Thirteen rooms, the unlucky number association, Edgar Allan Poe, better known as the “master of the macabre” and the Powel Crosley Estate, with a history that, like so many old and wealthy estates in Sarasota, inspires ghost tales. All of these come together for the House of Horrors, the first ever public Halloween event sponsored on the estate by The Powel Crosley Estate Foundation.
The House itself is set up at the carriage house, which used to serve as living quarters for Powel Crosley’s staff. The House opened on Oct. 23 and will be open today, tomorrow, Oct. 30, Halloween and Nov. 2through Nov. 4. Hours are from 7 p.m. through 11 p.m and the cost of admittance for students and seniors is $8, while it is $10 for all other attendees.
The main attraction is, of course, the “13 rooms of Gothic gore,” as advertised by the Foundation. Each room is based on a different work by Poe. In order of the walk-through, the room themes are: “The Premature Burial,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Oval Portrait,” “Berenice,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Black Cat,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “Hop-Frog,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Conqueror Worm” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the last room visitors witness before exiting the carriage house.
The rooms are decorated to portray one scene from each of the Poe works, according to House of Horrors Technical Director Dean Wick.
“In this room, a double murder took place in which a woman was thrown out through the shutters, the shutters got closed and some poor girl got stuck up the chimney,” Wick said, describing the set-up for “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which showcases blond hair hanging down from a chimney.
The lighting is dim throughout the house, but enough for one to climb a narrow staircase and proceed to the upstairs rooms. In each of the rooms, a banner hangs, with a quote from the respective tale printed on it. A small description is posted next to each entrance, which tells the viewers what has just occurred in that tale to explain the scene before them.
Perhaps one of the creepiest rooms to enter is that for “The Conqueror Worm,” which according to Rachel Harrison, the Facility Manager of the Bradenton Area Convention Center and the Powel Crosley Estate, will feature glass jars with real live worms squirming grotesquely the way slimy invertebrates do.
Of course, there will also be Halloween-style music, along with sound effects specific to some of the stories. In particular, visitors will hear the thump, thump, pound of a guilty heart.
Apart from the House of Horrors itself, ticket holders can also explore the cemetery created behind the carriage house for this occasion.
“The cemetery is pretty banal, just tombstones with interesting sayings,” Harrison said. “We’re not planning on populating that with ghosts or ghouls and nobody will jump out at you with a chainsaw, no skeleton will rise from the ground, nothing like that — this year.”
Harrison said that if the event proves successful, they might do it again in future years and up the scare-level by adding real people in some of the rooms and having more features in the cemetery.
In the garage of the carriage house is the “Coffinbox Theater.” Here, visitors of the House can enjoy up to three performances, which will begin every hour, each lasting about 20 minutes. Two Powel Crosley Theatre actors, Tom Laitenen and Jaye Sheldon, will give the performances. Laitenen, who has often portrayed Poe for the Theater’s other productions, will here again play the role of Poe and will perform “The Tell-Tale Heart” and several poems, including “The Raven,” while Sheldon will perform “The Oval Portrait.”
“Tom [Laitenen] has portrayed Poe so frequently that he kind of is Poe,” Harrison said. “Quite honestly, the way he lives his life is sort of Poe-like. He looks like Poe when he grows his facial hair out just so. We’ll have him dressed in that sort of Edwardian Gothic tuxedos style. Jaye will be in a turn of the century dress.”
A concessions stand will be set up outside the carriage house, along with a cash bar. As for the drinks, there will be beer, wine and drinks, but the drinks will be served with a little Halloween décor, such as an eyeball in the glass, Harrison said.
All of the people involved in the operation of the House, from the ticket-taker to the barman, will be in character.
“So sometimes you’ll get the kind of spooky, crazy old man selling you a ticket and next time you might get a wispy woman with faded eyes,” Harrison said.
Additionally, when not performing in the Coffinbox Theater, Laitenen and Sheldon will accompany guests throughout the House.
“The type of people that they are, Tom [Laitenen] will walk up behind someone and begin speaking as though he wrote the story,” Harrison said. “He’ll tell you how that idea came to him, or that the tale of “The Oval Portrait” may have been historically based on someone he loved.”
The plan is for people to start getting the jitters even before they enter the House, right after parking.
“We have an entrance to the spooky walk through the woods,” Harrison said. “The intent of that is to get you creeped out and wary of everything you see and hear on your way in. In [the woods], you’ll hear a few sounds, you’ll see things—you may see glowing eyes in the distance, you may see what might be a ghost—so hopefully your imagination will begin to play the game with you.”
The Powel Crosley Estate itself may be enough to freak people out at night. “Without telling any ghost stories, I have to say that there’s enough history in this acreage that you can imagine there may actually be some ghosts, if you believe in that kind of thing,” Harrison said.