“I don’t consider tour-guiding an art form.  However, I do consider story-telling an art form.” – Kathy Kelly, owner Paranormal Books and Curiosities

When traveling to a new city, Mike and I often stop at the Visitor Center and ask about a walking tour to get a lay of the land, see those ‘particular to the area’ sights and listen to the tour guide take us through the history.  Walking tours are much like the shared experiences of movies and theater, the information is better assimilated in a group, the diversity of strangers heightens the excitement of a new experience.  Our tours have been memorable from the Big Onion Original Multi Ethnic walking tour in NYC winding through Chinatown, Little Italy and the Jewish neighborhoods of my parents.   Or around the canals in Amsterdam where marijuana wafted from the cafes and we learned of squatters who took over an abandoned building and legally got to keep it because the owner had long neglected it.  Or on a boat trip up the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, which hasn’t changed all that much since the Vietnam War period, with homes perched on poles and fishing, washing and bathing all still daily activities on the banks.


Our own city of Asbury Park has weekly tours in the downtown for the public given, with flair, by Kathy Kelly, owner of Paranormal Books and Curiosities and her band of tour guides.  She came into town in 2008, opened her book store dedicated to all things off-beat and otherworldly and has become a force of nature ever since.  She has learned that “everyone craves and enjoys losing themselves in a story that connects them to the past and to other people.”

When I asked Kelly whether she would consider her very popular ghost tours an art form, she explained, “Many tour guides are great and proficient, but some elevate that to something different.  In the case of a ghost tour, the guide needs to do more than just relate a narrative, or exchange dates and times etc. He or she needs to connect with the audience, use voice, mannerisms, words and tone to create an experience that enthralls, entertains, but also makes them lose themselves in that experience.  The tent poles of a story can be told by anyone, but it takes more to make people step outside themselves and let themselves get lost for a few minutes in a fantastic tale.  Someone who can do that is an artist.”


Ghost tours cater to the occult, revel in crimes and spirits, and are ideally suited for a night on the town.  Historic tours highlight architecture, changes in city landscape and the politics behind statues and public art.  Building tours celebrate the grandeur and scope of the structure.  Walking tours cover ground and the participation is felt in the company of others.  Mural tours cover graffiti, and large and small wall art in public and hidden outdoor spaces.  National Park tours can be found in the obvious but also in New Orleans and Boston Patriot’s Trail.  There are now tours for every niche imaginable, in a large way, these cater to vibe of a place, showcasing a landscape and imparting ‘personal’ knowledge.  There is always something to see.


In Seattle recently, our Food Tour guide for Pike Place Market, Chef Eric, was a great help in encouraging our tour group to frequent the generous stalls he had given us tastes from, what a natural selling tool and synergistic.  He was also a chef himself, a long-time resident of Seattle and an outgoing personality, enjoying himself as well as his guests, bringing out stories from them as well.  The participatory nature of his immersion into Seattle history while we were standing in the middle of the Market on a sunny morning was infectious. The value-added nature of the tour was evident, he even guided everyone to other tours, or restaurants he personally recommended in any price range or neighborhood.  Kelly also uses her tours to encourage her guests to return, to other tours or events, like the upcoming Krampus Festival she started.  Krampus, a horned, anthropomorphic figure from pre-Christian Alpine folk-lore, rewards the good and punishes the bad children around the Christmas holidays and has grown in stature in the US as family fun.


In Cleveland, we were guided by a very helpful Visitor Center representative to experience, a spectacular art museum (free), a cemetery with the largest Tiffany window in the US and 2 walking tours.  What made these tours special was that the tour guide was aided by actors in period costumes, at 2 stops along each tour.  Portraying famous city residents who invented, developed or were influential in shaping the city, these additional characters made the city’s history come alive in the first person words of those who had ‘lived it’.  Tours give life to the history, helping those in attendance experience the city through the eyes of the guides.


New York City’s Up Close Broadway Tours during the pandemic started back outdoors and were in operation even before the theaters re-opened.  Of course, an ex-actor, John, gave our tour to a group of theater lovers and out of towners desperate for something related to their beloved Great White Way.  Who knew how many theaters there were on 42nd street?  Or the actors who were most notable of their times?  And what about those developers who designed the spaces to their audiences preferences – a roof top petting zoo and clever interior routes to make the best use of the busy street’s entrances and exits.  We were unexpectedly immersed, on the busy sidewalks, and we never walked more than around the block.  This tour guide made his talk into the artform of a great storyteller, WE were breathless when he was done with his 90 minutes.

Kathy Kelly (center) during Krampus event
Visitors touring during Krampus

Is having tours good for a city?  Kelly has no qualms, “It is always a positive.  Ghost tours are history tours in disguise.  By telling the private history of a place, they remind people that other people lived and prospered, and lost and died in that place. Our market base is not locals. It has always come from all over the tristate area.”

Your city’s features, history and charm can be wrapped into an enticing story that can make it a destination and benefit the economy. The art of storytelling can be found within the ambassadors that are your tour guides.

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