Would it surprise you to learn that Charleston is considered a paranormal hot spot?

Some even believe The Holy City has more ghosts than any other city in America. Donít think the Chamber of Commerce has ever mentioned that.

Ghost experts tell us that ďspirit activityĒ often surfaces where there has been great tragedy. Given the fires, earthquakes and wars here in the last 300-plus years, the climate seems pretty ripe for discovering the unexplainable.

In addition, if you throw in the gently blowing moss, the shadows that bounce off the cobblestone streets, the old houses with their creaky staircases and the rusty iron gates Ö well, thatís a pretty good recipe for encountering the unknown. Thereís only one missing ingredient ó a good storyteller.

Trick or treat

John Laverne has been a tour guide for 21 years. He owns Bulldog Tours and says that when he first started giving ghost tours it was usually in late October, near Halloween. Now those tours are conducted year-round.

The city mandates that a walking tour may include no more than 20 people. He doesnít guarantee the group anything other than a good time. He refuses to jazz up the experience with fake cobwebs or artificial dead rats. The tour will not encounter any Hollywood special effects such as bleeding walls or exploding heads. This tour is all about experiencing stories that have been handed down for generations Ö but that doesnít mean weird stuff doesnít happen.

Through the years, especially on trips to the Old City Jail, heís witnessed some things that are difficult to explain. Invariably, a camera wonít work or the temperature will drop in a room. Undetermined noises, streaks of light, photos with bizarre images Ö itís made him much more a believer in the spirit world. Itís not uncommon for people to misplace or lose items while touring the jail, only to go back there the next day and find the item in a room they didnít even visit. (Okay, now Iím officially freaking out.)

Tour guides share their stories and often those experiences are woven into future trips to the jail or the dungeon at the Exchange Building. Children are encouraged to come along for the dungeon tour, especially in the summer before it gets dark, but are not routinely included in the trip to the jail.

Ghost tour guides are carefully selected for their dramatic story-telling abilities. Some of the guides are ghost experts and really believe. Other guides tell great stories, but reserve judgment on what really might have just happened.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

If youíre in Charleston long enough, then youíll know some of the legendary haunted hot spots. Under the oaks at The Battery, you might just see Blackbeard. At the Morris Island Lighthouse, the keeperís wife invariably is spotted in the doorway. At Pooganís Porch, a womanís image is sometimes spotted behind curtains sitting at one of the restaurantís tables. At The City Jail, some bad hombres passed through there, and itís full of unexplained noises and movement.

Do you believe? Doesnít really matter in the end, does it? Nobody really enjoys being frightened. Itís the unknown that drives most of this curiosity and keeps this tour business hopping 360 days of the year.

Just remember, if you get in a group that gets spooked and starts to flee, you donít have to outrun the entire group ó just the slowest one.

Iím just sayiníÖ.