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History and hauntings: Walking tour company shares hidden stories of St. Paul

CynCity Tours offers walking tours covering everything from ghost stories on Summit Avenue to the haunted history of Union Depot.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — It's spooky season and if you're looking for a way to celebrate, a local walking tour company is covering everything from history to hauntings in St. Paul. 

Cynthia Schreiner Smith, a St. Paul native, started giving historic tours in 1998. Her husband, Bick Smith, started shortly after in 2000. 

"I did that and learned a lot. Wrote a book about gangsters. Did a lot of historical research. When COVID hit, that job went away and there was no guarantee that it would come back," Schreiner Smith recalled. 

They launched CynCity Tours in April 2021. While the year-round walking tours currently spotlight St. Paul, they have done private tours related to Minneapolis. 

Those who go on CynCity's Gangsterland Walking Tour of Downtown St. Paul, stroll the same streets frequented by famous gangsters of the 1930s. Their most popular tour — Ghosts & Gables Haunted Walking Tour of Summit Avenue — explores the longest stretch of Victorian homes in the U.S. 

"Because we have so many old homes, it means we have a few ghosts," Schreiner Smith said. 

The 1.2 mile-stroll starts at Summit Overlook Park. One home featured on the tour is the James Gamble House, built in 1883. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
The James Gamble House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minn.

"Back in the year 2000, it was investigated by the Minnesota Paranormal Investigative Group and they identified it as having at least 24 ghosts," Schreiner Smith said. "Believe it or not, it is not the house on the tour that has the reputation of being the most haunted house in St. Paul. That's a different one that we take you to." 

During the tour, Schreiner Smith tells a story of a woman who she says lived on first floor and would notice her cupboard doors swing open five to six times per day. 

"It's not like they just came open. They have that hook and eye on it and they would flip up and then swing open," Schreiner Smith said. 

But the tour does not just focus on ghost stories; Schreiner Smith makes sure to include a lot of history, too. Schreiner Smith has collected stories and historical facts throughout the years, even gaining knowledge on places while giving walking tours. 

Credit: CynCity Tours
CynCity's Gangsterland Walking Tour of Downtown St. Paul strolls the same streets frequented by famous gangsters of the 1930s.

"The other day I'm on a tour and a woman on her porch said, 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'I'm doing a ghost tour' and she said, 'Well, I have a ghost.' So we ended up standing there getting this extra ghost story," Schreiner Smith said. 

She added, "I am not shy about asking people when I see them, 'Hey, do you have a ghost?'" 

It's one of the reasons why Schreiner Smith prefers giving walking tours. 

"I'm born and raised in St. Paul, so I love showing off St. Paul," she said. 

CynCity has done specialty tours of St. Paul Brewing, 11 Wells Distillery, Heimie's Haberdashery, CHS Field and the St. Paul Saints. They also give special tours as part of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. 

"We've gotten to work with a lot of local business people because you realize that in order to come back from a pandemic, and from other economic challenges, it starts with the city and then it goes to businesses," Bick Smith said. "So you have to help build the city back, the downtown back, and make people want to come downtown."

Schreiner Smith added, "It's just bringing some life to downtown." 

CynCity Tours launched Union Depot Haunted History Tour this week — going behind the scenes of St. Paul's iconic rail station. 

Credit: CynCity Tours
CynCity Tours launched in April 2021.

During the tours, they wear costumes to match the themes. While they're both actors, as well, they don't play a character during the tours. However, Schreiner Smith said their theatrical backgrounds help with storytelling which is why she has hired fellow actors as extra tour guides. 

"I really want to show off St. Paul because it's my hometown," Schreiner Smith said. "I love it. I think it's so beautiful. It deserves the respect." 

The Ghost and Gables tour is happening every Friday through Sunday in October. You can book tickets for all CynCity's tours, here

They also give private tours for groups of six or more, as well as virtual tours for school groups. 

Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at hwigdahl@kare11.com.

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