History with a haunted twist
— Created October 20, 2021 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
It’s the time of year for shivers and goosebumps, when ghost stories and scary movies are all the rage. For one Oak Harbor woman, it seemed the perfect time to dive into local history and see if any hauntingly interesting stories might emerge.
Gabrielle Robles is leading Whidbey Island’s first ever haunted history tour Halloween weekend. The 21-and-older event sold out so quickly, she has added an additional tour Sunday, Oct. 31. For $45 per person, tour attendees will meet up at Oak Harbor Cinemas, where they can choose to enjoy an adult beverage before boarding a “haunted” Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle bus for a guided tour of historic, haunted points of interest. When they return to the theater, those on the tour will be treated to a private screening of either the classic “Poltergeist” or the new film, “Halloween Kills.” Costumes are encouraged and prizes will be awarded.
“This is history you can touch,” Robles said. “We are going to places that have stories or legends and I’ll be sharing about what people have found and what they have experienced. We are being respectful everywhere we go. People are going to learn about this amazing place.”
Originally from New York, Robles moved to Whidbey Island about a year ago for a job. When she was subsequently laid off, she decided to become an independent travel agent. Because of her love of history, she researched Whidbey Island and tried to find some kind of tour where she could learn more.
“When I couldn’t find what I wanted to do, I decided to create it,” she said. “I found all this material and learned about the amazing beginning to these towns. These are actual haunted stories that have gone on through the years.”
Robles said she has received some pushback from people who are not happy with her sharing “haunted” history, but said she is not trying to be disrespectful in any way and is not sharing anything that can’t be found in historical accounts.
“I have been accused of blaspheming history, of making a mockery of a beautiful town,” she said. “I’m bringing people into this to learn history. Why is that bad? Seattle does it all day long. They have 17 different haunted tours. Why can’t Whidbey have their own tour?
“If I can bring people together to enjoy the area, how is that bad?” Robles continued. “We’re not disrespecting history, we’re celebrating it. It’s a great way to explore it and look at how many people I got to listen to me share all this wonderful history. That says a lot.”
It does appear the idea of a haunted tour is a popular one. What started as a single bus tour on Saturday only has become a two-bus tour – 48 people – both Friday and Saturday evenings. Spots on the added single-bus tour on Sunday are selling fast. Robles said she was surprised how quickly the tours have filled up.
“It blew me away,” she said. “I was thinking 10 people might go. It makes me feel really good. I’ve tapped into something people have an interest in. I was looking for things to do myself and thought ‘there’s nothing like this here for adults, let me see if people like this idea.’ People are already asking for haunted tours all year round.”
Robles is hopeful this will lead to different kinds of tours or weekend travel packages in the future, all of which would feature the best of what Whidbey Island has to offer.
“I hopefully will be bringing commerce into the island, with people spending money they wouldn’t have otherwise spent,” she said.
Robles is very clear the tour is not meant to be a simple Halloween-style event.
“This is not a haunted house thing, this is a mobile history tour,” she said. “I’ll tell you the ghost stories behind the history. It’s very informative, but you have to be a good story-teller, so people can envision what you’re telling them.”
Robles has received permission to stop at all locations on the tour, which are being kept quiet – in part to keep up the suspense of the evening but also to keep potential protestors away, she said.
And, as someone who has dabbled in paranormal investigations for many years, she believes there is something to it when a story or legend lives on.
“If this wasn’t an existing thing or entity, why are we still talking about it 200 years later?” Robles said. “I find that fascinating. You don’t have to believe in this, but when you’re shown something that you can’t debunk or recreate it, it’s fascinating. And if this wasn’t of interest to a lot of people, they wouldn’t be going.”
Spots for the Oct. 31 tour are going quickly. Anyone interested can contact Robles directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Robles said she is also looking for a second guide to join her.
“I’m looking for someone with personality,” she said. “If people are having fun on the bus, they’re going to have a good time. And who doesn’t love a good ghost story?”