David Sloan has been poking around Key West's most hallowed, historic -- and haunted -- hangouts since 1996, when he researched, scripted and launched the island's first-ever Ghost Tour -- and published his research in his first book, "Ghosts of Key West."
"I had been on a ghost tour in Scotland, and brought the idea back to the States with me. It was actually one of the first ghost tours in the country," said Sloan, who sold the Original Key West Ghost Tour in 2002 and spent the ensuing years researching and writing. "The tour had become too much of a business instead of my passion, but I always stayed active in the paranormal circles doing my own research and writing books on the paranormal."
Sloan, bound by a local noncompete clause for five years following the sale of the tour, consulted for haunted tours in other cities while he continued his Key West research and writing.
In the meantime, several similar haunted tours were launched in Key West's historic corridors.
"We're proud of our research and of the accurate history we present in each ghost hunt," Sloan said. "I'm proud of what I started in 1996, and flattered that new tour operators have been able to use my research and books to launch a series of ghost tours, both motorized and pedestrian, in Key West."
But finally, in January -- five years after his noncompete commitment had expired -- Sloan found his back into the world of weird happenings, nightly sightings and spirited exchanges with Key West's oldest -- and long dead -- residents.
"Finally, I felt the time was right to take Key West ghost tours to the next level by introducing an actual ghost hunt using the paranormal equipment people see on television," he said.
Sloan launched Sloan's Key West Ghost Hunt in January after carefully researching, planning and plotting a course that leads participants through the island's most creepy corridors.
"The best way to encounter -- and engage -- ghosts and spirits is on foot," Sloan said, explaining that the Key West Ghost Hunt only encompasses three blocks. "I didn't want to make people walk a mile in Key West's nighttime humidity to experience the excitement of a ghost hunt."
His nightly route takes up to 20 ghost hunters at a time from Kelly's Caribbean Bar and Grill, the former site of the haunted Pan American Airways building on Whitehead Street, through Old Town, with stops along Whitehead, Caroline and Eaton streets.
At the start of each hunt, Sloan, or his other experienced guide Ray Campbell, who has been hunting ghosts in Key West for more than eight years, explain and distribute equipment that includes L-rods, K-2 meters and laser temperature gauges, all of which are said to measure various changes in the atmosphere.
"The guide introduces different equipment throughout the 90-minute tour," Sloan said. "It's an entirely new experience for most people, although whenever professional ghost hunters are in Key West, they join our tour as well."
Sloan is proud of the exclusive access his ghost hunt has to the former Masonic Lodge at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets, and has been excited on nearly every hunt recently by sightings and experiences his participants have shared.
"Different things can happen every single night," he said, while acknowledging that repeat customers will hear the same stories of Key West's historic homes on each tour. "You'll hear the same stories if you go more than once, but we get hits on the equipment and have different sightings and experiences every night."
One recent ghost hunter watched in shock as she pointed her handheld laser temperature gauge at various upstairs windows at a Whitehead Street property. Despite the night's 78-degree temperature, the electronic thermometer with fresh batteries registered -17 degrees.
Other participants gathered around a stately banyan tree and heard the names of Key West children who were rumored to have played in that yard in the 1800s.
"The hunt goes down the most haunted block in Key West on Eaton Street," Sloan said. "So the guide has 20 haunted houses to choose from and to stop at, based on what seems to be happening on each tour. And the paranormal equipment takes people from spectators to active participants in a real ghost hunt," he said.
Sloan emphasized that the hunt is not recommended for expectant mothers or kids younger than 16.
"Because we actively try to engage the spirits, we don't want anything to latch onto a child who may not know how to handle it," Sloan said. "An adult would know to call us to see what's happening, but a child may not."
Since January, Sloan's Key West Ghost Hunt each night has been welcoming tourists and locals, each of whom receive a $10 discount if they show a Monroe County I.D.
"We're getting a tons of locals, who really appreciate what they're hearing, and I really appreciate their support because the locals are where I always get my initial reports of hauntings and strange happenings," Sloan said, adding that the hunt also has welcomed paranormal professionals.
"We're proud of our research and we're passionate about the history we present and the paranormal possibilities we provide," he said.