The Halloween season at Princeton is defined by imminent midterms, the quest for Princetoween passes, and a boost in coffee sales at Small World as the temperature drops. This year, unfulfilled with the amount of spooky holiday spirit on campus and in my life during the past two Halloweens, I vowed to do things differently.
This pursuit of festive frivolity began at tripadvisor.com, where the tagline of the first result caught my eye. “Princeton is haunted and these paranormal tours during October prove it!” The tour was to be a mix of ghost stories and actual ghost hunting on Princeton’s campus and in the surrounding area. Images danced through my mind. I imagined ghosts studying in the C floor of Firestone, floating under Blair arch, or just watching in confusion from above as drunk meal transpired below them.
I was skeptical but curious about the overall authenticity of this endeavor. For the two primary on-campus experiences, the website boasted a photo of the Woodrow Wilson fountain at night and a fog-covered train that definitely wasn’t the Dinky. It said that the Ghost Hunter Guides would provide a wide array of ghost-hunting equipment to participants so that they could detect supernatural activity on their own. And with this being the most science that I’d do since I dropped pre-med freshman year, I worried that this tour could possibly go over my head. Was this something that I really wanted to waste my money and Friday night on? Making sure I read everything on the website, I noticed a clause in fine-print: “10% off at Olive’s on the day of the tour if you show your receipt.”
I instantly bought two tickets.
On the night of the tour, I, along with the only friend I could convince to join me on this scheme, went to Nassau Street to meet our tour guide: a woman with a bright orange sign and an iPad registering guests as they signed in. Along with forty middle schoolers and retired couples (AKA the normal clientele of TripAdvisor), we awaited the looming frights and fears in store for us. Wearing orange glow sticks around our wrists (in the event that we got lost), we ventured to the Princeton cemetery where we learned about the history of Princeton through the stories of dead presidents. To convey the extent to which these presidents were dead, our tour guide even went as far as shouting the word “DEAD” five times, one time for each dead president in her story.
We laughed upon realizing that one of the names mentioned on a random headstone of a University official was a very old ancestor of one of my friend’s former hookups. The rest of the cemetery tour showcased a number of problematic, rich, white men and Isabella McCosh, the woman responsible for McCosh infirmary.
On the walk back to campus, we stopped at Witherspoon Street where we were told a story about a woman in the 1800s who poisoned and murdered her husband and son with mercury before brewing the son’s organs in a stew. The legend has it that today, residents of Witherspoon Street occasionally smell a foul odor similar to Dead Son Stew. The tour failed to acknowledge the frat apartments on Witherspoon whatsoever as the possible culprits of said ‘supernatural’ smells.
As our tour neared its end, ghost hunting was finally on the horizon. Our guide hyped up the Ghost Hunters that we were to be working with, mentioning their certification with some extremely niche New Jersey ghost hunting association. Walking to Cannon Green, we were welcomed by our ghost hunting team: two teenage boys carrying briefcases filled with dowsing rods, electromagnetic scanners, and therma-meters (which detect temperature, but are way different from thermometers and they don’t want to talk about it!).
There, under the guidance of the two high school ghost hunters, the two of us spent ten minutes attempting to ‘connect’ with the other side (not to be confused with The Other Side of Me USG photo campaign). Our lack of spiritual connections forced us to focus our attention on taking funny action shots of each other with the ghost hunting equipment. The tour came to a close with a shameless plug to their TripAdvisor account, which explains their impeccable 5 Star rating with 679 reviews.
With the experience behind us, we walked to Bent Spoon and laughed at the simultaneously excellent and underwhelming nature of the tour. We quickly drew parallels to this tour and Orange Key: both tours filled with people who are not college-aged, supported by an extroverted lead doing their best, relying on cheesy jokes and anecdotes to cut the tension, and (both intentionally and unintentionally) scary. Our desire to have a spooky and unique Halloween experience was further fulfilled when we briefly thought we saw a ghost. In actuality, it was just a kid standing outside of Bent Spoon shrouded in a cloud of his own Juul smoke.