On any given day in downtown Asheville, tour guides snake through the streets pointing out the home where Thomas Wolfe lived or the park where drum circles gather on Friday nights. Tadd McDivitt’s tour is different. As he leads groups of as many as 80 people through the streets and alleyways, he shares the dark and sometimes humorous stories of the city, and how history, culture and rituals weave together into imaginative folklore.
McDivitt works as a guide for Haunted Asheville, which offers two walking tours — one supernatural tour and one ghost tour — to historic sites in Asheville. The eerie legends and hair-raising tales come from a book of the same name by Joshua P. Warren, Asheville native and paranormal investigator.
McDivitt has lived in Asheville since 1988 and his love of the unknown developed as a young boy with a passion for superheroes, tabletop role-playing games and sci-fi/fantasy. He has led ghost tours for 10 years here, and his other job is writing storylines for Dungeons and Dragons games.
Despite October being a busy month for spookiness, Xpress managed to catch up with McDivitt to discuss theories of the supernatural, dodging teargas while working and his background as a barbershop quartet singer.
This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.
Do you believe in ghosts?
My take is more observations and theories and less faith or conviction. Perhaps the concept of time gets slippery? What if that’s where ghosts are? What if for one weird, naturally-occurring reason, the past can be seen for a second? And we don’t understand the science yet, much like at one point we didn’t understand the bacteria causing the plague. Conceivably, it might be an aspect of nature — specifically the fluidity of time.
Wow, that’s really heady.
One of my favorite ways of looking at [the afterlife]… is the way that the ancient Greeks perceived it: They had a prototype understanding of matter and energy. They weren’t all the way to Einstein and E=mc2 yet, but the early alchemists had a concept that there is matter and there is energy. So they believed that the land of the dead is made of something different. On the other side, memory replaces matter, and form and shape are held together by memory. They believed energy is replaced by raw emotion, and want makes the memory move. So they believe that there is a universe that is made of nothing but memory and emotion, and it has similar properties to matter and energy in its movement and form. But it’s not matter and it’s not energy.
Pivoting away from theories about the afterlife, what makes a good ghost story?
When you look at folklore, ghost stories exist cross-culturally. The one common element is a theme of regret and unfinished business. It’s based on the idea that not everyone who dies becomes a ghost. There is always a reason. They couldn’t let go of whatever thing is left undone, whatever pile of money, whatever child is left without being told ‘I love you.’ And that’s where the variation in the stories come from.
One thing that people notice on my Friday supernatural tour [is that] it’s not so much me scaring them. I’m giving the cultural context of where these stories, rituals, gestures and beliefs came from. It ends up being more heady and fascinating than spooky-scary, per se. But that’s where my passion is—anthropology and storytelling.
How did you become interested in the occult?
I grew up an ‘80s kid with a passionate love for supernatural fantasy and supernatural horror. I was right at that age to be watching Clash of the Titans; I discovered Narnia and Middle-earth. Right about that time is when I was exposed to Latin in 7th grade. I discovered the Iliad and the Odyssey, and realized the parallels with the fantasy stories I like, even my superhero stories.
You were less interested in the scary bits and more interested in their source.
I realized that these classical ideas are rooted in real world legends and cultures. I was looking at Lord of the Rings and [thought] ‘You know, the Scandinavians actually believed in elves and dwarves.’ That’s where it started. It was just this digging — where did it come from? Everything from the fantasy, the horror and even the sci-fi stuff is built on the bones of the old stories. Even the Starship Enterprise has some of the Argonauts quality to it.
What do you think makes you a good storyteller?
I have a background in stage performance in music. My dad arranges and conducts barbershop quartets and choirs. I was raised singing; it was a way to get away from my mom and my little brother and to just be me and my dad singing together. Not only did I get a really great experience from my dad in a mentorship capacity, but early on voice control, voice projection and comfort in a group of people became baked into my skill set.
Music is what I did in school, and then when I got to college … I discovered how cool the anthropology classical languages classes were. So I end up at the cross section of being comfortable with a group of people and projecting my voice and really knowing my stuff of where all these creepy details come from and the finer points of the history.
What’s a memorable experience you’ve had while giving a tour?
Missing the tear gas by 10 minutes.
Wait, you were doing tours during the racial justice protests downtown in 2020?
Yes. My tour was out of the way right where the teargas flew. I had my tour group on to a different spot within 15 minutes. It was awkward, because I’m very happy to be working but I also feel like the man playing the fiddle while Rome burns. I’m entertaining these guests and trying to keep them happy while real life tension is happening around me. It was incredibly challenging to keep the tone, keep the mood, to try to get everyone distracted from reality while stark, intense reality is coalescing around me. Part of me was screaming inside, like, ‘I can’t believe I’m powering through this!’ But yeah, the show must go on.