“If you’re deranged enough to kill yourself, you come here to do it,” remarks Jac, the top hat wearing tour guide for the Vegas Haunted Tour. “Las Vegas is the suicide capital of America.”
A handful of middle-aged tourist couples swivel in their bus seats to catch a view of the red-spired Stratosphere at the end of the Strip, the most popular place from which to jump (although the hotel won’t admit it; bad for business). Jac, a retired undertaker and comedian, tells the story of a drugged-up teenage boy who, after a street-level argument with his parents, rode the elevator to the observation tower and dove off, resulting in a three-inch thick mess. He now haunts the hotel’s parking garage. Another ghost supposedly appears in the middle of an escalator, rides it to the top and vaporizes. The ghosts always haunt between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., the “dead hours,” Jac explains.
“Ever see The Shining? This is the Overlook Hotel,” says Jac welcoming us inside the Flamingo Hotel. He tells us the story of infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel, the Flamingo’s founder and a sadistic killer who would break his victims’ fingers before finishing them off.
His orb (a white sphere of ectoplasmic, or ghostly, energy) floats around the hotel’s jungle gardens. At night, the gardens are deserted (except for the hotel’s namesake flamingos), primitive and eerie. His orb usually appears to the left of the monument dedicated to him or near the small wedding chapel. Orbs can’t be seen by the eye, Jac says, but appear on film and in pictures. A collection of digital cameras emerges.
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Several bodies, some over 150 years old and some from recent murders, are reportedly buried in the Green Valley Park in Henderson, so of course, the Vegas Haunted Tour must make a stop. We prowl around the grass with complimentary dowsing rods in our fists, seeking their ghosts. Holding the thin metal L-shaped rods in front of us like antennae, we wait for them to cross or spin in the presence of a nearby ghost. Instead of otherworldly encounter we come face to face with the park’s sprinkler system. When the excitement dies down, I take a moment to ask my fellow ghost hunters if they believe in undead spirits.
“I don’t believe it, but I’m entertained by it. I don’t believe slot machines are going to make me win, but it’s entertaining to play them,” says a man visiting from Illinois. “Lots of things happen that we have no explanation for. We have to accept that there is something else out there.”
Las Vegas has an advantage over other U.S. cities, the white-haired, wise cracking Jac tells us, in that we are home to several celebrity ghosts. On our tour, we learn about the tragic ends of Tupac Shakur, Liberace, Red Foxx and Elvis Presley, and visit the sites where their spirits are frequently seen. Tupac paces the second floor balcony of his mansion, close to Wayne Newton’s Casa de Shenandoah. Liberace hangs out in his Tivoli Gardens restaurant, as the bartenders and wait staff will corroborate. Red Foxx opens and shuts the doors of his former house and plays with his kids in his backyard pool. Elvis is said to haunt the 30th floor of the tri-pronged Hilton Hotel, the presidential suite he called home during his 13 year run as a performer and where Barry Manilow now resides.
While I didn’t come across any of our city’s famous phantoms during my night ghost hunting, I could picture them laughing at us as we searched the night for stray lights.