When Tim Freiss isn’t working at his full-time job, he spends his time scaring up business.
The Green Bay SCORE client, and owner of Green Bay Ghost Tours (greenbayghosttours.com), has been taking people on tours of haunted places around Green Bay since starting the business in 2010.
“When I first began, I wanted to have a tour of places here in Green Bay where people could go into buildings that are haunted,” Freiss said. “My interest in the paranormal has always been with me back to my earliest memories of childhood. I began researching Green Bay and found out there were several haunted locations in the area. After two years of extensive gathering of stories, history and data, Green Bay Ghost tours was born.”
His original business plan featured bus tours, but after listening to customers, he added walking and cemetery tours. The walking tour has been most popular, but he says that all are “hauntingly fun.”
The tours visit different places, and Freiss said he spends the offseason trying to come up with new places to visit to keep things interesting and encourage repeat customers. Much of the business is modeled after other tours that he has gone on, but his approach focuses on the story.
“What I learned is that a ghost tour can be whatever you want it to be; it doesn’t have to follow a set formula," he said. "Every ghost tour is different. Mine is based on history and I wanted to validate the locations we visited with the history that correlates with it.”
Considering himself a storyteller, he wears period dress and gives animated presentations. He believes that the places are haunted, but also thinks that the power of suggestion may have a role.
“We have had lights flickering on, and people have experienced chill spots,” he said. “Some of it is most definitely suggestive, because the visitors are already geared for it. But, I think some of it is pretty legit, like when we had a light turn on. It was pretty wild, and that is hard to dismiss. People thought I had done it, but I guarantee that I won’t have anything set up like that.”
Occurrences like that help promote the business via word of mouth, but Freiss doesn’t rely on that alone. He spends about 20 hours a week working on the business with the time spent between tours and marketing. His wife is his business manager, and she also pours hours into making sure things run smoothly. Since it is tourism-related, they are members of the Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and have brochures at local hotels and restaurants.
“We meet quarterly with all of the tourist attractions and do what we can for each other,” he said.
Social media is also important for promoting and keeping followers up to date on the tours, and his plan is to open a paranormal museum. The museum will be modeled after others, but with more of a spin on history and cultural belief systems.
“I have gotten a lot of historical information as it relates to the paranormal," he said. "Several ‘haunted’ items were given to me, and some are pretty interesting like tribal masks that were used in Africa to conjure spirits. I would like to have a bricks-and-mortar location that could be open year-round. I’m hoping to find a spot — a haunted location would be great.”
In the interim, his reputation as an expert grows. In July, he was one of the featured speakers on an airing of the Travel Channel’s "Dead Files" show. The show probed the history of an 1875 fire that took that lives of two boys; one who is reported to be haunting a place in New Franken. Digging into this story and others is a passion, and he spends hours researching and finding clippings to verify.
That attention to research and accurate storytelling differentiates Green Bay Ghost Tours from other “scary” businesses. Although the month of October is incredibly busy with tours and private parties, he doesn’t compare it to other seasonal frights.
“Haunted houses are great, and people love that stuff, but it is different than what I do,” Freiss said. “Mine is not for a quick scare — it is more educational. It is going in and exploring. I don’t have anyone who jumps out at you. The haunted houses with the creatures they create are just creepy.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.