When lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders had much of the globe looking like a ghost town, one group of sinister escorts found themselves at ease in the empty streets. Freaky Foot Tours Flagstaff, a collective of guides dedicated to haunted history, gained their stride during the pandemic. Aversion to indoor gatherings drove visitors to seek alternative entertainment, and Freaky Foot Tours reaped the benefit of a shifting market. A supplier of amply distanced outdoor tours since 2015, in the last two years the business found itself buried in demand.
They briefly struggled to undertake waves of new clientele, but thanks to Flagstaff’s thriving arts community and the entrepreneurial prowess of founder Nick Jones, it was not long before a crop of home-grown performers filled fresh positions as merchants of the macabre. Once restricted to “spooky season”, in October 2020 the company did 10X the business of the previous season. They now offer several tours a week, seven months a year. In 2021 they expect to have grown 300%.
Freaky Foot Tours grew from the research of Flagstaff resident Susan Johnson. Between her career and raising a family, Johnson found herself invested in the local historical society. She attended lectures, tours, festivals, and the more she learned about the history of her mountain town, the more she became enraptured in its eerie past.
Flagstaff sits in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks, a Northern Arizona landmark held sacred by the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, and other indigenous tribes. The town started as an old western scrabble of work camps and ranching communities in the 1800’s. By the turn of the twentieth century, Flagstaff had solidified itself as a destination for tourists, artists, and scientists. In the 30’s and 40’s, the town hosted Hollywood when the appetite for western cinema was at its peak.
Since then, Flagstaff has amassed a wealth of local lore. Stories in the haunted history tour tell of a phantom bellboy that rattled John Wayne, quarrels of ghostly newlyweds, incorporeal corgis, and more. The crown jewel of the tour is the climactic tale of the Walkup murders – a mysterious and grisly true crime epic that is also the subject of Susan Johnson’s recent book “Flagstaff’s Walkup Murders: A Shocking 1937 Tragedy”.
As purveyors of frightening delights, Freaky Foot Tours Flagstaff now enters its 6th season stronger than ever. Scrappy as the old west legends their town was founded on, the guides lead a trail of satisfied customers with little more than walking shoes and stories to boot. Even as concerns over COVID wane and people return to indoor entertainment, the hunger for haunted history shows no signs of slowing. To the folks at Freaky Foot Tours, this is no surprise. In a world of passive distractions, the opportunity to actively engage the mystery of a place is an experience that can’t easily be dismissed. When the night grows dark and the air grows chill, Freaky Foot Tours Flagstaff is home to Arizona’s most ghostly thrills.