Cline evades the question of whether or not he, personally, believes in ghosts. “I sort of work around it,” he explains. “Because I want people that go on the tour to have their own thoughts on that.”
He does admit that many people who take the tours have felt there were things that were unexplainable. But what many of them may not be aware of is how Cline is creating illusions that ghosts may be coming along on the tour. It's helpful that people often become open to such ideas, particularly at nightfall, when the light is low and the excitement level is high.
“And these little things happen,” he says. “And I'm actually planning them. It's not like a scary, halloweenish type of thing. It's just the power of suggestion. Sort of like what you'd experience in a seance back in the 1850s.”
Haunting Tales – Lexington’s Ghost Tour is a walking tour that continues this summer through October. The tours are offered daily, except Sundays, and then on weekends only after the Labor Day weekend.
The approximately mile-long tours last about an hour, beginning at the Lexington Visitor's Center at 106 E. Washington St. The tours feature ghost tales and a downtown candlelit walk. A sort of grand finale occurs when the group reaches the grave of Civil War Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, just a few blocks south of the visitor center.
The tours follow a history trail of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, but they are as much about entertainment as they are about history. While Cline describes himself as an entertainer, he says that he also feels that tours should provide more than a few laughs. So the tours do have a serious side, but are done in a lighthearted way and are intended to cause people to wonder if ghosts actually do exist or not. In the end, it's about everyone having a good time.
Entertaining people is something Mark Cline has been doing all his life. A self-proclaimed class clown who, as a boy, would perform antics to draw attention away from his problems dealing with being ADHD. He says that he began to make “props” whenever he would carry on. While he had been struggling in school special education classes, he also found that he could also get local media exposure whenever he'd debut some clever creation, such as a Statue of Liberty snow sculpture.
His passion for creating cool things has stayed with him through his entire life, and what has resulted is his life's work in a collection of visitor attractions in Natural Bridge, including Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum, Dinosaur Kingdom and Foamhenge.
The ideas that he dreams up are more like something you'd see in a comic book form than something meant to seriously scare people. “It's not halloweenish at all,” Cline says. “Vincent Price-ish. You know, 'Scooby-doo meets the Twilight Zone.'” His latest project is called “Hunt Bigfoot with a Redneck.”
The fact that his creations are intended to be fun, rather than terrifying may be because he feels that the ghost tours always need to “zero in” on kids. He says he constantly checks out other tours and is often surprised at how many of them appear to be targeting adults. Another reason why he says he feels it's important not ignore the kids: They represent the next generation of people willing to spend money on things like haunted ghost tours.
Haunting Tales – Lexington’s Ghost Tour is wheelchair-accessible and reservations are required. More information about the tours is available by calling 540-464-2250 or visiting LexingtonVirginia.com. More about Mark Cline and his creations at EnchantedCastleStudios.com.
Photos courtesy Enchanted Castle Studios LLC and by Lexington and the Rockbridge Area Tourism Development. Story by Hank Zimmerman, copyright ©2011 by Shenandoah Valley Productions LLC