|An old hearse is the ideal vehicle for taking a ghostly ride around the city.
My friend Squeamish and I are in the back seat of Elvira, a black 1967 Cadillac hearse, beside a sign warning “No food, No drink, No sex”, and we’re about to embark on a Weird Ghost and History Tour of Sydney.
The tour promises to feature crime locations and sites of “suicide, sex, suffering and scandal” and it departs, appropriately enough, from a Kings Cross car park. We’re accompanied by two other tourists, Copper and Ms Manchester.
“Is this your first time in a hearse?” asks our guide, the softly spoken hearse whisperer Allan Levinson. “It won’t be your last.”
He provides a plastic folder with information and photos to flick through during the tour. When he mentions that Elvira had been used as a funeral hearse for 30 years in California, and carried thousands of people to their final resting place, Squeamish screams. Later she feels queasy when there’s a brief reference to scabs forming after floggings.
During the next two hours we experience what it’s like to turn heads as Elvira attracts admiration during our drive through Double Bay, Point Piper, Darlinghurst, Paddington, The Rocks, the CBD and Woolloomooloo.
“Draw the curtains if you don’t want to be the centre of attention,” Levinson suggests, but we enjoy feeling like superstars and wave regally to passersby.
Elvira provides most of the spicy prerecorded commentary, while Levinson adds humorous asides.
The tour starts with scandal, such as the politician who died in a hotel room wearing a “loaded” condom, and moves on to the famous. We drive by the church where Elton John got married, and the hotel where Bill Clinton, Princess Di, Neil Diamond, Madonna and George Bush stayed.
Then we get to the ghouls.
We’re treated to stories of Sydney spirits including the one with a bowler hat who wears boots, the nun who wears a grey habit but has no feet, the derelict who plays the drums during quiet moments at the Opera House, the bloke who slams shut heavy steel doors, and the floating head that drifts through a toilet block.
There are also the unexplained events at various buildings the lights that switch on and off, items that are mysteriously moved, the banging shutters, a light in a hospital ward that rocks to and fro when a patient’s death is imminent, and the ghost of a drag queen in a women’s toilet where the cubicle door swings back and forth.
What impresses us most are the sights we pass every day and have never noted before, such as the beautiful gothic Mortuary Station near Central Station. And the fact that the latter was once occupied by 30,000 headstones.
Later we stop at the Harbour Bridge for soft drinks, biscuits and peanuts, which are stashed in a small coffin.
We resume the trip by cruising past a top-class brothel, a former sexually transmitted diseases clinic, the hotel where the Beatles stayed, and the heroin shooting gallery.
Back at the car park, Levinson gives us five pages of extra history notes to take home and a free video of Elvira’s first movie role in a short film made at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.
Squeamish, it turns out, enjoyed the experience. So much so she spent the rest of the week scaring herself witless by reading an excellent ghost book Levinson had recommended, The Ghost Guide to Australia by Richard Davis.
Tours operate every day: 11/2 hours $49, two hours $65. Phone 9555 2700 or visit www.destinytours.com.au