Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Haunted history

Ghost tours focusing on Oahu's scarier side are attracting a growing number of enthusiasts

By Allison Schaefers


Photographs of spiritual orbs and things that go bump in the night will be among the pictures of Hawaii's sun, sand and surf that Laura and David Arias of Los Angeles include in their vacation album.

"I know that there are a lot of spirits associated with Hawaii, so I Googled 'ghost tour' when I was planning the trip," said Laura Arias, who enjoyed getting scared by Oahu Ghost Tours along with her husband last week.

While most tourists enjoy Nuuanu Pali Lookout views during the day, the couple visited after hours along with their guide, Uncle Joe Espinada Jr., and other brave souls.

"We had some really interesting results with the photos there. It made the trip worthwhile," David Arias said as he pointed out the circles of light that could be orbs, spirit energy, surfacing in his photos.

The Arias are part of a growing group of tourists who add the spine-tingling, heart-racing action of a ghost tour to their island activities. While ghost tales have long been an integral of the mysticism of island culture, in recent times the trend to deliver a more authentic experience to visitors has caused organized tours to proliferate.

"People are looking to find out more about the place," said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. "Our ghost stories are part of who we are and help connect the visitors with the Hawaiian culture and all of the other cultures that are here in Hawaii."

Much like cooking shows fed interest in food tours, ghostly shows like the Syfy channel's "Ghost Hunters," A&E's "Paranormal State" and Discovery's "Ghost Lab" have helped push destinations to turn their scary legends into tour stops. The Travel Channel's decision to run "Ghost Adventures" further illustrates how much visitors desire to add a walk on the dark side to their vacations. Ghost hunting has become such a part of mainstream culture that ghost radar iPhone and Android apps have been created to cash in on the phenom.

Strong demand from visitors and kamaaina alike carried Oahu Ghost Tours through the economic downturn, said Chris Spears of Jacksonville, Fla., who launched the business in 2007 as an extension of his Real Hawaii Eco-Cultural Excursions, which had been going strong on Oahu since 1999.

"We started the ghost tours with one van and one employee, and now we have four employees, two vans and a tour bus," Spears said. "We're sold out almost every night."

The company, which runs tours six days a week, expects business volume to increase by five times as it moves closer to Halloween, the high holiday of haunting, he said.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," said Steven Fredrick, a local historian and film collector who runs Honolulu Ghost and Mystery Tours. "By the time October is over, I'm exhausted."

Though not everyone claims to see them or even acknowledge their existence, Fredrick said that ghosts and other paranormal phenomena are becoming a solid part of Hawaii's activities industry.

"It's big business. Halloween is becoming bigger than Christmastime," he said. "What's happened in Hawaii hasn't received the attention of Salem, Mass., or the Winchester House in San Jose, but we definitely have our haunted sites and our spiritual places."

Fredrick pointed out several on a recent nighttime stroll through downtown Honolulu and Chinatown. The shadowy past of the old Honolulu Police Department, the Hawaii Theatre, the Blaisdell Hotel and Dumpster Alley emerged as he recounted their folkloric history. Visions of ancient warriors, murderous gangsters and ill-fated gamblers filled the mind if not the streets.

"Glen Grant (the late Hawaiian historian and author of 'The Obake Files') once said all buildings are haunted, you just have to find the story," Fredrick said. "I believe that. If the walls of these buildings could talk, you'd find out lots of stuff."

Even Waikiki, the center of Hawaii tourism, has its share of ghost stories, said Lopaka Kapanui, owner of Mysteries of Honolulu, a ghost tour company he launched in 1999.

"In ancient times, Waikiki was such a sacred place that if you landed your canoes on its shore without permission, you would be put to death," Kapanui said.

Nowadays, visitors are warmly welcomed in Waikiki by the living and the dead, he said. A couple on one of Kapanui's Waikiki stories once shared that they may have been assisted by the ghost of the late Princess Victoria Kaiulani, whose home once sat on what are now the grounds of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel, Kapanui said.

"They said a beautiful young Hawaiian girl dressed in black period clothing helped them with directions. She told them her name was Victoria and then disappeared," he said.

The mystery was revealed to the couple after they said they saw a picture of the late princess displayed in the lobby, Kapanui said.

While Waikiki was once the playground for Hawaii's royals, it was also a powerful spiritual spot, he said.

Just off Kalakaua Avenue next to the Waikiki Police Department, four sacred stones are displayed, Kapanui said. The stones were left by hermaphroditic priests from Tahiti who came to Hawaii to share their healing arts, he said.

"Their mana is in these rocks," he said. "They are very sacred to Hawaiians."

Perhaps that's why locals like ghost tours, too, Spears said. They offer a chance to live the stories passed down by generations and to possibly meet ancestors, he said.

Jason and Jaynelle Hernandez of Ewa Beach celebrated her Oct. 5 birthday on Espinada's ghost tour.

"I liked it. It was really different," said Jaynelle Hernandez, who had fun playing with an Android ghost radar app on the excursion.

The couple previously had visited some of the stops on their own, but said the tour intensified the experience.

"This time around you could see a lot more," said Jason Hernandez, who found an image of a ghostly face in a photo he took at a purported night marcher or warrior spirit trail.

Some stops had more energy than others, they said.

And, some are just plain evil, according to their guide Espinada, whose antics raised the chill factor. He chanted Hawaiian, waved ti leaves and sprinkled holy water from a plastic beverage bottle during tour stops at places like the infamous Morgan's Corner, the setting for the brutal 1948 murder of 68-year-old Therese Wilder by two escaped prisoners.

"I no like the place," Espinada said as he drove the Hernandez couple and others to the notorious site.

"It's hewa (the Hawaiian word for wrong)," he said. "Keep your hearts and minds strong."

Shortly after arriving at the dark, wooded location, Espinada's gruesome tales sent half of the group back to the van early.

"They feel the danger," he said. "Let me know if you need to go back, too."

A growl from the bushes sent Espinada into action.

"It's Kaupe," he said, referring to the violent cannibalistic half-dog, half-man demigod of Hawaiian legend. "Time to go."

Or was it? Hawaii ghost tours are becoming so popular with tourists that a case could almost be made for the more innocuous presence of Kuilioloa, the dog-god that according to some Polynesian legends protects travelers.

On the other hand, maybe it was just a wild boar. Regardless, it was a wild night.

Want to be scared for Halloween?

Oahu Ghost Tours, the state's largest ghost tour operator, is offering its annual "Orbs of Oahu Graveyard Shift" tour on Oct. 30. A special Halloween adults-only driving tour runs from 11:15 p.m. to around 4 a.m. The $66.60 per-person cost includes an Oahu Ghost Tours T-shirt. The company also is offering its regular Orbs of Oahu tours on Oct. 30 and Halloween. The tours, which also cost $66.60, begin around 7 p.m. and end around midnight. Guests are taken to places such as Nuuanu Pali Lookout, Morgan's Corner and Manoa Chinese Cemetery where many ghost stories have been passed down from generation to generation. Call 877-597-REAL (7325) or 524-4944 to book tours. For more information or to check out other tours, visit

Mysteries of Honolulu with Lopaka Kapanui is offering "Ghosts of Old Honolulu" tours for $40 per person; "Kaiulani, the True Story" tour for $50 per person; a Wailua "Edge of Night" tour for $50; and a Halloween night tour for $50 per person before the end of the month. Kapanui's paranormal tours focus on the myths of Hawaii and its gods and goddesses, legends of spirits and demigods, and stories of mysteries and hauntings. For more information or to check out other tours, visit or contact Kapanui directly at or 699-4940.

Honolulu Ghost and Mystery Tours, led by film collector and historian Steve Fredrick, is offering "Walk with the Dead" ghost tours on Saturday, Oct. 30, and Sunday, Oct. 31. The walking tours, which run from about 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., visit the dark side of downtown Honolulu. Stops include destinations compromised by crime, murder, suicide, madness and death. Reservations are required 48 hours in advance for these adults-only walking tours. Cost is $35 per person and costumes are encouraged. For more information about these tours and others, visit To contact Fredrick directly, phone 395-0674 or e-mail him at


Here's a list of "spooky" destinations that you can visit on your own or explore with a local ghost tour guide.

Honolulu Lodge F. & A.M., 1227 Makiki St.

Some members of this historic lodge reportedly have continued their participation after death. Current members have reported that they hear ghostly footsteps and voices. Toilets flush and faucets go on and off inexplicably in the bathroom. Initiates, who are waiting in the chamber of reflection, have reported feeling an unexplained hand on their shoulder. Once, in the 1980s, a homeless man broke into the building and begged to be allowed out after he claimed he witnessed deceased tuxedo-clad members holding a meeting.

Nuuanu Pali Lookout, located between Honolulu and Kailua

The site of the Battle of Nuuanu, where King Kamehameha I won the final battle to unite Oahu in 1795. The spirits of the thousands of soldiers who were slaughtered or forced off the cliffs are rumored to haunt this popular tourist destination.

Parking lot between Smith Street, Nuuanu Avenue and Marlin Street

This parking lot, which was the site of Honolulu Ironworks around the 1900s, is reportedly haunted. When the plague came through Honolulu, the city used the abandoned Ironworks oven to cremate victims of the disease. In modern times, bones of some of these victims were found when a local bank wanted to build a condominium on the site. The delay due to the bones and subsequent investigation resulted in a change of plans, and the site was turned into a parking lot. Those who park there sometimes report chalky hand impressions on the windows of their cars.

The old Honolulu Police Station, at 842 Bethel St.

This building operated as a police station and jail from around 1931 to 1967. In modern times, office workers have reported that toilets flush inexplicably, doors open and close, and they hear footsteps. About five to seven years ago, one worker reported seeing the image of a man's face in her computer monitor. She turned around to find no one there. Since then she's never worked late alone again.

The former Blaisdell Hotel, 1154 Fort St.

This building, which was completed around 1912, has been the site of a couple of suicides and alleged hauntings. In the 1980s the owner of the building ran up gambling debts and hung himself from a pipe in the basement. In the 1960s a guest allegedly committed suicide by jumping off the fourth floor into the garden area. A worker has reported seeing an old-time Navy officer lugging a trunk down the hall.

Corner of Nuuanu Avenue and North Hotel Street

In pre-Kamehameha days, the location was reportedly home to the ancient Hawaiian village of Kou. The late-night crowd and early-morning office workers sometimes report seeing ancient Hawaiian warriors looking for their village.

Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.

Built in 1922 by Consolidated Amusements of Honolulu, the theater is reportedly home to the ghost of a Chinese gambler who was beaten up and left to die inside its walls. According to local legend, in the 1990s the ghost materialized to some members of an all-women's dance troupe and prevented them from completing their costume changes.

Dumpster Alley, between Fort Street Mall and Bethel Street, across from the Mercury Bar in the vicinity of Hawaii Pacific University

Ghost radars reportedly ping nonstop, and ghostly images appear on film shot at this alley, which was once the backside of bustling turn-of-the-century shops. It was informally dubbed "Dumpster Alley" because of a law requiring shops to keep trash bins by their doors. During the height of Honolulu's illegal-gambling days, bodies of debtors were often recovered from these Dumpsters.

Source: Joe Espinada Jr., Steven Fredrick, Lopaka Kapanui

* Believe it or not. These stories are according to local lore and are not meant to be an official record of history.

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