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KWBU's Autumn Jones' investigation into the dark tourism industry of Waco and the city's lores and legends.

Waco's Haunted Heritage (Pt. 1)

The Alico building in downtown Waco, Texas.
Autumn Jones
The Alico building in downtown Waco, Texas.

In this four part Halloween series, KWBU's Autumn Jones investigates the dark tourism industry in Waco, explores local lore and legends and gets a taste of ghost hunting.

In our first episode, Jones gets to know local paranormal investigator Cindy Little and ghost tour guide Alyssa Hawkinson.

It’s almost Halloween, and what better way to celebrate the spooky season than to dig into Waco’s ghostly past.

This city definitely has its fair share of eerie tales and historic hauntings.

From the Alico building, to the Dr. Pepper Museum, to Cameron Park, few Waco landmarks are immune to local lore.

CINDY LITTLE: “We’re really drawn to spooky things and things that scare us. You know, that is what this whole month is about.”

According to paranormal tour guide Cindy Little, local ghost stories become big business during this time of the year.

CINDY LITTLE: “I lead paranormal experiences at the Dr. Pepper Museum, and we are always, always selling out. That helps support the Dr. Pepper Museum. It’s big business.” 

Cindy is a parapsychologist, someone who studies psychic phenomena and the paranormal. She teaches paranormal studies at McLennan Community College and leads paranormal investigations all across the state.

CINDY LITTLE: “We’re asking these big human questions, is there something beyond this world? What happens to us after we die? This is something that hints at that.”

She says there's an entire industry dedicated to scaring ourselves,

CINDY LITTLE: “It's called dark tourism.”

Dark tourism is where people purposely travel to places where death and suffering happened. It’s a global phenomenon, people travel thousands of miles and pay big money to go to places like Colombia, where you can get a personal tour from Pablo Escobar's former hitman, or Dallas, where you can reenact the JFK assassination.

CINDY LITTLE: “It's a big industry. People pay a lot of money to be scared.”

Waco, having seen its fair share of traumatic events, has its hand in the industry as well.

ALYSSA HAWKINSON: “I was like, I think I could put together a pretty awesome haunted tour here and it can be interactive, which is really unique. There aren’t a lot of haunted tours that are actually interactive, using ghost hunting equipment and having these communication sessions that we offer.” 

The Haunts and Legends of Waco, a part of the Brazos Tour company, is the only mobile haunted tour available in Waco. This year, they are celebrating their third anniversary.

Alyssa Hawkinson, the creator of the tour, says it was her own personal experiences with the paranormal in the community that sparked the idea for a ghost tour.

ALYSSA HAWKINSON: “I’ve never gone anywhere in Waco, ghost hunting wise, and not found activity. They’re everywhere. It’s a very active city. There’s a lot of crazy history here that kind of contributes to that energy and the energetic presences that are here.”

Talking with Alyssa, I realized I wanted to learn more about Waco’s history, local lore and legends, and how accessible dark tourism really is. Not just for tourists, but for locals who may be searching for an October thrill.

So for this Halloween, I decided to become a dark tourist myself.

Tune in Friday to hear about my first stop at a certified paranormal location, the Dr. Pepper Museum.

For 103.3 Waco Public Radio, I’m Autumn Jones.

  • Jacobs Ladder in Cameron Park. Waco, Texas.
    Autumn Jones
    In the final installment of the Waco Haunted Heritage series, KWBU's Autumn Jones visits two haunted locations and has her first experience with the paranormal.
  • The Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Waco, Texas.
    Autumn Jones
    In this third installment of the Waco Haunted Heritage series, KWBU's Autumn Jones sets off on her first local ghost tour, experiences a spirit box communication session and witnesses the power of paranormal interactions.
  • The Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas.
    Autumn Jones
    Continuing KWBU's four part Halloween series, reporter Autumn Jones dives deeper into the dark tourism industry by visiting the Dr Pepper museum to learn more about the buildings ghostly history and the deadly 1953 Waco tornado.