story by Lynn Cook
photo by Ann Cecil
In a way you could call Lopaka Kapanui a reviver of souls, this man who each week brings the dead to life as he leads the curious through O‘ahu’s most infamous haunted places. He may take people to the burial site of a murderer in Honolulu’s Mo‘ili‘ili Cemetery, where food and flowers have been known to mysteriously appear. Or to Morgan’s Corner, scene of a grisly—and unsolved—hanging. Or maybe even all the way to a cave in Wai‘anae that is said to be home
to a shark god.
The stories Kapanui tells along the way—of ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night—may seem outlandish but he makes them credible. He is authoritative, articulate and—scariest of all—believable. “What is important to me is to keep the integrity of the spirit stories, to tell them as they were told to me,” he says. Then he adds, in a most serious voice, “and to keep Hawai‘i’s multi-ethnic ghosts happy.”
Kapanui, who grew up in Kalihi Valley, started out as a more conventional tour guide and then began studying with the late Glen Grant, a renowned ghost investigator in the Islands. For ten years Kapanui followed along as his much-beloved mentor led chicken-skin tours. Now Kapanui leads those tours himself; in addition to Grant’s influence, he credits his mesmerizing style to a few Shakespearean drama classes, time spent in the world of wrestling, Hawaiian language studies, his work teaching in Hawaiian language immersion schools and his hula dancing.
You can find Kapanui leading tours on Friday and Saturday evenings; they often begin on the steps of the Hawai‘i State Library on King Street, where it’s only a short walk to ‘Iolani Palace to look for the first ghosts of the night. But it’s not all ghastly and grim—Lopaka does introduce spirits that have chosen to stay for happy reasons. There is, for example, Mary who can sometimes be heard typing in a room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where she stayed for months in the early 1930s, typing love letters every day. “Ghosts are not always victims,” Kapanui says. “Sometimes their emotions were so intense that they lasted beyond life. If it was the most romantic place you’d ever been, you might want to go back there for eternity, too."
Ghost Scene Investigations