My Job Gives People Nightmares: What It's Like Being a Halloween Tour Guide

halloween tour guideWhat if your dream job was to give other people nightmares?

That's the fun and frightful profession that makes Josiah George of Boston wake up each day looking forward to nightfall with a touch of sinister glee, especially during the Halloween season. George is one of a troupe of talented, costumed performers that take tourists on a unique excursion of Boston locales and dark streets. They are guides on Boston's Ghosts and Gravestones tour, which unveils some of the city's Colonial secrets with a delightfully eerie witch's brew of scary fun and macabre history, mixed with a dash of dark humor.

"I do something called a 'jump scare' where I sneak up behind our unsuspecting tour group inside a spooky, quiet graveyard and holler loudly," George said. "We've gotten wonderful reactions from people. They scream, they gasp, they jump. One time, we had eight young girls huddling together in the dark graveyard, and when I scared them from behind, four of the girls toppled over onto the ground together like dominoes. They were literally frightened off their feet by the tour."

This popular combination trolley and walking tour is almost a year-round venture for these performers. However, it's during the weeks of October leading up to Halloween when they have the most fun bringing a delightful chill up the spines of Boston's unsuspecting, but highly entertained tourist victims.

Among the stories conjured up are tales of haunted graveyards, colonial hangings in the Boston Common, The Boston Strangler and even a stop at an old library where there rests a Colonial-era book bound in real human flesh. Amazingly enough, these grim happenings are presented in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that entertains all -- young, old and in-between.

"We get surprisingly unexpected reactions from people on the tour. Many, of course, scream and gasp in horror and amazement. Other folks who might not ordinarily swear or curse, suddenly when scared out of their wits will utter totally unexpected and out-of-character, four-letter expletives in frightful reaction. It's funniest when we see this happen with sweet-looking 60-year-old ladies who love being frightened."

Josiah -- who goes by the stage name in character of Lucious Branch, a gravedigger from Colonial times -- shared his thoughts on what makes his job a fun-filled scream each night.

Q. How did you become involved in this unique job?

A. I answered a posting for a cold audition in 2005 and did a reading of Edgar Allan Poe's 'Tell Tale Heart.' The performance manager at the time was a Poe fan, and it was a no-brainer for him to hire me. Since then, for me and my co-workers, this is more than just a job. As a theatrical performer, you learn there aren't too many jobs where the group becomes a cohesive, continuing troupe that stays together year after year. It's great to come back to the same group of people each season.

Q. How does this company of performers work to put on several performances each night over a season?

A. We have 14 actors and a manager. Once we pass the audition, we're given a script with all the basic historic material, which is told in a narrative sense. What's great about this gig is that you're able to develop your own unique character from the original script. I tell the macabre stories from my character's perspective.

Q. What do you enjoy most about this job of frightening folks?

A. One of the best parts of my job is being a true storyteller. I get to pass these old stories about Boston's past from generation to generation. It's almost like telling scary stories around a campfire and creating a scary, macabre mood for the listeners. What's particularly enjoyable for me are the people I get to work with and the people who enjoy the tour.

Q. What's the greatest challenge you face?

A. I think it's painting the right atmosphere for each group amid sometimes difficult distractions. The tour is conducted, in part, inside a moving vehicle, with street noises and people hollering and more. The guide needs to work off the reactions of the audience. Some of the reactions are, well, to die for.

We've dealt with all kinds of unexpected distractions, from people fainting on the tour for any number of reasons; but they're always happy and have fun. Once, we had a group of drag queens spontaneously join in our tour as we were walking. I suspect some of the paying customers weren't sure if they were part of the show. But, that's the unexpected fun of this tour. There's always surprises.

As much as Josiah loves his moonlighting job as a theatrical gravedigger, he hasn't given up on his daytime job and equally enjoyable passion. By night, he may be bringing thrills and chills to Boston's tourists; however, by day Josiah is the Equity stage manager for the Stoneham Theater outside of Boston.

For more information on Boston's Ghosts and Gravestones tour, visit their website at :

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