Pitch dark, save the flickering lantern dangling from his lapel, and Dreadful Dre stood ramrod straight in a deserted parking lot on Leroux Street. He twirled his skull-handled cane, then pointed the staff ominously northward in the direction of a stately Flagstaff home deemed by many, including the man himself, as haunted.
Nobody said anything. Silence fell, serious as the drop of a gallows, among the group. A slightly waning gibbous moon augmented by the swaying lantern did nothing to dispel the creepy, palpable possibility that something menacing, something spectral, might soon materialize on this Saturday night.
At last, Dreadful Dre spoke — his robust tenor taking on sober tones, his eyeballs bulging and his demonic smiling-skeleton face mask throbbing with every inhalation and exhalation, his delivery channeling a combination of Vincent Price and Rod Serling.
“I do assure you,” he said, “this story is sufficient enough to chill anyone to the bone.”
All that was missing was a demented cackle.
He spent the next 10 minutes detailing the grisly details of the 1937 Walkup family murders, one of the highlights of the Downtown Flagstaff Haunted History Tour, a fall staple in town since 2015, seemingly made even more spooky in these mask-wearing, virus-fearing pandemic times. (Editor's note: It since has been renamed "Freaky Foot Tours - Flagstaff.")
And Dreadful Dre — you may know him better as Andres “Dapper Dre” Adauto, local theater and civic-event bon vivant — played it up to the hilt, combing the Gothic and the gore in a chilling display of yarn-spinning. Lest we reveal any spoilers, it’s enough to say that the mass killing involving one of Flagstaff’s most prominent Depression-era families included references to ice picks, grisly discoveries, a fraught note to the milkman, a discarded shoe in the woods and the apparition of a young girl frolicking in the front yard.
There are seven stops on this, in Dre’s coinage, “call of the macabre.” Some purported haunted locations are well known in local lore — the Milligan House mischief; the assorted Orpheum Theater hauntings; the array of ghastly goings-on at the Hotel Monte Vista — but others may be less celebrated but no less eerie.
Or maybe it’s just the combination of Flagstaff’s famous dark sky, the Saturday night revelers walking the streets like zombies in masks, and Dre’s presentation that guaranteed a Halloween-style fright.
Yes, the overly rational among us will have to invoke a willing suspension of disbelief to get into the spirit of the thing. But Dre’s demeanor goes a long way to help. From the top of his stovepipe hat to the soles of his two-tone Oxfords, he exuded a crypt-keeper’s melding of deadpan recitation and sardonic asides.
Here he is standing in front of the Orpheum Theater, detailing a recurring haunting over the decades: “Another presence is in the men’s bathroom. Toilets flushing! Paper rolling and unrolling! One might wonder what happened to that poor lost spirit. An Elvis moment? Or did they have to get a demon out of them. Who knows? We can only wonder.”
And here he is, across the street from the Hotel Monte Vista, spinning the tale of a #MeToo haunting in Room 305 from back in the day: “A group of businessmen engaged some ladies of the night to do those things that those agreements entailed. And it so happened that the services rendered were not, let’s maybe say, wanted, needed or appreciated, and said ladies of the night took their last trip out of the hotel through the window onto the steps and they were no more. But, their spirits being wronged in that said way, you stuck around in Room 305. Men have felt being suffocated in the middle of the night in there, being awakened to pressure on their chest and neck in revenge for potential wrongs done previously.”
Tour participants, throughout the evening, reacted as expected: a few gasps, many nervous chuckles, some hollow-eyed silence and both amused and bemused expressions. Occasionally, too, they chimed in with stories of their own.
After Dre mentioned that the Hotel Monte Vista is well known as a “ghost-hunter” destination, a woman raised her hand and her voice: “I heard from someone who worked there that they knocked down the wall and found a bloody nightgown inside the wall.”
A chorus of “ewws” ensued, and you could almost see Dre making a mental note to check the story out for future tours.
Impressive as Dre is, he’s just the “talent.” The prime movers and creators are the mother-and-son team of Freaky Flagstaff Foottours LLC, Susan Johnson and Nick Jones.
Johnson is a local historian and author. She’s writing a book about the Walkup murders; hence, it’s star status on the tour. She has combined her fascination with ghosts with her love of Flagstaff’s Old West past and wants to share the tales to a wider audience. Until this year, she gave the tours herself, with Nick’s help. She said she was going to let the tour slide this fall because of COVID-19 concerns and a job change, but Nick changed her mind. He also enlisted Dre, a longtime friend, to be the front man.
“Probably about 15 years ago, my husband and I would go on the cemetery tours with the historical society where you can learn about the people that were here and hear about the murders, and I got really into it,” Johnson said. “I began in my spare time reading about things. It took off from there.”
Jones used his powers of persuasion to convince his mom to carry on. He appealed to her civic duty.
“Especially this year,” he said, “people really want to find things they can do together, safe and outside. We’re connecting people through stories of Flagstaff’s past.”
What better way to connect than to gather ‘round Dreadful Dre’s swaying lantern and hear about the killer custodian in the library, the newlyweds killed at the Weatherford Hotel before consummation, the Monte Vista’s phantom bellboy and the apparition that haunts the Doris Harper-White Playhouse — but only during rehearsals?