Ever heard of ghost tours? They’ve become more popular in the past few years, because of documentaries about the supernatural and shows like Ghost Hunters on SyFy and Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. Ghost tours are essentially walking tours for the spirit-fascinated– you go from locale to locale with a guide to point out ghostly hot spots and explain history. The SF has its own ghost-tour guide, and I spoke with him this evening.
Jim Fassbinder met me prior to one of his tours at the Queen Anne Hotel, dressed in unmistakable ghost-tour wear: an old lantern clipped to his belt, a satchel with GHOST TOUR emblazoned on it in studs and a long trench-coat. He spoke with dry, biting sarcasm and honesty about his life prior to his career as a tour guide, as well how exactly you lead a ghost tour through a city like SF.
First off, he does this as a living, which we both agreed was fantastic. He says he first dipped a toe into the supernatural world when he was little, since he had “invisible playmates” — “I found that it got me sent to church a lot,” Jim says, with humor. Raised a Roman-Catholic in a self-described “dysfunctional” household, what was a boy who plays with ghosts to do with his abilities?
Focus on studying metallurgy throughout college, according to Jim. After several years in the US alluminum industry, he wound up in San Francisco, after his friends had taken him on some ghost tours in Santa Fe. “I was disappointed,” he says. “I thought, I could do this. My friends basically said, well, put up or shut up.”
After a year of research, during which he took ghost tours, went on hunts, and spoke with scholars, he started doing test tours. On Halloween, 1998, SF Ghost Hunts was officially born and has been going strong ever since.
When asked him whether or not SF is an ideal place for his tours, he admits to having some setbacks. “It’s a difficult place to give tours,” he says. “Most other ghost hunters in the area have found the same.” He says that while you can find ghosts virtually anywhere, areas like New Orleans and Savannah have a better time with tours due to geography and the presence of an “old” part of town – our city is lacking anything we could call “old” San Francisco.
I asked him about the terms “ghost” and “spirit”, since we used them fairly interchangeably, and often. “A ghost always has a dead guy attached to it,” Jim explains. “A spirit can be anything supernatural.”
He confessed to not being a horror fan, despite his job. “You can have the supernatural experience without getting scared,” he says. He describes the tour as ghostly experiences via science – with some humor thrown in, but no real scares. It’s simply not the point of the tour.
Of course, ghosts and supernatural experiences get a lot of bad hype– what about poltergeists? Possessions? When I asked him if one of his tour attendees has ever had a bad encounter, he said he simply won’t let it happen. “There are some people who just see evil everywhere,” he says. People have tried to convince him that they feel something bad, but Jim believes it has to do a lot with the individual’s beliefs and energy, not the ghost itself. His guests, he says, have had plenty of earnest supernatural experiences on his tours, some of which have been photographed.
We wrapped up our interview so that Jim could head out to start one of his tours. The sun had just set and a breeze had kicked in, but no fog – a beautiful night for a haunted walk throughout Pacific Heights.
If you’d like to learn more about Jim and his work, you can book a tour or read about his agenda on his website. You can also find him on SyFy’s Ghost Hunters’ Alcatraz episode.