Pub crawl aims to spook

Ghost stories get academic credibility with help of professors, teachers.

Al Capone’s Valentine’s Day Massacre could now be a conversation starter for date night.

Grim Philly Twilight Tours aims to bring an academic approach to ghost tours by providing concrete sources for the gory, unexpected and frightening. The stories shared on the tours are not just tall tales, but meticulously researched events, run by professors and history graduate students. This year, the “Bootleggers Ball” bar crawl makes its debut with stories of gangsters, pirates and ghosts in Philadelphia.

For those 21 and over, sharing ghost stories has moved from around the campfire to around the bar.

Professor Joe Wojie, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania who teaches at Rider University, takes Philadelphia’s grim history seriously. He founded the tours three years ago and has stayed hands-on through its development.

“I’m a night owl, so when I’m on vacation I want to sleep in, relax,” Wojie said. “Most tours are at 9 a.m. and I always wanted something late in the day, which are usually ghost tours. I like the academic but my wife is less into that, so [Grim Philly Twilight Tours] are a happy medium between academic and fun.”

Wojie said he thoroughly researches each story until it’s fully-developed. Once he’s satisfied in the content of the tour, he trains a member of his qualified team to run it. He aims to have factual and interesting information provided by dynamic, knowledgeable tour guides, most of which have master’s degrees or are history teachers.

“I like to use history teachers, those that can answer independent questions off the cuff,” Wojie said.

John Crider, currently in the Ph. D. history program at Temple, runs the Cemetery and Serial Killers tour through Grim Philly Twilight Tours.

[blockquote who=”Joe Wojie” what=”professor”]I like the academic but my wife is less into that, so [Grim Philly Twilight Tours] are a happy medium between academic and fun.[/blockquote]

Wojie said he uses the research of Mark Haller, a historian and one of the founders of the criminal justice program at Temple who passed September of last year. Wojie also utilizes the Paley Library.

“Temple’s library, I believe, is the most comprehensive on the [prohibition] era,” he said. “It’s the premier place to be looking for information.”

The prohibition era and the gangsters that became famous from it is the main focus of the Bootleggers Ball bar crawl, which runs on Saturdays from 7-10 p.m., stopping at three taverns along the way.

“The tour focuses on gangsters,” Wojie said. “Al Capone’s connection here was controlling industrial alcohol. Mickey Duffy was another. The Irish mafia were controlling the beer – people always laugh at that.”

The tours, which are geared toward adults, focus on brothels to executions and everything in between. All of the tours use information are intrinsically academic, but the content still aims to be entertaining.

“We have a cult following,” Wojie said. “The first year I was just doing the tours myself, and it was just the [Vampires, Sex, Ghosts] tour, and I remember I saw the same guy three times. We definitely have regulars.”

Since its  inception, Grim Philly Twilight Tours has won Best Philadelphia Tour from PHL17’s Philly Hot List. There are currently three tours available: the Vampires, Sex, Ghosts!… & So Much More tour, the Cemetery, Serial Killers, Blood & Beer!  tour and the Bootleggers Ball – Historic and Haunted Pub Crawl.

Wojie has plans to expand in the future, since the popularity of Grim Philly Twilight Tours has been more than he anticipated.

“People who have never done the tours have become interested in all of them,” he said. “People are going on dates.”

Sinead Cummings can be reached at

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