Q&A: Robert McGinnis, Curator of James White Fort

James White Fort curator McGinnis is also the tour guide for the historic site’s annual HearthScares “walking tour of ghostly Knoxville,” which departs the Fort at 7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Oct. 24-28, and concludes with a bonfire-marshmallow roast. The linked HearthScares ball is Oct. 28 7 p.m.-11 p.m. and includes dancing, silent auction, food, and a costume contest.

Where do you take the tour?

There are three basic tours—downtown, the Old City, and this year, UT stories will join the mixture. But we won’t go to UT, since it’s awfully far away; instead I’ll take them behind Church Street Methodist to the large parking lot and tell stories while we face the view across the river. The whole tour is about a half mile round trip.

Will you dress scary?

I’m all in black, but no mask. My face is scary enough.

Will you speak in an eerie tone, like Vincent Price?

I can go from a stage whisper to a large scream real fast. You never know when that scream is gonna come out. I don’t even know myself, it’s just when the spirit’s right.

Do you have repeat customers?

Yes. One lady in particular comes back every year. She wants to hear Swinging Sally. Some years it’s on the schedule, some years it’s not, but it is one of the stories for this year.

Swinging Sally?

Sally got on a swing set at Old Bell House school and got her neck broke. Now the school is underneath Riverview Towers. All our stories are true based on Knoxville history. You know, we’re supposed to have three ghosts here at James White Fort, but I have never encountered them.

What’s your favorite of the stories?

Probably Frankenstein. A lot of people do know about Knoxville’s Frankenstein. He was in 1828, and his name was James White. Not the Fort’s James White, but a much younger version, one the ladies would swoon over.

Do you have a Knoxville connection?

I’m a descendant of James White. This is a family passion, you might say.

And what’s the HearthScares Ball?

It’s an offshoot of the tour, held here at the Fort. It’s a frightfully howling good time. People will wear costumes—if you aren’t wearing one, we’ll still think you are. There will be hors douvres, and the Chillbillies will play, and a silent auction. It will all benefit the Fort, keep it running. You know tourism dollars alone can’t support a place like this.

Has the economy hurt fund-raising?

The recession has hurt, but not that much. And we’re still enjoying every visitor, every experience, every memory.

Wait, did you say James White Fort might have ghosts but you’ve never seen them?

Only evidence that they might have been here. One morning I came in and the beds had been remade. Another time, all the doors were open in the house, but our alarms were saying it was all locked up.

For more information or to purchase Oct. 28 HearthScares Ball tickets, visit jameswhitesfort.org or call 525-6514

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