Photo: David McGregor. The Barefoot Undertaker played by Bill Pacer talks with participants in the Lawrenceville Ghost Tours on Friday in downtown Lawrenceville. The tours are put on by the Aurora Theatre.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- "The Barefoot Undertaker" flailed his arms enthusiastically as he shared ghost stories with his Friday night Lawrenceville ghost tour group while his rusty lantern lit up his bare feet in the night.
The energy flowing from him entranced his group, which stared at him wide-eyed and silent, like schoolchildren do to their favorite teacher.
His charisma attracted people off the square, who stopped in to listen to a story or two before heading on their way.
The Aurora Theatre has hosted ghost tours for the past seven years, and The Barefoot Undertaker, played by Bill Pacer, is one of several storytellers who lead guests around the Lawrenceville square with historical stories of death, the unusual or unexplained.
"I think people are always interested in the supernatural and they like that it's local," Pacer said. "We don't tell stories that happen in Scotland or some other town. These are tales that happened in Lawrenceville and we go beyond the tales to talk about the history. It gives it more immediacy. It's something they want to hear about."
Pacer said he believes people are drawn to the tour because each storyteller adds his or her own personality to keep it interesting.
"You come into it with the mindset that you are either a believer or a non-believer," said Nick Botta of Lawrenceville, who was guided by "Miss Candy" on Saturday night. "If you're a non-believer, you're just going to be entertained; if you're a believer you're really kind of intrigued. I'm a believer so I'm always kind of intrigued by it.
"I didn't find anything overly outrageous or not within the realm of possibilities when she talks about ghosts and apparitions and people who've had these experiences. I just thought it was very credible, very enjoyable."
Botta, who has been a Lawrenceville resident for 15 years, said he enjoyed learning more about the city's history and past. He said he plans to return for the trolley tour for more stories about the cemetery later this summer.
"We had a lot of fun," said tour guide Miss Candy, played by Sara Holton. "I always try and scare someone early on, just a little boo trick, and that gets everyone going. It lets everyone know that it's OK to laugh, it's OK to think this is fun and silly, and they enjoy it a whole lot more."
Botta said he didn't think the tour was scary, but he did think the 179-year-old jail was creepy after he learned the story of the ghost who haunts it, Eleek.
"That was probably the saddest part of the entire tour, because you actually know that's where Eleek spent his last days and that was kind of creepy," Botta said. "That was probably the creepiest part of the whole thing, that that was a real functioning jail back in the day."
People can look into Eleek's jail cell and see where he carved into the wall to try to break free before he was hanged.
Guests also have an opportunity to experience paranormal phenomena in the old jail. Barefoot Bill warned his group to watch out for cold spots because it signifies an encounter with Eleek.
"Other folks say that if they touch the wall, they are overcome with a feeling of sadness," Holton said. "There was one time when I lost my balance and bumped into the wall and it happened to me. I had to stop and drink water and take a minute before I could go on with the story, because I really felt like I was going to burst into tears. It's an incredible place."
However, the old jail isn't the only highlight of the tour. Groups are taken to various locations with unusual stories and through McCrays's Tavern, which is haunted by Howling Curtis, the town drunk.
As the tour group walks through the bar area, they howl at the top of their lungs to honor Curtis, while bar patrons enthusiastically join in.
The Aurora Theatre will continue hosting the tours throughout the summer every Friday and Saturday night starting at 8:30 p.m. Trolley tours will also be available starting at 8 p.m.
"I just found it worth the investment," Botta said. "I would highly recommend it to anybody, especially if you've lived here a while. We knew some history of Lawrenceville, but not as much as we were able to gain tonight."