Ghost tour attendees enjoy spooky parts of Princeton’s history

Ghost tour attendees enjoy spooky parts of Princeton’s history

The idea for the ghost tour came from a strange encounter with a visitor more than a decade ago, says Mimi Omycinski, owner of Princeton Tour Company, which runs public walking tours in the city.

“He was dressed really nicely and was on a private tour. I don’t want to scare you, but I’m seeing ghosts,” Omycinski said after the tour.

Curious, Omycinski agreed to meet him. “He took me on a tour around campus and started pointing out places where he could see things.”

“I kept thinking about it and said, ‘Well, what do you do with something like that?’ Omincinsky recalls.

After this meeting, Omincinsky contacted campus security and the city municipal administration to ask if they had any unusual certificates on file. She also spent time searching the Historical Society’s archives and researching what people reported. However, the real “game changer” was hiring a team from Weird NJ — a travel guide and magazine that chronicles local legends and strange phenomena — to investigate supposed paranormal hotspots around the city.

“The Weird NJ team came out with their equipment and just said, ‘There’s unusual bioactivity.'” “That’s all they could say, ‘It was weird,'” Omincinski recounted.

After reviewing Weird NJ, Princeton Tour Company began offering Ghost Tours, a spooky twist on traditional historical tours that take guests around the campus, surrounding city, and Princeton Cemetery. The ghost tours, which take place at 7:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays in October, last two hours and cost $35 per person.

“(The Ghost Tours) almost always sell out,” said Jennifer Ross, a six-year tour guide for Princeton Tour Company. “It’s different from a regular historical tour because we tell fun, scary stories about the city and go to the cemetery, which is pretty amazing.”

Guests gather at the University Store on Nassau Street before heading to campus, where there seems to be no shortage of scary stories. After entering directly through the FitzRandolph Gate, the group stopped at the former home of Joseph Henry, first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Henry was a physicist who “conducted pioneering research into electromagnetism” and became a professor of natural philosophy at Princeton University in 1832. He also performed Frankenstein-style electrical experiments on the corpse of convicted murderer Antoine Le Blanc, attempting to relate electrical current to muscle contraction. , according to historical accounts of the story. Once Henry’s body was completed, Le Blanc was dissected and his skin was allegedly turned into leather trophies, which are said to still be scattered throughout New Jersey.

One of the highlights of the tour tells the story of the suspected stalking of the Hamilton Murray Theater, which is said to have ended after a picture of Murray was hung again. Visitors are also taken to Rockefeller College, where a tour guide quotes residents’ stories of their various encounters with ghosts. Guests are told the story of Italian craftsmen, hired for their expertise in Gothic architecture, who came across human bones when starting construction of the dormitory. The university exhumed the 32 bodies, placed them in caskets, and placed them behind Holder’s Passage along with an inscription that reads: “Nearby lie the remains of Nathaniel Fitz Randolph, generous donor of the land on which the original buildings were erected. This university was erected.”

Finally, after a recap of the Battle of Princeton, visitors are given about 15 minutes to “hunt” the ghosts behind Nassau Hall, where the battle took place. Guides provide various devices, including thermometer guns, electromagnetic field meters, and dowsing rods, to facilitate the search for the ghosts of Princeton’s past. Guests walk around the courtyard to experience changes in temperature and spikes in electromagnetic field signals. Using dowsing rods, they can ask the ghosts questions such as: “Would you cross these rods if you were a student at Princeton?” Here, the tour guide warns attendees to always be polite – getting on the bad side of a ghost is not in anyone’s best interest.

Once the ghost hunting period is over, the group ventures into the city. The first stop is near the Princeton Art Museum Shop, where tour attendees attempt to piece together the details of the unsolved murder of Town Topics founder Emily “Cissy” Stewart, who was stabbed to death in her Princeton home while gardening 34 years ago. Next, the tour moves to the Nassau Inn to hear the story of Mattie Shann, who is suspected of killing her husband and son in an attempt to secure money from their life insurance. The final stop downtown is Chuck’s Spring Street Café, once owned by the notorious Menendez brothers, whose case has received ongoing attention. The brothers grew up in Princeton and went on to kill their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion, claiming that years of abuse were the motivation for their actions.

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The final part of the tour takes place at Princeton Cemetery. The Princeton Tour Company has special access to the cemetery, which is closed to the public in the evening. The cemetery tour consists of short stops and discussions—which take on a more historical feel compared to previous spooky stories—at the gravestones of several notable people, including Aaron Burr, Grover Cleveland, and James McCosh. “Because the Nassau Presbyterian Church Cemetery is a resting place, we do not investigate there,” the company’s website notes, and instead the tour focuses on locating notable graves.

Recently, the cemetery portion of the ghost tour has been the subject of some controversy on campus. On October 8, the Daily Princetonian published an article covering an Undergraduate Student Government (USG) meeting, where University Chancellors Roberto Lachner ’26 and Genevieve Schott ’26 presented plans for a USG-sponsored Ghost Tour that would cost $1,047.50 and allow 25 students to attend.

After the USG meeting article was published, some community members reached out with concerns, Lachner said.

“We have been told that the Princeton Tour Company is not reputable and has a history of disrespect while at Princeton Cemetery,” Lachner said.

USG decided not to go ahead with the Ghost Tour led by the Princeton Tour Company.

“We immediately notified all who contacted us about their concerns and issued an internal statement to update the Senate. “USG never made any purchases for this event,” Lachner said.

Princeton resident and former US Prime Minister Thomas Pyle 76 wrote a letter to the editor that was published the next day, outlining his concerns about visiting the cemetery as an attraction. “There is something indecent about a potential commercial tour of 25 college students having fun in the dark searching for ‘ghosts’ carrying flashlights in a local sacred space,” he wrote.

In response to concerns about respect for the cemetery and its residents, Omicinski pointed to her personal connection to the cemetery and the distinction between what the tour covers inside and outside the cemetery.

“My stepfather is buried there. I actually bought plots for my family that are between Paul Tulane and George Kennan, so I have a big connection to the cemetery,” Omycinski said. “We try to make it very clear in our description (that) what we do outside the cemetery doors is what we do inside.” Totally different.”

“Outside there are ghost hunts, paranormal phenomena and historical background, but we also state on the website that once we enter the gates, this is our final resting place,” Omisinski continued.

Greta Richards, a fourth-grader from Atlantic Highlands, said she learned a lot during the tour.

“My favorite part was probably the ghost hunting. It was really interesting to learn about the people who once lived here.”

The tour is advertised on its website as “not too terrifying but scarily informative.”

“I was expecting it to be scarier,” Richards said. “But it was actually interesting and full of history.”

Maya Chu is a feature writer for Prince magazine.

Please send corrections to corrections(at)dailyprincetonian.com.

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