Haunted tours of New Albany explore dark history

Ashley Sizemore

The sun is setting as people gather around a man in a black top hat on the sidewalk and listen to gruesome, detailed stories of murders and suicides that happened in downtown New Albany. They shift their attention to the building behind him, imagining what happened. Telling the tales of a haunted past is Gregg Seidl, a local historian, tour guide and author that graduated from IU Southeast in 2006.

He offers three “haunted” tours in downtown New Albany called Wicked New Albany during the summer and fall: Dining with the Dead, Drinking with the Dead and Nefarious New Albany. Each tour takes a different route of historic buildings in downtown, and some of the stories overlap. Seidl gathers the tour outside of each location and tells people what happened there. In some instances, guests are allowed to go inside the buildings and look around. Guests are encouraged to take photos of their experience.

“He is an excellent storyteller as any good historian should be,” Bonnie Atkins, a member of the first tour, said.

Drinking with the Dead guests must be 21-years-old because guests go to local bars such as Hugh E. Birs, Irish Exit, and Habana Blues. Those who attend are encouraged to have a drink from each establishment. Dining with the Dead begins at Habana Blues and starts with a meal, and then goes to local food places such as Café 27 and other local places in a block radius. It is the shortest walking distance of all the tours. Nefarious New Albany is the biggest of all the tours and starts at Hugh E. Birs.

Seidl said he bases the tours on history, not on the paranormal. “I am a historian, not a ghost hunter,” Seidl said. “If ghosts exist, where these murders and things took place then surely this is where you’ll find them.” Seidl said the inspiration for his tours started from his senior seminar research paper at IU Southeast. He said while researching he would find awful ways that people died and wanted to collect them to create a book called “Terrible Agonies.”

“It was going to be a bathroom book,” Seidl said. “You would go in there, you would read the article about how this person dies this horrible, terrible death. It was going to be straight from the article.”

Seidl said he based the tours on the stories’ locations. He said he broke the tours into three because there was too much area for one.

“I have taken a few tours and they are all different,” Atkins said. “They may be the same stories, but he finds a way to change it.”

The tours start at Hugh E. Birs, a local bar that opened in 1966. Seidl said he chose this bar to pay patronage to the original owner.

“Hugh E.’s is one of those places that people go by there and wonder what goes on in there with all the motorcycles,” Seidl said. “It kind of puts them on edge starting out at Hugh E.’s.”

Seidl found that he had a personal connection with one of the most infamous murders. On his 13th birthday, a murder victim’s body was found. Seidl said the murder happened not far from where he was staying in New Albany. He said that two boys, a son and his friend, had killed the mother and wrapped her in sheets and stuffed her in a mattress.

“He doesn’t try to jazz up what’s not there,” Mike Culwell, paranormal investigator and retired chief of police, said. “I worked the case with the mother in the mattress. The topics that he talks about have all been correct.”

Ever since Seidl learned the details, he said he wonders how many flies that he waved away were from her body.

Seidl wanted to play a joke on the boys one Halloween night. He got a couple of the notices from the newspaper about the murder, which had the address, and wanted to place them on their doorstep after they were released from prison.

“It was actually a horrible joke that I wanted to play on somebody,” Seidl said.

While doing research at the library, Seidl said the librarian told him about a tour that the city of New Albany wanted to hold. He said they gave him two weeks to prepare stories within a certain area of downtown.

“I led 110 people around on that tour,” Seidl said. It included the mayor of New Albany and the local historian, so the pressure was on.”

He said there was only one tour planned and did not want his work to go to waste. Seidl said Wicked New Albany was created.

Seidl said he has had paranormal experiences on his tours that have spooked him enough to almost refund people’s money and end the tour.

“As I am standing there, I hear this voice say ‘are you ready for this?’” Seidl said.

Seidl said he has seen floating lights and experienced cold spots. Some of his guests say they had experiences too.

“At the old Central Hotel, it had no air conditioning and it had to have been 90 something degrees,” Culwell said. “I took a picture, and I have a white streak.”

During the Nefarious New Albany tour Seidl dresses up in a black hat and black clothing. He said he wears it to honor a man who committed suicide at the New Albany Inn, now Habana Blues, in 1885.

“I grew up here and already heard the story about a little old man on the third floor with a hat and cape,” Seidl said. “It was a couple years into the tour that I found the story.”

Seidl has published two books, “Wicked New Albany” and “New Albany,” part of the Images of America series and is working on a third book to be released by October 2014.

“I had to find my little niche in history,” Seidl said. “Nothing has generated the interest that these stories have generated.”