By CHERIL VERNON
Those who enjoy local history — and ghost stories — may be interested in attending the Haunted Little Town Walking Tour set to kick off this week in Palestine and include a rare inside tour of the old Anderson County Jail.
The Haunted Little Town Walking Tours are planned this Thursday through Sunday and will continue Oct. 25-28 and Oct. 30-31 at the following times by reservation only: 6 to 7:30 p.m. and 8 to 9:30 p.m. Special “Locked Up: Jail-Only Tours” will be held from 9:45 to 11 p.m. each night of the event.
The full walking tours (about 1 1/2 mile round trip) will include the Anderson County Courthouse, Courthouse Square, Palestine’s City Cemetery and the old Anderson County Jail.
“This started with the idea for the Haunted Queen Anne event because we wanted to fulfill our commitment to the community to do something on those nights as we had originally planned. This has turned out to be even better — a really cool tour that a lot of people are excited about because very few people have had access to the old jail building for a long time,” said tour coordinator Jeremy Janz, who utilized donations from the “Haunted Treats and Historic Open House Fundraiser” for this event.
The walking tour will start at the Anderson County Courthouse Square.
“Working with the historical society and going to the library, we found lots of information and were given a lot of history to use for the tour,” Janz said. “After we leave the courthouse on the walking tour, we will continue to the cemetery, highlighting some of the interesting history, stories and people while we walk through and view the old headstones.”
Those on the tour will then get the opportunity to walk through the old jail’s three stories — viewing the old jail cells and common areas. On the second floor, those on the tour will get their “mug shot” made for fun.
Janz has worked with several groups to put the tour event together — including Sonshine Paranormal Investigators of Fort Worth — which just completed a paranormal activity investigation in the jail on Saturday night.
“We will have information on what the Sonshine team found during their investigation on our tours,” Janz said. “We will be putting together portfolios for each person taking the full tour with information and photos from their paranormal investigations in Palestine here at the old jail, the old Memorial Hospital, the Museum for East Texas Culture and the Palestine Community Theatre’s Texas Theater.
Those taking the jail-only tour will receive a souvenir page to keep.
Janz was able to utilize the old jail for the tour through its new owner, Michael Collins Private Investigations of Tyler.
“He wanted to give a piece of history back to the community and what he believes is a very interesting building by allowing the tours,” Janz said. “There have been rumors about what he was going to do with this building, but he doesn’t have any plans yet. This tour is a way to share it with the community. We really appreciate the opportunity.”
The Sonshine Paranormal Investigators are currently going through videos from 16 video cameras and other equipment used in Saturday’s investigation at the old jail.
“We had some good EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon commonly used in ghost hunting) but we still have to go through everything to know what we have,” Sonshine Paranormal Investigator Barbara Henderson said Tuesday. “We’re still going over all of the photos and videos but we think we did find one apparition in a photo in a hallway where the cells are. But we haven’t analyzed or dissected it yet.”
Short 5-minute EVP sessions will be offered for those taking the full walking tour at the old jail and during the jail-only tour.
“If people will be as quiet as possible and pay attention during the EVP sessions, they have a good chance of hearing something,” Henderson said.
The 5-minute EVP sessions will be done in a group setting with a digital recorder and sensor, using an amplifier so it can be split off with everyone wearing earphones that will be provided.
“We want to give everybody a little bit of the experience. There’s something about being silent for five minutes in the jail, letting yourself use your other senses, being silent and reflective, especially behind bars in the jail environment. It should let people’s imaginations go wild,” Janz said.
For an additional $5, those taking the 9:30 to 11 p.m. jail-only tours, will get to do additional EVP sessions on all of the main sections of the jail.
“In part of the jail, we will have some of our actors who are volunteers, who will be staged throughout the cells for a simple haunting look, no blood or gore, it will be family friendly,” Janz said. “People can bring their cameras and do their photography — that’s all part of the personal ghost-hunting experience. We also are going to have some of the laser grids set up that the Sonshine Paranormal Investigators use in their investigations so people will get that feeling and sensation.”
According to historical information provided, the oldest structure known at the current jail site was a log cabin owned by a widow named Ann White whom took care of the widowed Dr. E.J. DeBard. The next home was owned by Jasper Starr, newspaper editor of “The Wonder.” Nearby was the Lonestar Saloon next door. In the 1880s, a jail was built in the location with a clock tower donated by Palestine pioneer George Wright. In the 1930s, the current Art Deco jail was built. The jail closed in 1988, but was used for another decade as a juvenile detention center and later for storage. The county sold the historic structure in July.
“We are really excited about the tour and want to thank everyone who has helped us along the way — especially Michael Collins for letting us use the jail and to the Sonshine team for their assistance,” Janz said.
A maximum attendance of 30 people is set for each walking tour. Reservations for either tour need to be made in advance.
“If we have openings, we will take reservations for the next available time if we are not sold out that night but more than likely without a reservation, we will have to encourage them to make reservations for the next night,” Janz said.
Cost for the full walking tour is $20. Cost for the jail-only tours are $10. To make a reservation, buy tickets or for more information, visit www.hauntedlittletown.com or call Janz at 951-552-3578.
“We will be able to process major credit cards during the tour for those who made reservations in advance,” Janz said. “However, they can now purchase tickets on our website.”