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Cindy Lange-Kubick: The Ghosts of Lincoln bus tour, filling up fast

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Cindy Lange-Kubick joined the Lincoln Journal Star in 1994 and has loved covering life in her hometown ever since. Will write for chocolate. Or coffee.

The ghost tours started small.

One guy in a station wagon driving curious souls around Lincoln, sharing stories about places where things go bump in the dark.

Dale Bacon was that guy.

He was working at a bookstore owned by Scott Colborn, and both men had experience with spirits in their pasts. They were inquisitive and open to possibilities and often took turns at the KZUM microphone on Saturday mornings, co-hosting the radio show “Explaining Unexplained Phenomena,” started by Colborn in 1984.

Eventually, Bacon’s annual October excursions got big enough to fill a small van and his boss had an idea.

“‘Dale, do you think we could fill a bus? You do the background stuff and tell the stories and I’ll do the organizing?’”

And that’s what they did, Colborn said Tuesday.

They chartered one bus.

“We filled it, and the next year we did two. The next year we did four. Every time we would add a bus, or more nights, we found we hadn’t reached our saturation point.”

The man who started the tour in his station wagon died of renal cell cancer in 2012, but Bacon’s two daughters have returned to ride the tour their dad started.

And in the years since losing his ghost tour partner, Colborn took over as storyteller.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Ghost Tour of Lincoln’s first bus ride. A bus a night for 19 nights — and one daylight tour — leading up to Halloween. Lincoln’s version of the haunted tours of the French Quarter, run by a guy in a Hawaiian shirt instead of a top hat.

Tickets go on sale Monday at 10 a.m., and regulars will be lining up in front of OMT Divine Resale at 17th and Van Dorn streets, waiting.

A warning: The tour always sells out.

“In the past, we’ve had people queuing up as early as 4 a.m.,” Colborn said.

Colborn and his daughter, Melissa — tour greeter and navigator — will show up at 8 a.m. lugging coffee, water and doughnut holes.

“It’s as much a social thing as anything,” he said. “Conversation, fellowship and first crack at the seats.”

And about those seats.

“Every year, the buses have gotten more and more comfortable and spacious,” says Ingrid Bangers, a regular on the three-hour tour.

The bartender and beer buyer for Yia Yia’s buys tickets for three or four tours a year, joined by a different friend on each excursion.

“I love the old stories,” she explains. “And there are always new stories.”

She loves the way Colborn tells them — and the midpoint get-out-and-stretch break at Raising Cane's.

Her advice to riders: “Be open-minded.”

Her advice to me: “I think you need to get on that bus in October.”

Deb Cosgrove got on the October bus for the first time a few years ago. She’ll be on board again for the anniversary ride with Bangers.

It’s a good way to see Lincoln, even if you’re not interested in ghost stories, said Cosgrove, who teaches at UNL.

And if you are, all the better.

She’s heard stories about ghostly activity at the Capitol and at the prison, after-hours noises at a bowling alley and unexplained goings-on at homes around town.

“When we got to my neighborhood there were a couple of stories about houses there.”

She didn’t pack up and move.

The stories aren’t Freddy Krueger frightening, explains Colborn, whose daughter has accompanied him since she was 9. (His son, Asher, started at 6.)

“I always differentiate between Hollywood horror and our tour. Say your grandfather dies, Hollywood horror would have him as a zombie living under a bridge, eating people.”

In the ghost stories Colborn shares, Grandpa is a good spirit there to help a family member. (Or a dead bowler who wasn’t ready to give up the game.)

And after being open to listening all these years, he’s discovered this: “So many people have these kinds of stories in their past.”

And he’d like to hear more.

“If it takes place in Lincoln, Nebraska, I’m really interested.”

It’s what keeps people circling Lincoln on a bus each October in the dark, listening to a soothing voice and three hours of tales of the supernatural.

“You’ll only find one of the stories I tell in a book,” Colborn said. “Until I write my own.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @TheRealCLK.

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