Mystery, history, ghosts abound on walking tours
A Honolulu film historian has turned reel history into real walking tours, linked to his passion — vintage movies with Island themes shot locally.
Steven Fredrick arrived in the Islands in 1994; 15 years later, his admiration of vintage films and interest in Hawaiian history have evolved into a series of intimate tours of Downtown sites prominently showcased in the old films in his collection.
Essentially, Fredrick's intent is to shed light from the footnotes of the dusty past that still resonates today in contemporary Honolulu. And because his stories mine historical moments and sites, he attracts both a local and a visiting audience fascinated by history.
And he has a walk this Sunday, "The Charlie Chan Mystery Tour," with a Charlie Chan theme. It's a four-hour, three-mile trek through historic Chinatown environs, where the famed sleuth of print and flicks frequented.
The Chan character owes its origin to real-life police detective Chang Apana and the walk, with commentary by Fredrick, traces the former police stations, coffee shops, gambling houses, movie theaters, haunted hotels as well as the residence of No. 1 Son, from fiction and from real life, stretching from the hub of Chinatown to the current Aloha Tower Marketplace.
Fredrick also conducts the "Hawaii Wartime History Tour" with a World War II theme that turns back the clock when GIs frequented Hotel Street and places like the now-gone strip house, Club Hubba Hubba, and a third nighttime trek themed the "Honolulu Ghost Tour," somewhat of an homage to the late Glen Grant, who originated the concept of the obake journey (and who Fredrick admired) that includes haunts with, well, some ghost stories attached.
Q. Your passion is historic Island films; how do the tours complement the films?
A. Shortly after arriving in Hawai'i, I began collecting old 16 mm/35 mm films with an Island theme. I bought films from collectors who were liquidating their collections. I bought anything and everything I could get my hands on.
The 1941-42 Pearl Harbor Attack newsreels, filmed on O'ahu, show the devastation of the Honolulu community. As a historian, I was curious about the Honolulu city sites. How many sites are still standing today? After viewing the wartime films, I went looking for them. Surprisingly, there are quite a few 1940s-era buildings still standing today. My Hawaii Wartime History Tour takes people to the actual sites shown in the wartime newsreels.
Q. Who's your audience — visitors or locals, young or old?
A. On the 2008 Halloween ghost tours, the guests were all locals and military, 20s to 60s. When a young, local guy told me that he took my tour because I included Hawai'i history, I was flattered. For the wartime tours, the audience is usually locals. The ages range from 40s to 70s. Locals want to remember their youth in relationship to the old sites of Downtown Honolulu.
Q. What is the most surprising revelation on either tour?
A. On my tours (ghost, wartime, Charlie Chan), I tell stories unique to the theme. On the wartime tour, I speak from the GI's point of view. On the Chan tour, I play a private investigator leading an investigation about the disappearance of Charlie Chan. The guests become involved with the theme of the tour by interacting with each other and myself. With small groups of guests, I can make the tours personal.
Q. Planning any more themed tours, maybe with "Hawaii Five-O" or "Magnum, P.I." pegs?
A. Future tours? Maybe. I am always researching the old buildings of Honolulu. I am collecting articles, and stories, that pique my historic interests.
Q. Why are folks interested in the past?
A. The past is prologue. People are curious about their past. We learn from the past.
If you've sampled a tour, share your reflections here. Or suggest a tour option that Fredrick might explore in the future.
Read more of Wayne Harada's "Show and Tell Hawai'i" blog at http://honoluluadvertiser.com/blogs, and check out our other bloggers. Harada's blog appears in TGIF, and his Show Biz column runs Sundays in Island Life.