"Let me tell you a story."
These are the words on Laura Still's business card for the company she founded in 2011, Knoxville Walking Tours.
Knoxville Walking Tours is comprised of over seven different 90-minute walking tours covering the downtown area, researched and planned by Still herself. One of the most popular tours is called Gunslingers. It takes walkers through the days of the wild west, transporting attendees to the days of "family feuds and wanted outlaws," according to her brochure.
Still considers herself not just a tour guide, but also a storyteller.
"The stories are what is most important," Still said.
Still, who has lived in Knoxville for over 33 years, came from a family of English teachers who instilled in her the love of stories that inspired her endeavor.
"I was always reading above my grade level and was encouraged to do so," Still said. "These stories gave me an enriched appreciation of where I came from."
Jack Neely, associate editor at Metro Pulse, writes a popular weekly column called "Secret History" that details local Knoxville history and has become a major source for Still's tour material.
Neely spends his time working at a magazine company, outwardly displaying his love for local Knoxville stories.
"People would come in from out of town to work and just notice stuff and ask about it," Neely said. "I then felt obliged to find out as the token Knoxvillian."
For Neely, the importance of tours like Still's cannot be overstated.
"It introduces people to Knoxville and makes them pay attention," Neely said. "Most people come at night and they are distracted by the lights at the Tennessee Theatre, they aren't thinking about the buildings.
"Seeing that on this corner there was a famous gun fight, or at this place, UT was founded – it gives a deeper appreciation for the place."
Still echoes this sentiment and adds that the significance of learning about Knoxville and its past is what makes people feel more linked to where they live.
"A lot of times we miss that connection to a place," Still said. "But these stories about Knoxville connect us to the place we love."
According to Neely, Still's devotion to Knoxville history is profoundly apparent.
"Laura has a very comprehensive understanding," Neely said. "She is a lively storyteller and is always fine-tuning her material."
While all of Still's tours focus on local history and downtown's oldest buildings, college students are most compelled by the Shadow Side Ghost Tour. Still has unearthed more Knoxville ghosts than residents might expect.
"The Bijou Theatre is one of the most haunted buildings just because it has been around so long," Still said. "It is the oldest bar and tavern in Knoxville and has been around in some form for 200 years."
These hauntings do not stop with downtown. Still has heard several ghost stories about Strong Hall and Ayres Hall on UT's campus.
"Sophie Strong has been seen in the windows," Still said. "And the Hill was built on a graveyard of the first settlers that died in Knoxville."
Although most ghost tour attendees are more interested in a good story, Still said some are curious about the validity of ghosts in general.
"They ask for explanations," Still said. " I have an open mind and am a spiritual enough person that I am sensitive to the people behind these stories.
"I believe that an atmosphere of violence can retain emotions from that violence."
Still, like many supernatural experts, shares the popular notion that ghosts tend to haunt places because of an unfinished business they possessed in their life.
"I believe that most spirits want their story told," Still said. "When I tell stories, I want them to feel like their business can be wound up.
"I'm helping make sure they aren't forgotten."
Knoxville Walking Tours are conducted by reservation only. Price per tour is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Reservations can be made online at www.KnoxTour.com or by phone at 865-309-4522. Custom and private tours are also available.