Thursday, June 22, 2006

Legends of the Haunted Mansion

The Portland Phoenix has just printed a story about Funtown's old Haunted Mansion and its crew. As a child, I saw the Mansion through the car window every time my parents drove by on our twilight way to visit relatives in Biddeford. It was a mysterious presence, an object of curiosity and dread. Later, as an adult, when I went back to revisit it, it was gone. Sometime during the intervening years, in 1996 in fact, the Mansion had disappeared. It's hard to say whether the sense of genuine loss of something you had is more poignant than the void left when you never even had something in the first place to lose.

Every now and then thoughts of it occurred to me, but those were generally set by as a futile exercise. It was gone. It wasn't coming back. No sense in crying over spilt milk. I went on to drown my sorrows in annual pilgrimages to Spooky World in Massachusetts, first in Berlin, and then when it moved to Foxboro. The sense of loss returned more sharply, this time, as Spooky World finally was dismantled too, early in the fall of 2004. I went to the auction of all the props and costumes and watched as the scavengers from all across the country descended on these relics of a place that was a second home to many of its actors, including my husband.

It was like attending a funeral. It WAS a funeral. The actors that could bear it had come, hiding behind their sunglasses and clustering in little groups together, some hoping to depart with a souvenir -- a favorite costume, a friendly ghoul that they had been stationed by in one of the five haunted houses -- though few were successful as early bidding ran exorbitantly high, and not many of us had enough hope to stay through to the bitter end.

That fall I found myself working as an actor alongside many of these folks, the rare and strange breed that is the haunter, at Evilville, in Carver, Massachusetts. Evilville only lasted a year, built as a benefit for the Edaville Railroad Park, and staffed entirely by volunteers, well over a hundred of us, there simply for the love of haunting, all dressed in old Spooky World costumes that had been bought as a lot at the auction by one of the old makeup loft managers.

We drove down after leaving our fulltime jobs on Friday, worked Friday and Saturday night at the haunt, then drove back to Maine (a good 3 and a half hour haul each way), arriving back in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, only to get up early Monday morning to start our regular jobs again. It was exhausting, but no different (with the exception of that excruciating drive) from the way all the rest of the cast had to squeeze haunting into their own fulltime schedules, some of them even working at other haunts during the week in addition to their "normal" year-round jobs.

Halloween comes but once a year. And for many of us it's a carnival season, from that first appearance of cheesy Halloween merchandise in the stores in August to the last scramble for marked-down Halloween items the week after the holiday itself.

[Which brings me to a sideways point in this ramble of nostalgia and loss -- why is it that we have to travel out of state for a really good haunt? Massachusetts is crawling with them. Even New Hampshire has a handful of largescale seasonal haunts to its name. But MAINE -- the home of Stephen King, Glenn Chadbourne, Rick Hautala, and countless other cool ghouls -- we have no major haunt attractions come October, save the somewhat fluffy Haunted Hayrides. Why is this??? This question has bothered me for years now.]

In fact, in dismissing my longing for the Haunted Mansion as futile, I had overlooked a cadre of haunters from my own home state. Dave Gagne, one of the Haunted Mansion spooks, runs a website now at that recollects the Mansion and provides a touchpoint for old members of the cast to stay in touch.

Looking at the photos was a strange experience. The juxtaposition of the flaming ruin of the House paired with the camaraderie of the staff members watching it burn reminded me in a more graphic sense of what went on at the Spooky World auction two years ago. On a more fun note, looking at the photos of the cast in action at Funtown was hilarious and wonderful. Oh, the glee they must have had in adding an element of spook to the summer fun and beach blonde crowd!!! It looks like it was a ton of fun. I would love to see more pictures of the interior someday.

Like the Homeless Haunters of Spooky World (or ex-Spookies), the Haunted Mansion spooks had a final day in the shade when they worked with a bunch of the old costumes and props at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport:
After the mansion burned, Parker said he went “through a bad period of mourning.” For a couple of years afterward, some of the crew volunteered to do a Halloween gig for the Haunted Trolley Ride at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, where Cormier had donated most of the Mansion’s props. Most of the monsters were in their mid-to-late 20s by then, with 40-hour-a-week careers and growing families. It would be their last terrible hurrah. The gig required them to dress in their old Mansion costumes and line up in a phalanx at the crest of a hill. When the haunted trolley rounded the bend and “stalled” it was Libby’s job to bellow, “Death to all who oppose us!”

“And we’d all go running down the hill,” said Parker, waving his arms in the air to demonstrate. “And they’d all be trapped in the trolley car screaming and trying to get out. But they couldn’t go anywhere. They had nowhere to go. It was great.”
Sounds like home to me.

Phoenix article by Sara Donnelly here.


Pascal V. said...

Thank you for this nice recollection of the Haunted Mansion that spooked my Maine summer vacation as a teenager.... such vivid memories that I am now trying to find pictures of the place... too bad the website you mention does no longer exist !(

Anonymous said...

Here are some pics that I found online of the Haunted Mansion before it was taken down.

I LOVED that place!

Anonymous said...

Oh and one more link: