Sunday, January 17, 2016

Welcome "The Ghost Lady"!

Today “The Ghost Lady” graciously haunts 
The Word Place! 

Photo Credit:

While it’s customary to place the bio at the end of a piece, you’ll want to know more about the person answering my questions, so please welcome Shelly Tucker, “The Ghost Lady” of Denton, Texas!

Shelly Tucker paints pictures with words ---she tells stories for a living. In fact, the National Endowment for the Arts named her an American Masterpiece Storyteller in 2008.  For thirty years, Shelly has traveled the Lone Star State telling stories at schools, libraries, and museums.  She asks that you don’t tell anyone that, because she is trying to pass for twenty-nine.
These days, it's more likely that you will find Shelly Tucker leading The Ghosts of Denton tour groups around a dark downtown weaving a narrative spell that resurrects the past, uncovers buried secrets and dusts off forgotten mysteries. This professional storyteller and author, a Denton resident, has wrapped her passion for research and local Denton history and lore into ghost tales that chill and delight. Folks around town call her, "The Ghost Lady."
She shares part of her ghostly tales of Denton in her book: Ghosts of Denton; The History of the Mysteries in a Small Texas Town.   She saved the rest of the stories to tell out loud. 
Shelly says, “Although I am a “taphophile,” which means I love to wander in cemeteries to admire the tombstones, I don’t want to be buried in a cemetery.  I have requested that I be cremated when I give up the ghost.  I want my cremains put into an old parking meter that says, “Expired” and hope to have that placed on the Denton Courthouse lawn (if possible).  I plan to haunt the Jupiter House Coffee Shop on the Square, so be sure to drop in to say hello.”
In this life, however, connect with Shelly on Facebook!

Why do you think that people these days are interested in ghost stories and taking ghost tours?

I think that mankind has always had an interest in the "unknown."  In the earliest days of civilization, people sat around the glowing fires telling stories to each other.  Quite often, they were magical or ghostly.  Those stories were for entertainment, and sometimes used as cautionary tales. Also, ghost tales help the audience confront fear in a "safe" setting.  I'm always very aware of the mood of the crowd.  If I sense that someone is getting too frightened, I tone down the story to get them back to a safe place in their minds.
The interest in ghost stories isn't "new," but it is "renewed" because it is more acceptable these days to tell them and hear them.  Of course, the television shows about the paranormal fuel the interest, so it seemed natural for a storyteller to have a ghost tour.  I had taken tours in other parts of the country that I very much enjoyed.  Our local library had a collection of newspaper clippings about "ghostly tales" in the area, so it was a great beginning.  After a "partnership" with another person didn't work out, I started Ghosts of Denton in 2013, but I had already been telling stories on the square for a year. 
Ghost stories have always been my favorite genre.  I started re-telling Edgar Allen Poe tales in the second grade and learned quickly how powerful a scary tale can be.  But, in public schools I had to censor myself, because some overprotective parents want to shield their children from such stories.  On the ghost tour, the customers paid for a scary story --- so I can tell one if I want. 
On a Ghosts of Denton Haunted History Tour, I share the ghostly stories (of course), but I share a lot of Denton history to "explain" the mystery.  I always want to know the "who, what, when, where, and why" of a ghost.  It's not always possible to figure out "who," but the story makes it more interesting.

How do you decide which of the many ‘haunted’ sites to visit on a single tour? 
I'm not sure that I "decide," because the stories just fall out of my mouth!  That's not quite true. I don't know what stories I will tell on a given night until I have visited with my audience for a few moments. I've been a storyteller for the last thirty years, and learned long ago to "read" the audience before telling a tale.  
With more than fifty developed stories in the Denton area, I have a lot of choices, but I often return to sites that people seem to enjoy the most --- or where we have had haunted activity on the tour. I size up the audience in the first few minutes of introduction, determining the age group, the "attention span," their interest in the paranormal, and how mobile they are.  
Sometimes I have audience members that don't walk well, which means we aren't going to walk three blocks to get to a site. Other times, the audience seems more interested in history than they are in mystery. If there are small children in the group, I skip certain stories instead of having to water them down. Sometimes the weather dictates the stories (Elm Street is a "wind tunnel," so on frigid, windy nights I usually direct people down a different street. 
Then there are the nights that a certain story seems to be "calling me."  It seems to want to be told, so I go with it. Every night is different. 

Do you acquire most of your information from your own research, or do people come to you with tales? 
Almost every time I tell a ghost story, people want to share their own ghostly tales with me, because they know they have an audience that won't judge them. Many of the stories I tell on the tour began with a tidbit of a ghostly experience told to me by the person who experienced it. I flesh out the tale with intensive historical research from the copious materials at the Emily Fowler Public Library (which is a haunted location), from the archives at the Courthouse on the Square Museum, from online research (especially at the Portal to Texas History and, from newspaper articles, and from interviews with local residents.  I'm greatly indebted to a local research librarian, Laura Douglas, for her expertise in finding local information to and a local historian, Mike Cochran, for his extensive work in preserving the history of the Denton area. 

Which seasons/dates are most popular with tour participants? 
Of course, the most popular season is Halloween (if I could clone myself in October, and do more tours, I could retire for the year!).  Other than that, the ghost tours seem to be consistently popular except during the winter time.  Winter seems to be "dead time" for ghost tours in Texas, because no one wants to get out in the cold unless there is a football game involved.  Maybe if I had a ghost story about a football...

 Have you already expanded beyond the city of Denton, or do you plan to do so? 
For thirty years I have been telling ghost stories that were from all around the country, so I guess I "expanded" before I narrowed down my repertoire.  Yes, I'll always research and write about any ghost story that interests me.  However, as far as ghost tours beyond Denton --- no.  I won't be doing any other tours any time soon.  I love the freedom of working five minutes from my house.

Shelly has cobbled together some of her stories in print--and I hope there are more to come! I’ve taken her tour and read the book and recommend BOTH very highly. And, since the Jupiter House Coffee Shop on the Square is also one of my favorite places to ‘haunt’ when I visit Denton (although as a writing hang out!), perhaps I’ll run into Shelly again. . .sometime. . .

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Tui Snider said...

Great interview! I'm a big fan of Shelly. She's an excellent storyteller & her ghost tour and book are just as fun for history buffs as those who are merely looking for spooky stories! :)

Anna Sidoti said...

I'm a big fan of Shelly, too. I have taken her Ghosts of Denton tour several times and always hear a new ghost story or learn a new bit of history. Shelly keeps her audience entertained and engaged. You should go to her Ghosts of Denton site and schedule a tour now. You will NOT be disappointed!

Shelly Kneupper Tucker said...

Judy, thank you so much for the interview! I appreciate you, and look forward to seeing you again soon!