By SHANA ROSE
It’s a dark, brisk night on Congress Street. Tucson’s night owls and partygoers are out and about, drinking and socializing.
Over by the Rialto, a small crowd gathers around Robert Owens.
Owens, a 22-year-old Pima Community College student, works as a tour guide for Spirit Expeditions.
The Oregon-based business hosts ghost tours nationwide. Tucson enjoys the company’s top ratings on Groupon, thanks to guests who give positive feedback.
Owens grew up in Florida as a Southern Baptist and said he believes in ghosts.
The political science major wouldn’t call himself a history junkie, but is very interested in the historical aspect of the tours.
“First and foremost, this is a ghost tour,” Owens said. “What I see when I do these tours is you can’t really talk about the ghosts of a place if you don’t talk about the history of the place also. The two often tie together.”
Owens is a one-man operation. He designed the tour route, chose the destinations and did extensive historical and urban folklore research on the locations.
He takes guests to the most talked-about spots, such as Hotel Congress and The Rialto, and to places without much buzz, like the Scottish Rite Cathedral and the Pioneer Building.
Owens owes his job to a friend who is chronically unemployed and always looks up postings on craigslist. His friend approached him, saying, “I found the perfect job for you.”
After calling, wrangling a Web interview on the fly and getting hired on the spot, Owens has been guiding believers and skeptics since December 2013.
Owens doesn’t plan on leading ghost tours as a career but for now he enjoys his part-time job for the income.
He also juggles two other jobs, all while attending PCC full time.
Owens interns at U.S. Rep. Ron Barber’s office, working with the case management employees. He also serves as secretary on the board of directors for a Tucson horse rescue operation, Heart of Tucson.
The ghost tours attract a variety of guests.
Recent participant Linda Himmel is a winter visitor from Wisconsin who found the tour on Groupon. Himmel said she came more for the history but had fun with Owens’ spooky stories.
“I think our tour guide, Robert, is very well versed on the history and what he’s doing,” Himmel said. “He’s been a Tucsonan for 16 years, so he knows the town and he’s obviously interested in sharing the information.”
Himmel said she and her husband had been to the Rialto and Hotel Congress, but had never visited the Fox Theatre or Scottish Rite Cathedral.
“I would highly recommend that people do this tour,” she said. “If they think they’re going to hang around Tucson, it’s interesting to find out the history of downtown.”
Her husband does not believe in ghosts and she is a skeptic, Himmel said.
Owens respects his guests’ varied opinions.
“With these tours, I try to keep an open mind with everybody’s beliefs,” he said. “For me, it’s as much about the history as it is the ghosts.”
His primary goal supersedes both aspects.
“Above all, it’s about people leaving with a smile and having a good time,” he said. “That’s what I’m most interested in.”