“No,” says a woman, emphatically shaking her head. “Just, no.”
Bucky Cutright has just finished telling us his first ghost story on the Booze Boos tour. It concerns a vaporous man, a tall black hat, and a terrified bartender. He has made it sound so creepy that chills are visible on everyone’s faces until the “no” woman breaks the silence.
We are standing in the Ringside Café, the location of the tale, and the small, practically ancient bar with its darkened George Bellows hanging over the door and its politics-themed stained glass creates an amber atmosphere ripe for ghost-hunting. In between scary tales, we learn the origin of the “Cheers!” tradition (it’s Chinese) and other tidbits of lore (Joan Crawford used to hang out here).
Cutright tells us that Columbus is turned up to 11 when it comes to hauntings. “The city is built on giant limestone bedrocks,” he explained. “Limestone, being so porous, sucks in emotions and slowly lets them out.”
This is the third year for the Booze Boos tours, which offer both walking and bussing options. The tours stop at various bars that have an, er, extra presence. Along the way, Cutright spins tales of abandoned bones shuffling underneath the Columbus State campus, complete with a sidebar about a woman with a screaming baby that haunts a CSCC basement and lights that go on and off at will.
“We started out just doing tours for friends but got so many inquiries, Booze Boos grew out of that,” he said. Cutright has always been a student of history, and has a deep love for all things paranormal. “Morbid mysteries, I call them,” he continued. “But I had never put the two together.”
Martin Brennan, Cutright’s partner, explained that a friend of theirs suggested the concept. “I’ve been in the restaurant industry for so long, one little story from 12 years ago sticks in my head,” added Cutright. “It seems that every other restaurant has a haunted basement.”
Brennan and Cutright do extensive research into the stories and tips they receive. With so many tales passed down, it can be hard to tell what is legend and what has a foundation of truth, especially when one tale can have eight versions.
Our little band of ghost hunters wanders through downtown; dusk and a chill are falling, and we stop at the corner of Front and Broad streets. Here, with a burning sunset behind him, Cutright spins a little tale about the Ohio Pen, a tale of a fire so bad that prisoners’ bodies were found fused together. A modern raconteur, he draws imagery more from horror movies than grandpa’s lap.
After all these tours, Brennan and Cutright have yet to see a big reveal. During their first tour ever, a photograph taken by an attendee clearly showed the outline of a wavy young man. Cutright shows us the photo on his iPhone and it looks legit. And, he said, there is always one person on the tour who is very “sensitive.” “They feel cold spots and they are always screaming.”
While Booze Boos is entertaining, the owners also enjoy being able to give a sense of history to those who accompany them, as well as introducing them to small businesses.
As we continue walking toward the Main Bar, we learn about the insane asylum that once loomed over Jefferson Place, where the Thurber House stands now. “There was a Dr. Awl who liked doing lobotomies and sometimes he zigged when he should have zagged – those folks were throwaways, so they were buried in unmarked graves,” he said. “Then there was the fire in 1868; all the patients were in the rec hall doing activities and when the orderlies and staff left to help with the fire, they were left unattended, leading to a whole rape-orgy scene while the place was burning down.”
“No,” the woman says again. “Just no.”
To book a Booze Boos tour, which takes place Tuesday and Wednesday night, look them up on Facebook.