Dave Spencer Recalls Some “Haunting” Experiences
This week, I’ve been giving away tickets to the Old Courthouse Catacombs and the House of Lecter in Evansville. And it made me start thinking about past haunted house experiences. I have visited many but, sad to say, most of them were not memorable. Three, however, stand out in my mind–and not necessarily because they were scary. Oh, that had a lot to do with it, but other factors were involved.
TERROR IN THE FIRST GRADE
Let’s start very near the beginning…of my life. It was the Masonville Elementary School Fall Frolic. I was in first grade. I remember how cool it was going to be to actually see friends from school…at night! I only saw them during the day. For some reason, I must’ve thought they’d somehow be different after the sun went down. Like they were going to change into werewolves or something. Well, it WAS Halloween; that would’ve been appropriate.
Anyway, the school was decked out and filled with activities. One of the large classrooms had been converted into a haunted house. Now, as I got older I remember thinking how bizarre that particular haunted house actually was. And how macabre. Here was an attraction designed to be enjoyed by 6-to-11-year-olds, right? Well, let me give you a rundown of this haunted house’s features. There was a utility closet that had been transformed into a small bathroom inside of which had been placed a mannequin made up to look like a woman whose throat had been slashed. She was hanging from a shower rod and fake blood was running down her neck. Remember, I was 6 and this was an elementary school. There was a guy lying in a box covered in tarantulas; another guy walking around dressed like a zombie grabbing people; and the guy lying in the coffin who, at very random moments, would quickly sit up, scream, and grab whoever got too close. Very scary stuff for primary school denizens. Nowadays, it might all look very cheesy. But I’ll never know. It’s frozen in my brain as something observed by a 6-year-old boy. And the graphic nature combined with my young age is why that will always stand out in my mind.
A HEARSE IS A HEARSE, OF CURSE OF CURSE
Fast forward to 1993. I was doing a live broadcast on the Saturday night before Halloween. Actually, it was the night before Halloween. Anyway, I wish I could remember the organization that booked the road show because they absolutely did it right. For me, a big reason a haunted house works is the atmospheric location. And this haunted house had been put together in an unused wing of the Evansville State Hospital. Have you ever seen the hospital over there on Lincoln Avenue? It’s terrific! Talk about atmosphere! I did my entire show from outside that abandoned wing that night, and here’s the really cool part: I did it from a hearse.
At the time, we had a part-time employee who also owned a funeral home and he let us use his hearse for the road show. Seriously, how cool is that? Talk about an immediate attention-getter. The haunted house was effective. Since it was pitch black in most places, moving around was very precarious. And then you’d hear a distant scream. And then someone would come right up behind you and breathe on your neck. Kudos! And then you’d exit from the second floor by sliding down a chute. It was a great night! And, for the first time in my life, I got to drive a hearse! Try driving one of those things across the Audubon Parkway on a windy night at midnight just before Halloween and see if YOU don’t get a lot of attention.
DEEP IN THE CATACOMBS
Finally, let’s talk about the haunted house that fired up this train of thought in the first place. A few years ago, I joined a group of friends–Chad Benefield included–for a journey through the Old Courthouse Catacombs and the House of Lecter in downtown Evansville. Now, the old courthouse is a GREAT place to fashion into a haunted house. Many, many years ago, when I was a kid, my family and I used to go over to the courthouse for a big Christmas showcase. I can’t remember what it was called, but they had turned different rooms in the courthouse into familiar Christmas scenes. But I, with my twisted little mind, couldn’t get over how eerie the old building was and how cool it would be if they could turn it into a haunted house. I didn’t know at the time that it was rumored to be haunted, anyway. So when I got an opportunity to tour it as the Old Courthouse Catacombs, I jumped at the chance. And, it was well worth it. As I mentioned earlier, atmosphere is everything when it comes to a haunted house, and the old courthouse has it to spare. It’s also warm. And believe me that can have an affect on your psyche. The best haunted houses work at your mind. They also offer the unexpected. For example, in the Catacombs, a guy decked out like Jason from Friday the 13th jumped out of a dark corner with a chainsaw. Now, after the initial start, I decided to have a little fun with our would-be assailant and threatened legal action if that chainsaw touched me. You gotta have a few laughs. But I have to hand it to the Old Courthouse Catacombs/House of Lecter organizers for one simple little trick that was very effective. We all walked through a passageway. Unbeknownst to us patrons, somone was lying down on a piece of wood that was serving as that passageway’s ceiling. He or she simply let his or her hand dangle over the walking area so that it lightly brushed across the tops of our heads. It’s the creepiest thing that’s ever happened to me in any type of haunted house, and it happened at the Old Courthouse Catacbombs and the House of Lecter in downtown Evansville. Halloween is my favorite season. I hope you take advantage of every opportunity presented to you to enjoy this awesome time of year. But, if you see someone in a white clown mask or a hockey mask, RUN!