Tortured slaves. Victims of a "Helter Skelter" blood bath. Theater-goers incinerated in one of America's deadliest fires.
The restless spirits of these and other tormented souls haunt creaky homes, dreary cemeteries and dark alleys. Or maybe it's all a con, a scam played upon our morbid curiosity about ghosts and the occult. With Halloween approaching, it's only natural to be a bit more curious about life, death and that misty cold void in between. If you feel like testing your courage and exploring the world of spooks, ghouls and poltergeists, consider one of the following ghost tours.
Celebrity spook enthusiasts can jump on a bus and cruise through Hollywood for three hours, checking out stops like the site of the Tate-LaBianca murders by the crazed Manson family. Guests also see spots where celebrities took their dying breath, including the site of the Ambassador Hotel, where presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the Viper Room in West Hollywood, where actor River Phoenix died of an overdose. The tour also includes a rest stop -- at the Beverly Hills restroom where singer George Michael was arrested for lewd behavior in 1998.
1 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. $35. For reservations and meeting location, call (800) 789-9575 or go to www.dearlydepartedtours.com.
Haunted Haight (San Francisco)
San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district is known as home for laid-back hippies and other free spirits. But it may also be home to dark spooks and evil spirits. Tommy Netzband, founder and president of the San Francisco Ghost Society, leads this two-hour walking tour of "the Haight." According to Netzband, the highlight of the walk is a haunted bar, where patrons say they feel themselves being watched in the bathroom and unexplained sounds have been recorded by Netzband and his investigators.
7 p.m. nightly. $20. Meet at 1206 Masonic Ave., San Francisco. For more information, call (415) 863-1416 or go to www.hauntedhaight.com.
Ghostly Tours in History ( San Diego)
Centered in the Gaslamp district of San Diego, this 60-minute walk starts at the 1850-era William Heath Davis house where visitors say ghostly shapes can be seen in photos taken of a woman's portrait in the living room. The tour also takes you past the Horton Grand Hotel, where, legend says, the ghost of a murdered gambler haunts the venerable inn.
7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays (New tours are given on Sundays in October). $10. Meet at the William Heath Davis House, 410 Island Ave., San Diego. For reservations, call (877) 220-4844 or go to www.ghostlytoursinhistory.com. The company also offers a limousine tour and a downtown San Diego walking tour.
Calico Ghost Walk (Calico)
About 10 miles northeast of Barstow, the former silver mining town of Calico was converted into a family-friendly regional park where visitors can enjoy parades and live music during the annual Calico Days. But in October you can join a 90-minute ghost walk around the 19th century buildings where the spirits of slain miners and cowboys creep out of the desert shadows. Some tour guests have reported seeing the ghost of the town's doctor, carrying his medical bag from his former office.
9:30 p.m. on Fridays and 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Oct. 17, 18, 24 and 25. $14.99 a person. For more information, call (760) 254-2122 or go to www.calicoghostwalk.com.
Aspook About Ghost Tour (Santa Fe, N.M.)
After enjoying a traditional Southwestern meal of hot enchiladas and honey-soaked sopaipillas, take this 90-minute walking tour of historic downtown Santa Fe and visit a former hospital building where lights mysteriously flick on and off and a plaza outside an old courthouse where justice was served at the end of a rope.
5:30 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. On Mondays, meet in the lobby of the El Dorado Hotel. On Fridays and Saturdays, meet in the lobby of La Posada Resort and Spa. $13. For reservations and more information, call (505) 988-2774 or go to www.accesssantafe.com/aboot_about.html.
Spellbound Tours (Salem, Mass.)
Mollie Stewart, a licensed ghost hunter with the International Ghost Hunters Society, hosts this 60-minute Vampire and Ghost Hunt Tour. Follow her to locations that she has investigated, including an old graveyard, a creepy jail and the site of the original "witch dungeon," where people accused of practicing witchcraft were jailed. Stewart also explains the origins of vampire folklore in Salem. She also offers a daytime tour solely on the victims of Salem's witchcraft trials.