STEPHEN Mercer was the sort of lad who went exploring as a child, born in Belfast, but growing up in a small village in Northern Ireland, beset by folklore, whimsical tales of ghostly happenings, and with a house widely held to be haunted virtually upon his doorstep.
“Half the time parents invented tales to keep their children in at night, but, of course, we kids would dare each other to go in there,” he recalls. The day he did he experienced a phenomenon, a door opening, and slamming shut, without so much of a whisper of wind, which made him flee as fast as his legs could carry him.
“I felt this blast, as if something had just gone right through me, and was left with the feeling that whoever, whatever, was there, wanted me out. So I got out, fast. I was scared, for sure, but also fascinated.”
And that’s what made him determined to learn more, to glean some rational cause for things that go bump in the day, as well as night, to not just hunt ghosts, but gather a glossary of Blackpool’s ghoulish goings on.
Just what happens behind the scenes of some of Blackpool’s best known attractions once silence falls for the night, when the tourists are tucked up in bed, and after even clubland closes after the witching hour?
His debut book, Haunted Blackpool, is published today, by The History Press, £9.99, features just that and more. It boasts a bone chilling compilation of paranormal stories guaranteed to make you see the resort with different eyes.
“I’ve had enormous fun compiling it,” Stephen admits. “Some of the stories are well known but many have never been published before.”
He’s drawn on historical and contemporary sources, as well as archives of his own local tourism award-winning company, Supernatural Events (www.supernaturalevents.co.uk and blackpoolghostwalks.com), originally set up for Halloween, 2006, for a one-off event which became an overnight success.
He now hosts ghost walks, tours and investigations across Blackpool, and, indeed, the rest of Lancashire, including our most celebrated spooky corner, Pendle Hill, and has worked alongside several well-known mediums and paranormal investigators including Derek Acorah, Ian Lawman and Richard Felix.
“People of all types come on the tours, some just there for a laugh, or to learn more, ghost hunters, psychics, historians,” he adds. “Some have come to Blackpool specifically for the tours, including from overseas.
“I’ve had one heckler and he soon shut up after wandering off and experiencing something that left him cold – and very frightened. Most of the time it’s just about having fun, learning a little more, and having respect for other people’s beliefs. I don’t see myself as psychic, although I’ve been told that I am. I prefer to see myself as someone who goes in with an open mind. “
Blackpool’s become Stephen’s home, as a result of his work in marketing, now at North Pier but, prior to that, at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre, both venues boasting their share of allegedly ethereal offerings and spooky sightings...and that’s just courtesy of visiting mediums.
The resort has long been a favourite for holidaymakers here for all the fun of the fair, rather than fear, with knuckles whitening at the prospect of Pasaje del Terror, or Carnesky’s Ghost Train, rather than the real thing running amok.
According to Stephen, this popular seaside resort harbours some dark and disturbing secrets, from Blackpool Tower to the Saddle Inn, Stanley Park, and the Opera House, Blackpool has some spooky supernatural stories to send a chill down the spine of locals and visitors alike.
Stephen’s set about charting some of the best – and least – known, with help from resort-based specialist heritage photographer and social historian Juliette Gregson, who also lives in the town and has supplied many of the 70 stark black and white images of Blackpool’s most haunted locations.
The author’s also delighted with a forward written by Lawman, star of Living TV’s Living With The Dead, who’s also worked on Most Haunted as the guest medium and exorcist. “There are some charlatans out there, but others, such as Ian, have real ability,” adds Stephen.
As for his five favourite haunted hotspots? “North Pier, for starters, a ghostly lady, in Victorian dress, has been seen here. In North Pier Theatre a ghostly poodle has been seen sat on people’s knees.
“Number two, Blackpool Zoo, ghostly RAF crew, and a monk-like figure has been seen in the nearby woodland gardens. Three, Stanley Park, haunted by an elderly couple who sit on a bench and laugh.
“Four, the Pleasure Beach and Cleggy, the former worker on the Ghost Train.
“But my favourite is the phantom donkeys seen on the beach on a Friday – their official day off – which vanish when children approach them.”