SALT LAKE CITY — Haunted mansions, phantom nuns and a poltergeist wedding crasher might sound like the makings of a Halloween flick, but they actually come out of Salt Lake City’s history, at least according to the tour guides at Story Tours' Salt Lake City Ghost Tours.
The company has been collecting and telling ghost stories for years, and now it's sharing some of its best spooky tales in its newly released book, "Haunted Salt Lake City" (The History Press, 143 pages).
"I think the book will reach people that aren’t able to come on the tours," said Kristen Clay, who founded the tours in 2002 and is one of the book’s authors. "They can sit down with the book and get a review of the history and the story."
The book’s pages are filled with accounts of ghostly sightings. The four authors — which, in addition to Clay, include tour guides Laurie Allen, Cassie Ashton and Nannette Watts — explore 13 haunted destinations in Salt Lake, including the Masonic Temple, Fort Douglas and downtown’s Devereaux House (right in the shadow of the Deseret News offices).
But the book is packed with more than just phantom tales. Readers will get to explore Salt Lake City’s history, since many of the stories are rooted in the experiences of the Wasatch Front’s early settlers. That doesn’t mean the book is a long, drawn-out history lesson; Allen said the authors paid special attention to balancing the fun of ghost stories with insightful context.
"I’ve read some haunted stories that people have written that have been killed by too much architectural explanations or historical explanations," she said. "Give us some of that, but get to the story. We tried to make sure it was entertaining."
For the tour guides — or "story guides," as they call themselves — a core component of the book and tours is authenticity. That means no cheap tricks or sensationalized tales. The authors say all the stories included in the book are true, just like the stories many hear when they experience the ghost tours firsthand.
"There are a lot of attractions in October that try to scare you. We make nothing up," Watts said. "What we’re trying to do is help you make that story connection … We’re hoping to touch people on a deeper level."
Conjuring creepy and disturbing spirits isn’t something they do, either. They say they don’t dabble in anything satanic, and the tours and the book are family-friendly. Those searching for nightmare-worthy experiences should look elsewhere.
"I think it’s a challenge for us on the tours and in the book," Watts said. "Some people are looking for what they see in Hollywood … But this is a vehicle where we can reach people who are afraid that we’re going to try to scare them."
The book can’t replace the tour — comparing the two is like "comparing apples to bananas," they said — but the authors still hope readers will gain an appreciation for the city’s rich history and its ghostly residents. They say the book is perfect for both believers and the curious.
"(The book) is a nice, friendly introduction where we're not trying to make you believe, make you not believe, or explain it away," Watts said.
Clay added, "You don't even have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a good ghost story … we started out curious and we walked away with a real respect and love for Salt Lake City."
If you go …
What: Kristen Clay, Laurie Allen, Cassie Howard-Ashton and Nanette Watts book signing for "Haunted Salt Lake City"
When: Saturday, Oct. 27, 2 p.m.-4 p.m.
Where: 607 Trolley Square