Tom Riggins, guide for ghost tours

PHOTO by luke fitz

Check out the Old Sacramento Living History's Ghost Tours every Friday and Saturday night through October. Tours run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., departing on the half-hour. Tickets are $10-$15 and can be purchased by calling (916) 808-7059 or in person at the Sacramento History Museum, 101 I Street. For more information, visit

For Tom Riggins, working for the Old Sacramento Living History’s annual Ghost Tour is a dream job. The October tours, a collaboration with the Sacramento History Museum, make for the chance to dress up and relive Sacramento’s Gold Rush-era history—including a few deaths that were notorious or creepy or just plain weird. Or maybe all three. The tours launch this Friday, October 9,and Riggins took a moment to share a precious few spoilers and, perhaps more importantly, explain what a skulkin is.

So, what exactly does a ghost tour guide do?

The tour guide's job is to escort the audience from scene to scene and maybe introduce a little of the scene, explain a little of it in character. It makes for an entertaining and educational experience. We changed the [guide] character this year and this year we're skulkins.


It's a kind of a nondescript character that lives in the cracks and the crevices of society. This year the skulkin is the bridge—the skulkins see dead people and if you walk with them, you'll see them, too.

Can you give me a sneak peak of some of the dead people who will be part of the night?

A sneak peak? That would be blowing the script—that would be blowing the scene. I can tell you that we do an interpretative historical walk, which means that what we try to work with actual people who lived or died in the Sacramento area or have some ties to the area. You're going to see actual people—or at least personages of a type of person where you might not know the actual name, but you can look up [the event] in history.

C’mon, any spoilers?

No, but there are people who were historical and some of them who are going to be featured had an odd way to die.

Intriguing—does it get graphic?

We try to make this family friendly, it's not a horror show, it's not a paranormal show. It's a walk through history with an October Halloween side. But we do make it creepy; it will be kind of spooky. Last year we had a few screams and a few jump backs but mostly the [reaction] is chuckling. I guess it depends on your definition of graphic. We don't have any squirting blood. No one loses a head during the show—but they might have already lost their head. It's more creepy than scary—that's what we go for. Of course, everyone's boundaries are different.

Define “interpretative” history.

To me history is a journey and it's very difficult for us to know all the ins and outs of how an exact thing happened. We can study up on time or an incident to the best of our ability but when it's interpretative, we just have to fill in the gaps with what we think is a plausible explanation of that event. We try to stay as close to what we know the history is, and fill in with plausible details to bring the characters alive. The fastest way to get a kid interested in history is to bring it alive. Or to bring it dead in this case.

Is this your day job?

No, everyone with the living history program is a volunteer. Everyone has a love of history or the love to be a ham. Probably both. For me, I love interacting with people—a lot of times younger people—to see their eyes open, to see them get and passionate and I hope they bring it home. I was never interested in history through formal education, but when I started getting into and reliving the lives of people [here] I saw that Sacramento has a very rich history with unbelievable, fascinating stuff.

Favorite character?

The problem is that with that is there are so many interesting stories and characters and we can't play them all; that's why we try to do different ones every year. There's one from last year that was interesting in a horribly tragic way: A woman fell backward off her horse, which got caught on her hoop skirt. The hoop skirt unwound until her head hit the rocks. She was the wife to a prominent businessman—it was death by fashion. One boy was killed by a potato. You just can't make that stuff up.

Ever experience anything weird during one of the tours? Ever get goosebumps?

Not for me—we've had really weird things happen, they just have to do with the local color of Sacramento. Sacramento is a very vibrant community and we are out in the public so when we're doing stuff we're moving past other people who may or may not be part of the tour. We often catch the attention of people who see us coming by. Last year there were some reenactment of ghosts—it was the first year we were all doing makeup and costumes. This year we're taking it up another notch with guides coming out [during the tour], walking around the street looking a bit pale and drained.

The million dollar question: Do you believe in ghosts?

Do I believe in ghosts? That would be an unfair question. Let's just say I do this month.