Driving Into the Night

We sent Catherine Toth on a ghost tour. Luckily, she reported back with her tale.

Tour guide "Uncle Joe" Espinda.

Photo: Leah Ball

Strong mind, Strong heart.

The words of “Uncle Joe” Espinda Jr., our charismatic tour guide, kept repeating in my head. Well, along with, What am I doing here? It’s 8 p.m. This isn’t safe.

I took a deep breath, felt for the Hawaiian salt in my jeans pocket, and headed up the eerily dark road toward the Nuuanu Pali Lookout. This was the site, more than two centuries ago, of one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history. Kamehameha I and his army of 10,000 warriors defeated Kalanikupule to conquer Oahu, driving hundreds of soldiers over the edge of these steep cliffs. No wonder it’s the first stop on Oahu Ghost Tour’s nighttime driving excursion.

As we made our way to the lookout parking lot, it felt like we were surrounded by watchful eyes. Spirits circled, Espinda said. You could feel the heat.

Armed with a ti leaf, our tour guide chanted in Hawaiian, telling the spirits not to worry. “Aole pilikia uhane,” he said. We’re just looking.

As we approached the lookout, he stopped. His eyes widened. “Ho, what was that?” he cried. He pointed toward the lookout, as everyone clung to the nearest arm.

“There! Right there! You see it? Quick, someone, take picture!”

Some mysterious orbs.

Photo: Courtesy of Oahu Ghost Tours

Flashes stuttered and snapped, explosions of bright light. The group of 21 ghost-seekers huddled around cameras to see the images. Perfect circles of light—what Espinda called orbs—showed up in nearly every shot. White orbs are curious spirits, he said, blue ones are family members. But anything yellow, red or orange, “we’re outta here.”

A woman held up her camera to Espinda. The display showed bright red and orange lights swirling around the white baseball cap of the tallest member of our group.

And in that light were two peering faces, a man and a woman, so clear and distinguishable I had to count the number of people in the van again.

“That’s Pele,” Espinda whispered, excitedly looking around. “We gotta go.”

For three hours we visited Oahu’s fabled haunted spots, from the Manoa Chinese Cemetery to a heiau in Kailua. Oahu Ghost Tours started in early 2007, and this driving tour is by far its most popular, says owner Chris Spears.

Just the mention of one of our stops—Morgan’s Corner—quieted the van. Many of us had grown up with the story with conflicting details about where, exactly, this haunted spot is and what, exactly, had happened.

The version I had heard is of the urban legend variety: A couple’s car breaks down on Nuuanu Pali Drive. The guy leaves to get help. Of course, it’s raining. Of course, the guy never returns. And of course, the scratching she heard on the roof of the car is her decapitated boyfriend, hanging by his ankles, his fingers grazing the top of the car.

But the place we visited on our driving tour was on the windward side of the Pali Tunnels. Near the home of Dr. James Morgan, his neighbor Therese Wilder was killed by two escaped convicts. Her spirit reportedly haunts the area.

We all had chicken skin and one guy started sweating profusely. Espinda ordered everyone to head back to the van. “Now,” he yelled. “Go, go, go!” He shouted at the shadows, “Stop following us! You can’t come with us!”

Sure, I trusted him. But I still dumped handfuls of Hawaiian salt outside my front door when I got home. You can never be too safe.

Oahu Ghost Tours, 524-4944. www.oahughosttours.com.