Mimi Omiecinski, the owner of Princeton Tour Company, which runs public walking tours in town, says the idea for a Ghost Tour came from a strange encounter with a visitor over a decade ago.
“He was dressed really nice [and] was on a private tour. After the tour, he said, ‘I don’t want to scare you, but I see ghosts,’” Omiecinski said.
Curious, Omiecinski agreed to meet with him. “He took me around campus and he started pointing out places where he would see things.”
“I kept thinking about it and I was like ‘Okay, what do you do with something like that?” Omiencinski recalled.
Following this meeting, Omiencinski contacted campus security and the town municipal department to ask whether they had any unusual testimonies on file. She also spent time digging through the Historical Society archives and researching what people had reported. The real “game-changer,” however, was hiring a team from Weird NJ — a travel guide and magazine that chronicles local legends and odd phenomena — to investigate supposed paranormal hotspots around town.
“Weird NJ came out with their equipment and just said, ‘There’s unusual energetic activity.’ That’s all they could say — it was just weird,” Omiencinski recounted.
After Weird NJ’s appraisal, the Princeton Tour Company began to offer Ghost Tours, a spooky twist on traditional historical tours that take guests around campus, the surrounding town, and the Princeton Cemetery. The Ghost Tours, which occur at 7:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays in October, run for two hours and cost $35 per person.
“[The Ghost Tours] almost always sell out,” said Jennifer Ross, a six-year tour guide for Princeton Tour Company. “They’re different from a regular historical tour because we get to tell fun, creepy stories about town and we get to go to the cemetery, which is pretty spectacular.”
Guests gather at the University Store on Nassau Street before heading on campus, where there seems to be no shortage of spooky stories. Just after entering through the FitzRandolph Gate, the group makes a stop at the former home of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Henry was a physicist who “conducted pioneering research in electromagnetism” and became a professor of natural philosophy at Princeton in 1832. He also performed Frankenstein-esque electrical experiments on the corpse of convicted murderer Antoine Le Blanc, attempting to link electrical current to muscle contraction, according to historical accounts of the story. Once Henry was done with the body, Le Blanc was dissected and his skin was allegedly made into leather keepsakes, said to still be in distribution across New Jersey.
Another tour highlight tells the story of the suspected haunting of Hamilton Murray Theater, which is said to have ended after a portrait of Murray was hung back up. Visitors are also taken to Rockefeller College, where the tour guide cites residents’ stories of various encounters with ghosts. Guests are told the story of Italian craftsmen, hired thanks to their expertise in collegiate gothic architecture, who bumped into human bones when beginning construction for the dormitory. The University dug up the 32 bodies, put them in boxes, and placed them behind the Holder archway alongside an inscription that reads, “Near this spot lie the remains of Nathaniel Fitz-Randolph, the generous giver of the land upon which the original buildings of this university were erected.”
Finally, after a rundown of the Battle of Princeton, visitors are given around 15 minutes to “hunt” for ghosts behind Nassau Hall, where the battle occurred. Guides provide various devices, including thermometer guns, electromagnetic field meters, and dowsing rods, to facilitate the search for ghosts of Princeton’s past. Guests walk around the yard, testing for temperature changes and spikes in EMF signals. Using the dowsing rods, they can ask ghosts questions like, “Can you cross these rods if you were a student at Princeton?” Here, the tour guide warns attendees to always be polite — getting on the bad side of a ghost isn’t in anyone’s best interest.
Once the period for ghost hunting ends, the group ventures into town. The first stop is near the Princeton Art Museum Store, where tour attendees attempt to piece together the unsolved murder of Town Topics founder Emily “Cissy” Stuart, who while gardening 34 years ago was stabbed to death in her Princeton home. Next, the tour moves to Nassau Inn to hear the story of Mattie Shann, who was suspected to have killed her husband and son in an effort to secure money from their life insurance. The final stop downtown is at Chuck’s Spring Street Café, once owned by the infamous Menendez brothers, whose case has received continued attention. The brothers grew up in Princeton and went on to kill their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion, claiming that years of abuse motivated their actions.
The final stretch of the tour takes place in the Princeton Cemetery. Princeton Tour Company has special access to the cemetery, which is closed to the public in the evenings. The cemetery tour consists of brief stops and discussions — which take a more historical tone compared to the previous spooky stories — at the tombstones of several notable people, including Aaron Burr, Grover Cleveland, and James McCosh. The company's website notes that, “Because the cemetery of Nassau Presbyterian Church is a resting place, we don’t investigate there,” instead the tour focuses on locating notable graves.
Recently, the cemetery segment of the Ghost Tour has been the subject of some controversy on campus. On Oct. 8, The Daily Princetonian published an article covering an Undergraduate Student Government (USG) meeting, in which U-Councilors Roberto Lachner ’26 and Genevieve Shutt ’26 presented plans for a USG-sponsored Ghost Tour trip that would cost $1047.50 and allow for 25 students to attend.
Lachner said that following the USG meeting article’s publication, some community members reached out with concerns.
“We were told that the Princeton Tour Company was ‘not reputable’ and had a history of being disrespectful while on the grounds of the Princeton Cemetery,” Lachner said.
USG decided not to proceed with a Ghost Tour trip led by the Princeton Tour Company.
“We immediately notified all of those who had contacted us with concerns and issued an internal statement updating the Senate. USG never made any purchases for the event,” Lachner said.
Princeton resident and former USG chairman Thomas Pyle ’76 wrote a Letter to the Editor that was published the next day, detailing his concerns about visiting the cemetery as an attraction. “There is something unseemly,” he wrote, “about a potential commercial tour for 25 University students amusing themselves in the dark by searching for ‘ghosts’ with flashlights in a hallowed local place.”
In response to concerns regarding respect of the cemetery and its residents, Omiecinski notes her personal relationship with the cemetery and the distinction between what the tour covers inside versus outside the cemetery.
“My stepfather is buried there. I’ve already bought my family’s plots in between Paul Tulane and George Kennan, so I’ve got a huge attachment to the cemetery,” Omiecinski said. “We try to make it very clear in our description [that] what we do outside the gates of the cemetery versus inside is very different.”
“Outside is the ghost hunting and the paranormal and the historical background,” Omiecinski continued, “but we even mention on the website that once we get inside the gates, it’s a final resting place.”
Greta Richards, a fourth-grader from Atlantic Highlands, says she learned a lot during the tour.
“My favorite part was probably the ghost hunting. It was really interesting to learn about the people that once lived around here."
The tour is advertised on its website as "not-so-terrifying-but-eerily-informative."
“I was expecting it to be more creepy,” Richards said. “But it was actually really interesting and full of history.”
Maya Chu is a staff Features writer at the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.