Monday, October 17, 2016

Would You Spend the Night Here?

The idea of spending the night in a haunted house on purpose or on a dare probably dates back centuries. Well, maybe not, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did. Haunted houses and ghosts have long been considered entertainment. Mary Shelley's blockbuster Frankenstein came about when she and several other guests at Lord Byron's estate challenged each other to write the scariest story possible. And that was back in the early nineteenth century.

These days, paranormal investigators spend nights in haunted houses on a regular basis during the course of their hunts for evidence of the spectral. Actively seeking out paranormal evidence as opposed to locking oneself in a bedroom with the covers drawn protectively over one's head is undoubtedly different than the original dares of sleeping in a haunted house. Nevertheless, there are so many reality shows based on overnights in haunted or disturbed surroundings that daring someone to do just that has probably lost some of its original luster and sting.

So I started thinking about that: would I spend the night in a haunted house? Two answers came to mind. First off, if you consider the house where I grew up, I have spent countless nights in a haunted house. Secondly, my answer would probably be "no, thank you." I could say been there, done that, but it's more accurate to say that I'm too much of a chicken to do it. Truly. The idea of running into a ghost terrifies me, even though I write about them, research them, watch shows about them, enjoy stories about them, and even live with a family who have all seen them. No matter how I look at it, ghosts scare the dickens out of me as much as I am fascinated by them.

But a haunted house isn't the only venue on the list of possibilities. Would you spend the night in a cemetery? In the Egyptian Hall of a museum, surrounded by mummies and sarcophogi? How about in a funeral home? Or a morgue (even empty)? Creepy ideas, right? 

Well, here's my line in the sand. Overnighting in a haunted place is one thing. But I absolutely would not be able to spend the night in a wax museum. Of all the everyday places that I find frightening, wax museums, or any place having those lifelike figures, are the absolute no-go for moi. Mannequins don't bother me. But realistic, usually historical figures done up in wax and accurate down to the last detail are another story. In my book, Dead Voices, there is a scene where Cassie takes Michael along to a haunted bed-and-breakfast and he refuses to even set foot in the place, due to what he can see. That's about how I feel when it comes to wax museums.

My family took a road trip to Canada when I was maybe five years old, or so. It was a long drive and while I know we saw Niagara Falls, and took a guided hiking tour and boat tour through some sort of forested canyon with a river running through it, the thing that stuck with me the most was the wax museum we visited. I can't even tell you what city it was in, whether Montreal, Quebec, or Toronto. (Sad, I realize, but I was only five.) At any event, I remember life-size, life-like figures everywhere with eyes that followed your every movement and faces that looked to be on the brink of becoming animated. Maybe even saying something. I think I held one of my parents' hands the entire time.

I didn't think much about that afterward, at least not consciously. But I do remember that when a smaller version of The London Royal Wax Museum opened in Old Town in Chicago, I would detour around it. If someone suggested going there, I would come up with an alternative. I never set foot in the place and I know it is no longer there, which is fine with me.

On the other hand, Jim and I took a trip to the British Isles to celebrate his completion of a long-term job in Texas, and the last stop on the tour we booked was at Warwick Castle. The castle itself is well-preserved and beautifully decorated. It's kind of like a Renaissance Faire, but on steroids. People in periodic clothing abound: women in floor-length dresses and men in jerkins and leggings were everywhere. We were even lucky enough to see the actual firing of the castle's trebuchet. That was fun! But the interior of the castle, at the time we visited, also boasted "living scenes" from the middle ages. "Living scenes" meant that not only did they have a stable, for instance, but they also included a horse and a blacksmith. And much to my dismay, these beings were made of wax. Every entire living scene included wax figures. Worse, they had animated them, so that the horse would turn its head or twitch an ear. The figures of people were breathing, for petesake. And the lighting was a lot dimmer than I would have wanted.

I rushed Jim through the entire exhibit like a whirlwind, never mind that he wanted to stop and read the plaques or displayed descriptions at each scene, or that he might want to check out the detail at every tableau. I was trying to get out before any of those things not only turned its head or blinked but also stepped over the cords that roped off each display and started coming after me. I mean, they were all life-sized and some of them were armed. I didn't want to be around when they came to life. I didn't want Jim stuck in there when that happened, either.

He didn't say anything about how rapidly we took in that one part of the castle, but I did feel compelled to explain myself once we were safely outside in the sunlight. I had actually forgotten how much wax figures bothered me, and now that I've seen them as an adult, the memory has no chance of fading away. If Jim ever wants to go to Madame Tussaud's, he is definitely on his own.

So of all the scary places people might be dared to spend the night, if I wasn't alone you might be able to get me to stay at a museum, or a cemetery. Maybe even a morgue. But a wax museum? Not on your or my life. I don't care what anyone says about them: those places are not safe. And those figures are not just pretend. 

And I knew that even before seeing anything featuring Vincent Price or written by  Rod Serling.

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