Laptops are replacing crackling campfire as the preferred platform to frighten others with captivating ghost stories. A Sioux Falls author has his own website dedicated to collecting ghostly tales from people in the area. This self-proclaimed skeptic suspends his disbelief for the sake of a good story.
A stroll through a cemetery can raise more than a few graveside goose bumps in the days leading up to Halloween.
"I like to be a little bit scared, I think everybody does," Eric Renshaw said.
Renshaw has held a lifelong fascination with the paranormal that started when he was growing up in Yankton, during a kind of golden age for ghosts.
"Back in the 70s, when ghosts seemed more credible than they do nowadays and there were UFO's in the news all the time, I loved ghosts most of all. I would get every book I could from the library with the double-exposure pictures of ghosts and old mansions," Renshaw said.
But as an adult, Renshaw's literary pursuits led him to history, not the haunted. He's written a book called "Forgotten Sioux Falls," a page-turning showcase of old photos and postcards of the city he's collected through the years. But that childhood allure of ghosts still tugs at his curiosity.
"As a historian, I would love to come across a ghost and just sit down and have a cup of coffee and discuss what life was like back then," Renshaw said.
Renshaw has never had a personal experience with ghosts. And as a fact-driven historian, he maintains a healthy skepticism about the paranormal. But words can provide a concrete connection to the spirit world. So Renshaw has a website where he collects ghost stories submitted by those who claim to have been spooked.
"I had some stories from a couple of family members that were pretty interesting and so I had them write them up and put them up on the site and like you put a couple of coins in a tip jar, the tips start to grow," Renshaw said.
One of those stories came from Renshaw's father, who wrote about a ghostly encounter along the Sioux Falls bike path.
"About a quarter of a mile ahead, there'd be somebody on a bike and he did think it'd be anything supernatural but he would catch up to it and at the point the bicyclist should have been, there was nothing," Renshaw said.
A woman submitted a story about a messy ghost who could have used some work on his housekeeping skills.
"And she went off and took a shower, came back and the corner of the bed spread was turned down, that I like a lot," Renshaw said.
Renshaw prefers first-hand accounts rather than hearsay hauntings because they provide far more detail and authenticity.
"It's impossible to fact-check a ghost, they're notoriously slippery, they just will not answer questions," Renshaw said.
Sharing ghost stories can help people confront their fears together. Whether it's a fear of the unknown or the fear of death, people can now go online to conjure up the spirits that scare them.
"I think people want to think that they're not crazy and they want people to commiserate and oh yeah, the same thing happened to me," Renshaw said.
Renshaw longs for the day when he can submit his personal ghost story for everyone to read online. But until then, he's content to archive the supernatural experiences of others, whether they're fact or fiction.
"It tickles a part of my imagination. It doesn't mean I believe in it, but it's good stuff, especially on a cold, Halloween night," Renshaw said.
Renshaw is a fan of those ghost hunting shows on cable TV. But he says he's disappointed that despite all that high-tech ghost detecting equipment featured in the programs, there hasn't been more tangible proof of the paranormal.
To read ghost stories Renshaw has collected or to submit your own story, click here.