Rhode Island fixture Rory Raven recently fled the Lovecraftian vibes of a haunted Providence for the witchier environs of Salem, Mass, taking the original and longest running haunted history tour of the city with him, much to the dismay of his fans who have made Raven’s brisk stroll up Benefit Street an annual Halloween tradition. Now comes word that Raven hasn’t given up completely on his city of origin: The Providence Ghost Walk is returning for a limited two day engagement. RI Future grilled the historian, folklorist and professional mentalist about this apparent turnaround.
RI Future: You titled this two day event “The Ghost Walk Returns.” Where did it go?
Raven: It didn’t really go anywhere. I thought that, with my move to Salem and a changing schedule, I wouldn’t be able schedule the Providence Ghost Walk this year, aside from the several private tours I have booked for schools and other groups. But as I’ll be performing at Charlie’s Ghost Party at the Sprague Mansion in Cranston on October 25th, it only made sense to stay in the area and do the Ghost Walk again on the 26th and 27th.
RI Future: How did you come up with the idea of Ghost Walk and where do you get your stories?
Raven: I’ve always loved a good ghost story, even as a kinder, gentler skeptic. Sometimes ghost stories are just good fun, sometimes they offer a glimpse into forgotten history, and sometimes they are continuations of folklore traditions, so there’s always something interesting going on. Most of the stories I tell on the Providence Ghost Walk are tales I’ve found in old books, or that have been told and retold in Rhode Island for generations.
Back in the 1990s, I took a ghosts-and-graveyards tour with Anita Rafael in Newport. Her approach was to focus on history and folklore. It was a great tour. Afterwards, I thought that someone should be doing a similar tour of Providence, which had its own rich and stories history. And then it became obvious that it should be me!
My focus has always been history, literature, and folklore. I have no interest (or belief) in orbs, cold spots, EVPs, and things of that ilk, so you won’t hear about them on the Providence Ghost Walk.
RI Future: You’re now competing with a host of imitators and latecomers. Have you done any of their tours? How do they compare with the original?
Raven: I really don’t consider myself in competition with anyone. I do the original, longest-running haunted tour in town. I am the author of Haunted Providence, which makes me literally the man who wrote the book on this topic. I’ve never taken any of the tours that sprung up after I started, so can’t really offer comment (he said politely).
RI Future: You recently left Providence and live in Salem now. Any plans to do a version of Ghost Walk in Salem, like a Witch Walk?
Raven: Within a few weeks of arriving in Salem, I spent an afternoon sketching out a walking tour. I’ve since done a rough draft of the tour for some friends, and will be tweaking it and probably starting to offer tours in the spring. Once again, I’ll be taking the history, literature, folklore approach, hitting the high (and low) points in Salem history – the colonial days, the witch trials, the East India trade, Hawthorne, the Great Fire, with a couple of ghost stories and infamous murders along the way. There are already a dozen or more tours available in Salem, some better than others, so finding a new niche will be challenging but interesting.
RI Future: You’re a fairly successful author of several books on the odder aspects of Rhode Island history.
Raven: Yes. Yes, I am. My first book was Haunted Providence: Strange Tales from the Smallest State, much of which was drawn from the Ghost Walk but includes other stories as well. Next was Wicked Conduct: The Minister, the Mill Girl, and the Murder that Captivated Old Rhode Island, about the sensational murder case of Sarah Maria Cornell. That was followed by The Dorr War: Treason, Rebellion, and the Fight for Reform in RI, which told the story of Governor Thomas Wilson Dorr and his struggle to expand voting rights. Gov. Dorr is one of the most important figures in RI history, his story is compelling and tragic, and he is very much a forgotten hero. The latest book is Burning the Gaspee: Revolution in Rhode Island.
RI Future: Finally, you’re also an accomplished mentalist. What are your future show plans?
Raven: I would like to do two rather contradictory things – one is to tour the show to more and bigger venues, and the other is to set the show up in a regular venue on a regular schedule. I also look forward to the day when I retire my repertoire entirely and start over from scratch.
Rory Raven brings back the Providence Ghost Walk at 3pm Saturday, October 26th and Sunday, October 27th. Tickets are $9.