There’s no doubt Tulsa has a dark history. From the horrors of the 1921 Race Massacre to disturbing tales of hypnotized basement prisoners, bloodthirsty lynch mobs and psychotic murderers, ugly tragedies lurk beneath the surface of our beautiful city.
All this tragedy makes Tulsa ripe with paranormal activity, according to longtime paranormal investigator Teri French. Lauded for her storytelling abilities, French combined her natural talent with her passion for the paranormal to launch Tulsa Spirit Tours. Now in its 16th year, the tours take guests all around Tulsa to hear history, ghost stories and firsthand accounts of French’s paranormal encounters at Tulsa landmarks.
"Most of our tours start [here]," guide Chrissy Rust said. To tell the story of this haunted hotspot, Rust focuses on three key events: the death of Enrico Caruso, a performer who reportedly caught a cold at the theater which eventually killed him; a stagehand who fell to his gruesome death; and the theater’s history as an improvised concentration camp during the 1921 Race Massacre.
Unexplained sounds and eerie sensations have been reported in the 105-year-old theater. Is it the ghost of the Italian tenor Caruso? The victims of a grave historical injustice? Tag along with Rust to see why this is one of the most historical and haunted sites in Tulsa.
The Hunt Club
Another one of Rust’s favorite tour stops may also be your favorite drink stop. "[The Hunt Club] is a very active pub both when it’s open and after hours. The staff have had countless encounters with paranormal activity," Rust said. "We stop there in our pub crawl, and the bathrooms give us a lot of current stories."
The Hunt Club has lived many lives. It was once The Regal Bar, adjacent to The Regal Hotel (now The Vanguard), then a mercantile. Next, it was The Playboy Sandwich and Candy Shop, which Rust said was less of a candy store and more of a brothel—making it a prime candidate for a more "spirited" crowd. Just be sure to bring a bathroom buddy.
The Hex House
Don’t get it twisted. This isn’t the haunted house attraction in Sapulpa—this Hex House is the real deal. It was once the home of Carolann Smith, who kept two women as prisoners in her basement for seven years. Smith "hypnotized and mesmerized" her victims, according to firsthand reports, and assured them they would be rewarded in heaven for giving her paychecks from their day jobs. The women stayed in Smith’s unheated basement with nothing but wooden crates to sleep on while their captor lived in luxury above them.
Smith was eventually arrested for ration fraud after ordering a wartime ration book for her dog. The prisoners were freed and the house was torn down, leaving only the basement, which was soon paved over and turned into a parking lot.
French said they used to turn the bus off at this stop on the tour, but once it wouldn’t start back up. While they struggled to get the bus going, one of the guests—who said she called Smith a "bitch" during the tour—exclaimed, "I’m sorry Carolann!" Right after the apology, according to French, the bus started with no problem. "So we don’t shut the bus off there anymore," she said.
The Gilcrease Home
French is no stranger to paranormal happenings. She has investigated several Tulsa landmarks and come away with some chilling stories, but one stands out from the others. "The Gilcrease Home is my most memorable investigation," she said.
That night, French and her team heard loud bangs coming from one room, but when they went to investigate, the sound moved to another room. "I’m not trying to chase you," French pleaded with what she believes to be the spirit of Mr. Gilcrease. In response, an electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) recording shot back: I don’t care.
Later, French said, "I felt something swoosh up behind me and I heard very clearly a man say, You’ve worn out your welcome. All the hair on my body stood up. As I went back to my crew, they were all packing up early because they were scared. They definitely wanted us out of that house."
While the Tulsa Spirit Tours are replete with incredible ghost stories, French’s project is about more than a good scare. Her goal is to tell the unique history of Tulsa, warts and all. "We are doing this out of pure love for the history and ghost stories, and keeping them alive for future generations. We cover the not-so-pleasant history of Tulsa because it’s still our history, whether we like it or not."