A tour of Salem, Massachusetts' gruesome and supernatural landmarks by hearse? To Doug Antreassian, it seemed like the perfect business plan.

So far, though, the city council has managed to stop his idea dead in its tracks. In May, the council rejected Antreassian's permit application, citing several technical problems. But he and his lawyer, Edward Dailey, believe the real reason goes deeper--a witch hunt, of sorts, against the morbid nature of the tour--and they appealed the decision.

Although council members insist that Antreassian's proposed pick-up and drop-off points, as well as an incorrect address, were the major sticking points, some do admit to being shocked at his original tour plan, especially its references to two separate drownings of young girls in the 1990s.

"It was completely inappropriate on so many levels," says council member Regina Flynn. "Mentioning the deaths of two girls went beyond the bounds of good taste and sensitivity.... When you have a hearse floating around your town, it gives children a skewed version of history."

Antreassian agreed to remove mentions of the drownings and address some of the council's other concerns before a July ruling on his appeal. But he also threatened to sue if he lost again, which prompted the council to postpone its decision and turn matters over to its legal counsel. Antreassian has since filed suit, alleging censorship, in federal court.

"His application has been denied exclusively because of its content," says Dailey. "I recognize that people in local government have to make difficult choices, but nobody is exempt from the First Amendment."