No, slavery stories aren't meant to be entertainment tales
Choose your 'haunted trail' tour bus excursions wisely
Writing about Chicago travel tours and interesting landmarks around my hometown seemed like it’d be a fun idea. And considering Halloween is my third favorite holiday (Veteran’s Day is first, Christmas is second), signing up to review a haunted tour around Chicago made absolute sense for my beat. I had a vague history lesson in Al Capone and Chicago’s ties to the Mafia. I also knew about my city’s ties to the Pullman Porters and “The Chicago Defender” newspaper. But you can never know too much. I pitched the idea, got it approved and off I went.
I waited patiently for the bus to arrive near Rock n’ Roll McDonald’s, introduced myself to the tour guides and received a press pass. And then I waited for them to scare me half to death with random mob stories and mysterious “burials.” Although we did the usual things like stare at dark windows, try to hear random “noises” outside that were unfamiliar and strolled around an old hotel ballroom where murders allegedly happened, I can’t say I was shaking in my boots.
It was entertaining. But scary? Not even close. I boarded the bus, still intending to give the Chicago spooky tour a decent write-up. The two main guys who were leading us around the city did a great job of telling passengers about life during the Capone era. For whatever reason, they decided to switch places with a third person—a woman—to share horror stories on our return home.
I settled into my seat, ready to hear what she would come up with on the ride back after an eventful bunch of stops. I happened to glance over at (now-demolished) Harpo Studios as our bus cruised by.
“If you really want to see something scary, see Oprah Winfrey without makeup,” the lady tour guide said into the mic. “I saw her show live once from the audience and wow.”
I glanced up from my notes. I heard a couple of chuckles and one person going “ooooh.” The lady tour guide made eye contact with me, grinning wide. I was not. Right at that moment, she realized where she messed up her own tour and she’d just barely started. That definitely made it to my write-up.
Black people don’t need to be the target of tourism jokes
There’s something consistently disturbing about tours that go way out of their way to make fun of black women—even if we’re not even the point of the tour. I was reminded of this while listening to WBEZ’s “This American Life” episode 793: “The Problem With Ghosts.”
In my own write-up, I gave a fair review of how the “horror” tour did a good job in telling Chicago’s history—both highs and lows—but could’ve gone easy on the cattiness at the end, WBEZ’s “love triangle” tale made my Oprah complaint seem lightweight.
If you haven’t listened to the episode already, one tour route included a plantation home for a slave named Molly. The problem is the story, while salacious, is flat-out inaccurate and the manager won’t (or can’t?) control tour guides from telling it anyway.
“It’s almost like if you turned Critical Race Theory into a book of ghost stories, all the white folks who hate it would love it,” said the guest host on the storytelling podcast.