The last time I went on the award-winning Newport
Gangster tour, the most colorful character was the older man sitting
next to me.
The tour guide was explaining fascinating moments of
the former “Sin City.” The guide was in the middle of a story from 1961
when pro football hero George Ratterman, then in the middle of a
campaign for sheriff, gained national attention for being set up,
drugged, put in a hotel room with a stripper, and arrested.
The man sitting next to me shares more details in a
stage whisper. He said when he worked for the telephone company, he had
installed a phone for April Flowers, the stripper at the center of the
“She kept me honest,” he laughed.
Tour guides with American Legacy Tours say locals
with personal accounts of history help improve tour scripts on nearly
Guides drop names of Newport’s famous visitors, from
Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, but locals
make connections with the beer and steel barons whose last names still
fill the city ledgers.
“All the time when we’re telling a story people say,
‘Oh, let me add to this,’ or ‘Hey, this is what has been passed down in
my family,’ ” says guide Tom Wilson. “And we like to add those in,
because it gives the tours more of a personal flair.”
Days of Crime & Passion
Tourists and locals who come to hear the tales that
made Newport famous are putting the tours themselves in the national
What began a few years ago as a school trip
fundraiser has turned into a thriving business. Jerry Gels, an educator
then with Lloyd Memorial High and now at Dayton Independent Schools,
needed money to take students to Central America. He enlisted family,
teachers and high school buddies, and a business was born.
Success has meant the numbers and types of tours
have multiplied. They now include haunted tours, pedal wagon rides and
exploration of underground tunnels. Expected number of visitors this
year? 50,000, says Gels.
Southern Living magazine declared the Gangster Tour one of the top things to do in the state of Kentucky.
“A lot of people like the fact that they’ve lived in
this area their entire lives and they don’t know the true history until
they come on the tours,” Wilson says.