boyfriends and girlfriends; all equipped with a digital camera of some kind.

With Jac's introduction winding down, the bus lurched to life and began its journey to the first spot on the tour: the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Jac filled the approximately 15 minutes it took to get there with the story of mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. I'll spare you all the non-ghost-related details Jac provided to the group. The only bits of history you really need to know are that Bugsy , along with some mobster buddies, invested in the fledgling casino in the mid-1930s. After skimming too much money from the mob-run operation (you'd think he would know better), he was killed on June 20, 1947 in the house of actress and girlfriend Virginia Hill. Hill, it turned out, had told the mob exactly where Bugsy would be so they could "collect." After Jac got all the history business out of the way, he told of the various place's Bugsy's ghost has been sighted in the Flamingo. In addition to the garden which contains a memorial to the slain mobster (the first stop on the tour),Siegel is also said to haunt one of the suites at the top of the Flamingo's hotel tower. Bugsy refuses to leave this room, Jac said, because it contains the toilet from Bugsy's original apartment in the Flamingo.

The bus jerked forward a bit as the driver applied the brakes and made the right turn into the Flamingo's tour bus parking area. Jac told us that the memorial to Bugsy , located in the Flamingo's garden/pool area, would be our first stop. Not surprisingly, the ghost of the deceased gangster has also been spotted in this area. A brief walk through a bit of the Flamingo's casino, oddly devoid of the usual throngs of eager tourists feeding the ubiquitous one-armed bandits, brought the group to the garden. The odd combination of live bird smell and that of scrambled eggs met my nose as Jac led us outside. I knew beforehand about the live birds, mostly flamingos, the hotel casino kept by the pool, but the al fresco diners enjoying a late-night breakfast were a surprise. Jac lead the group on a winding concrete walkway through decorative bushes drenched with the water of sprinklers working over time until we reached the memorial. Once there, he practically begged everyone to take as many pictures as possible. Undoubtedly in an attempt to get the tour-goers to capture evidence of Bugsy's ghost on camera in the form of the laughable "ghost orb." With cameras flashing everywhere, one tour-goer did manager to capture a mysterious streak of light over Bugsy's roughly eight-foot tall memorial. He eagerly showed it to Jac, as if the discovery would win him some kind of gold star. I managed to sneak a peek of the photo in question on the man's camera display: it looked to me like nothing more than the small light at the top of the memorial being blurred by the movement of the camera in the longer exposure "night shot" mode with which most all digital cameras come equipped. Jac said it could be something, or it could be a blur. The man turned away with the slightest look of disappointment on his face.

It's as this point in my re-telling where I must apologize for the lack of detail, and the failure of my memory, I fear may infest my writing from here. You see, Kelsea and I had been furiously jotting down notes all through our walk to Bugsy's memorial. However, once the picture-taking had subsided a bit, Jac pulled me aside and politely told me such note taking was not allowed on the tour. I later found out that this regulation was due to the detailed notes a patron had taken a few years ago while on the tour and had used to start his own. I know return you to the story.

With Kelsea and I musing over the then-unknown reasons for such a ban on note taking, Jac lead the group back through the casino and onto the tour bus. The bus began its journey up the small incline which lead out of the parking area, and Jac began his next story. He told us we would next be driving past the lamp post where rapper Tupac Shakur was shot while riding as a passenger in his manager's BMW. Jac filled the approximately 15 minutes it took to get there with the rather uninteresting, at least to me, events leading up to of Shakur's death. Of course, the rapper's shade had been seen by a few people walking past the infamous lamp post. Unsurprisingly, the ghost failed to make an appearance for us.

With my interest in the darker side of Las Vegas history waning slightly, as opposed to the ghost stories I was expecting, the bus took us past the so-called "death motel". Jac regaled us with the tales of two B-list television actors who had committed suicide there. Apparently, guests who have rented that particular room, utilized for the last time by both actors, often complained of noise coming from upstairs. But, the motel manager would say, the building is only one story! BUM BUM,BAAAAAHHH!! Yeah, I know, not very scary.

By this time it was about 10:30 pm; roughly an hour in and no ghost sitings. On our way to our next stop, the mansion owned by Shakur's manager and allegedly haunted by the deceased rapper, Jac inexplicably told the tale of Bonnie and Clyde. Now, more than a week after the tour, I still cannot figure out why he brought this story up. The only real connection Bonnie and Clyde have to Nevada is that their "death car" now sits in a hotel casino on the Nevada/California border. I don't remember if Jac mentioned if it was haunted or not, but I'm sure someone, somewhere thinks that it is.

As Jac wrapped up the Bonnie and Clyde story, the bus pulled up to the darkened street on which Shakur's former mansion sits. According to Jac, the rather wealthy denizens here have negotiated with the city to: (1) take all the street lights down and (2) prevent all commercial traffic from using the street. This latter ban, unfortunately, includes tour buses. So, we didn't even get to see Shakur's house up close. Jac did encourage us to come back on our own time and seek the mansion since, according to the neighbors, Shakur's ghost walks the grounds at night. With my eyelids growing heavy, the bus lumbered on to our next stop.

Jac's mention of a haunted park shook me out of almost sleep. Could we really be going to the infamous Fox Ridge, the park I had spent so much time investigating? Well, no. Apparently, Vegas is home to two haunted parks, and the ghost tour switches between them. This night, the bus was headed to a park in the Green Valley area of Las Vegas ( a park's whose name has unfortunately left me). Tonight's next stop allegedly contained a brick barbecue which seemed to attract the ghosts of two young boys. To the excitement of most everyone on board, the group would be allowed to disembark here and search for ghosts using "ghost finder" dowsing rods. That's right: dowsing rods. Here's a picture of the marvels of ghosthunting technology:

Can you believe we got to take these home? They must cost a fortune to make! All sarcasm aside, the dowsing rods were made up of bent medal rods in plastic holders, held there by white beads which had been glued on. When held in the hands and in the presence of ghosts, the rods begin to move. According to Jac , the rods crossing, moving apart or one rod moving alone meant that ghosts were nearby. So basically, if the rods moved at all, there were ghosts around. Jac failed to mention the real cause of the "instruments'" movement: the ideomotor effect. This physical phenomenon also accounts for the movements of Ouija boards.

With most of the group chomping at the bit to once again set foot off the bus, Jac passed around a picture allegedly taken by a former tour-goer in the park. He said it showed the ghosts of the two boys standing by the barbecue. All I saw was a lens distortion producing a milky mist. Once the photo made its rounds on the bus, the group disembarked with dowsing rods in hand. The warmish night air was a relief to the overly-air conditioned bus interior. Jac gave a short demonstration with the dowsing rods, teaching us how to hold them: plastic holders in our up-turned fists, arms roughly eight inches out in front of our chests, giving the rods enough room to swing freely. He then let us loose on the barbecue and surrounding area. Like a school teacher telling his children how much time they had on the playground, he told us we could only spend about 15 minutes ghosthunting. The park soon echoed with the oohs and ahhs of tour-goers experiencing dowsing rod movement. There really is nothing like seeing a bunch of adults wandering around a brick barbecue with the there hands held out in front of them, fists pointing toward the sky as if balancing an invisble serving dish. Cameras flashed and soon, just like at Bugsy's memorial, someone called Jac over to see the picture displayed on their camera. The woman had caught the same type of blur as the man at the Flamingo, this time of a far off street light, but somehow illicited a much stronger reaction from Jac. Even as Jac herded us back onto the bus, he was marvelling at the amazing picture the woman had took.

The last three stops now seem a blur to me. I'm sure part of this was due to the fact that it was approximately 11:15 pm, and I did not get a nap that day. The bus took us past the former house of 70s television star Redd Foxx, allegedly haunted by the comedian's ghost. Jac's story and the accompanying slide show on the bus's television monitor told me more about Foxx's rise to stardom and eventual near-penniless death than I ever wanted to know. Employees of the real estate company that now inhabits the house still tale tales of mischievous goings on which are attributed to Foxx's poltergeist.

The next stop, roughly 20 minutes away, took us the past the Italian restaurant, Carluccio's Tivoli Gardens, once owned by flamboyant piano-player and Las Vegas regular Liberace. The place is allegedly haunted by the late performer's ghost, as several employee's there have apparently testified. Kelsea and I ate dinner there a few nights later, and we can only vouch for the quality of the establishment's food. My audible denial of the existence of Liberace's ghost, which has apparently caused wine bottles to be thrown across the room in the past, elicited now noticeable reaction.

At long last, the flashing lights of the Las Vegas Hilton signaled our final stop, and the end of our tour. I don't want to make it seem like the tour was an ordeal, I was just tired. While Jac's take on Vegas history was interesting, his presentation left something to be desired. That is, is was hardly riveting. It seems no story of Sin City's past can be complete without a mention of Elvis. Well, guess what? His ghost allegedly haunts the freight elevator and backstage area of the Hilton's theater. After a show, Elvis would take said elevator to discreetly reach his massive suite at the top of the Hilton. With a final anecdote about Liberace designing Elvis's famous white jumpsuit, Jac's stories came to an end.

The bus rumbled back to the parking lot from whence it had departed. Jac asked Kelsea and I a final time if my car was okay to get back home. A weary "it's fine" escaped my lips, and Kelsea and I ambled back to my waiting PT Cruiser. Two and one half hours spent on a ghost tour, and all we had to show for it were some fun stories and dowsing rods. An experience in which I'm glad I took part, but perhaps not completely worth the $56.25 per ticket.

My final review: three out five candles flickering in the dark.

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