Paul Prater is on top of the world. Living in Argenta, he is a successful attorney, an entertainer, a magician with an international following, the published author of six nonfiction books on magic and mentalism, and if that isn't enough, he is about to embark on a European lecture tour. And in his spare time, he chases ghosts.
Actually, Prater chases history, but it just so happens that the Argenta District in North Little Rock has a rich history of spirits, haunts, and things that go bump in the night, all of which Prater covers during his “Argenta Ghost Tour” walking tour of the district.
As a child, Paul Prater loved to entertain. From the age of 13 through high school and even into law school, he played music in various bands. After law school, he joined a law firm in Little Rock, first doing trial work as a civil attorney, working his way through the ranks to become a managing partner in the firm; Hosto, Buchan, and Prater, PLLC. But he missed performing and the thrill of holding an audience in the palm of his hand.
Prater admits that he was able to have some elements of performance art as he argued cases in court, but as a civil litigator, there weren't a lot of surprises.
“Most of my stuff, trial-wise, was fairly straightforward. These weren't big, complicated trials,” he said. “They actually followed more along the lines of how I like to entertain, having a script and go off of it a little bit, but know what you are going to do.”
But after 10 years, Prater had moved up to managing partner and was spending more time managing other attorneys than arguing in court. He grew bored, turning back to books on magic and looking for other creative outlets to put him in front of an audience once again.
“It wasn't the firm. They were great. But the area we worked was difficult, the stress level was high, and I just wasn't having fun anymore,” Prater said. “It was about that time I started pulling magic books off the shelf and one day I was walking down the street and passed a theater I didn't know existed. I called them up and told them I'd like to do a show and they said okay. At that point, I figured I'd better get a show together.”
Prater put together a show featuring magic slight-of-hand with a sprinkling of mentalism. The show was a success and almost by accident, Prater discovered he had embarked on a new career as an entertainer. But it didn't happen overnight.
First, Prater went to work for the Arkansas Bar Association, where he lectured and presented workshops, but was soon wooed by a Dallas law firm that specialized in collections that made him an offer too attractive to turn down.
“They made a really good offer; work from home and name your salary,” Prater said with a laugh. “So I sent back a ridiculous figure that I knew they would never accept. They never batted an eye. I set it high figuring they would negotiate down and they just said, fine.”
Prater said although the money he earned was good, he still wasn't happy, and said he didn't enjoy litigating debt collection lawsuits.
“It's a tough area. Nobody likes you. Judges don't like you, your clients don't like you, defendants don't like you, nobody likes you. It's just a rough business to be in,” he said. “I went to a convention called East Coast Spirit Sessions for people who do magic but also do ghost tours or séances and things like that. It was the kind of thing where you stay up until two in the morning drinking with your buddies, then get up at nine and do it over again. I'd done that for four days straight and I should have been in a state of sheer exhaustion but I was so excited. I thought to myself this is how I should feel about my job and I don't feel this way about law.”
Prater said that was a turning point for him, and although he did go on to open his own civil practice, he did so in such a way that allows him plenty of time to arrange various entertainment enterprises and do performance and lecture tours.
One of those enterprises is Prater's Argenta Ghost Tours. The idea was born one night when he was visiting with a friend at Crush Wine Bar and the subject turned to ghosts, spirits, haunts, and other apparitions.
“My friend turned to me and said, 'you know, there's a ghost up there.' I said, 'What?' And he said, 'yeah, right up there.' So I got to thinking maybe there were stories of ghosts in Argenta and got to asking around. I found out this place has all kinds of ghost stories so I took it from there,” Prater said.
On a recent gloomy night just after sundown, Prater glided soundlessly up to Faucett Park in Argenta to meet about a dozen people who wanted to hear about some of the legends of Argenta. What they got was not only ghost stories, but a detailed history of the Argenta District complete with some of the historical feuds, political intrigue, and crimes of passion that have created the ambiance and atmosphere of the area.
Dressed in an overcoat, gloves, boots, with his outfit accented with a scarf and a colorful silk cravat, Prater faced the group with a somber look and said in a grave tone, “This spot you are standing on was a campsite along what is now known as the Trail of Tears. Many Native Americans died and where buried here during a particularly savage winter. Legend has it that a figure sometimes seen at night walking along the riverbank is the spirit of a Native American woman searching for her family.”
With that, the tour was off; hanging on Prater's every word.