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Ghost stories rivet audiences, boost economies


Linda Geist
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185
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MU Extension partners with St. Louis Storytelling Festival

Photo available for this release:

Storyteller Larry Brown.

Credit: Jon Lamb photo

Video available for this release:

Description: Storyteller Larry Brown tells "Walter's Prison Break."

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014

Story source:

Lee Ann Woolery, 573-884-9025

Turn out the lights and listen to professonal storyteller Larry Brown spin a yarn of mystery and chills (produced by Debbie Johnson)

COLUMBIA, Mo. – His ghost stories are eye-popping, heart-stopping, white-knuckle, edge-of-the-seat thrilling.

Larry Brown’s voice rises and plummets to tell the story of the Missouri jailbreaker ghost, Walter. He sways from side to side of the stage, a wildly animated tiger on the prowl, sparking fear of the unknown. Gasps punctuate his near-whisper sentences, suspending the listener in a twilight zone. Then the next riveting words spill forth, taking the listener on a roller-coaster ride of darkness.

Brown has conjured up ghostly folklore for more than a quarter of a century. Thanks to a new partnership with MU Extension Community Arts Program, he will continue to haunt listeners at the 2015 St. Louis Storytelling Festival, April 30-May 2, 2015. It is the nation’s largest free storytelling festival.

MU Extension recently announced that it will be a sponsor of the event as part of its community arts program. “MU Extension is coming in almost a savior role,” Brown says.

The festival boosts the state’s economy by drawing upward of 30,000 festivalgoers to the St. Louis area over three days. Throughout the year, storytelling festivals help draw dollars to Missouri towns while improving the quality of life of its residents, says Lee Ann Woolery, MU Extension community arts specialist.

Storytelling festivals in tents came back in vogue about 30 years ago and continue to grow in popularity. Storytelling has found its way into edgy, fringe groups while remaining popular with educational, faith-based and historical groups. Brown says there’s another surge of storytelling going on now including Moth StorySLAMS, open-mic storytelling competitions of true, personal stories.

Stories have to come from the heart to connect the story and audience, he says. The teller takes cues from the listener’s eye contact and physical response. A good ghost story weaves believability with ambiguity.

Brown’s audiences cross age, race and economic lines. Some of the most appreciative are juvenile offenders and adult prisoners. He likes to tell chicken stories and creates a new one each year. He’s also known for traditional Ozark legends and Christmas stories.

“It is educational. It is building communities,” he says. “Students’ imaginations are being given back to them and whole new senses of who they are. It isn’t just recreation. It isn’t just entertainment. There are so many levels of what storytelling does for individuals, for communities, for institutions, for worthwhile causes in the community.”

Brown will tell scary tales at the Howard County Library in Fayette at 6 p.m. Oct. 30. He appears on Paul Pepper’s Radio Friends show on KBIA radio Oct. 31. Check his website at for additional appearances.

Information on the new partnership between St. Louis Storytelling Festival and the MU Extension Community Arts Program is available at