It’s officially Fall. Leaves are beginning to drop as the air takes on a crisp edge. Pumpkins are being placed on porches; some have faces or images carved into them and a light shining through from inside. In an historic southern town, one might imagine sharing strange or chilling stories with friends as one awaits the arrival of Halloween. In Madison, there’s no need for imagination. Stories of hauntings and local legends in downtown homes and the town cemetery are brought to life through vibrant story telling in Melissa Piche’s Haunted History Tours.
Piche, who asserted that she is the only licensed tour guide in Madison, operates North Georgia Tours which offers a variety of walking tours, step-on, and driving tours throughout the year in addition to Ghost Walks.
She began giving tours over ten years ago in Oconee County when her daughter was born. A former equestrian coach, Piche trained hunters and jumpers for about 25 years but wanted a job that required less travel and allowed a flexible work schedule. She started providing horse and carriage tours around Madison before moving to Morgan County close to six years ago. After going on a ghost tour in Wilmington, North Carolina, she thought, “What a fun way to share history in a community for people who might not want to do an historic walk.”
The stories shared on the tour blend ghost stories and local legends with the history of specific sites in the community. Piche spends time researching the backgrounds of places and narratives to make sure that they truly fit together before deciding if she will incorporate them into the tour.
“The ghost story has to fit with the history of the site,” Piche stated. “Someone can’t tell me, ‘I have a headless girl living in my attic,’ and that works in, because it doesn’t.”
While the majority of tour-goers are from out-of-town, Piche thinks that locals would enjoy the tour as well: “I jokingly tell people that I’ll give them a tour for free if they don’t learn something new. It’s my job to research and know things that other people don’t, so people have absolutely taken tours and learned a lot of details that they hadn’t known about their community. I have people who come every year and bring new guests. It’s a fun night out.”
A review on TripAdvisor from Watkinsville resident Patti S. stated, “I did this beautiful walking (Haunted History) tour … for the 5th time. That’s how good this tour is! I keep going back! Melissa is an excellent tour guide. I love how she weaves the tales between the history and the haunted stories as we stroll along the streets of the beautiful antebellum homes of historic Madison. She even kicks into character with her ‘Southern’ accent and her great sense of humor, taking you back to simpler times. Between the intriguing ghost stories and Madison’s rich history, there is never a dull moment on this tour. You will be completely engaged, and I will be going back.”
Piche enjoys delving into the narratives through storytelling and often wears various costumes while giving the Haunted History Tour. She also loves when people taking her tours dress up as well.
“I just love storytelling and the art of it,” Piche shared. “I go to all of the storytelling events like (the Madison Morgan Cultural Center’s) Do Tell! Storytelling Festival. I go to hear anybody tell stories anywhere I can. I like to sit down next to people and have them tell me stories. I love storytelling and its delivery. It’s just a part of my work that is really fun for me.”
The tour tends to take one and a half hours, but with questions from tour-goers and their own shared stories, tours sometimes last two hours. Piche notes that while there’s never any jumping out (to scare attendees) or anything of that kind, her tours are not what people would get in other cities.
“You’ll just have to do it and see,” Piche stated with a smile.
Generally, tours are offered on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Tours are $15 per person with group discounts available. Private tours can be arranged any night of the week with a $50 minimum and sufficient notice. Children under the age of eight are not recommended for the Haunted History Tour. However, a kid-friendly tour may be arranged with a $10 charge for those under 12 years of age.
For more information or to book a tour, go to: http://www.northgeorgiatours.net/.