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Gone ghost huntin'

One art basher embarks on a mystery tour

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Things tend to get a little morbid around October, whether we’re talking about the diabetes-induced obesity that starts as childhood candy worship or the lovely dead bodies and ghosts that decorate suburban lawns across the country. It’s objectively strange that we all got together, chose one month, and decided to spend it embracing our deepest fears, but what can you do? Those are the rules, so I’ve been watching gory movies every night and sleeping terribly. Then, on Oct. 19, the wife and I went on down to the Mid State Scare in Arroyo Grande with a few of her coworkers.

THE HOUSE THAT CRAZY BUILT :  Dustin and I pose dorkily outside of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. This creepy mansion was designed to confuse vengeful spirits, featuring more than 160 rooms with doors, stairways, and windows that often go nowhere. - PHOTO BY MARC MAYES
  • PHOTO BY MARC MAYES
  • THE HOUSE THAT CRAZY BUILT : Dustin and I pose dorkily outside of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. This creepy mansion was designed to confuse vengeful spirits, featuring more than 160 rooms with doors, stairways, and windows that often go nowhere.

As we were waiting in line, jokingly trying to convince Jill that the place was actually haunted and that the reason we couldn’t see anyone leaving the building is that they were being chopped into tiny pieces inside, we all knew in the back of our heads that the whole thing would be cheesy and fake.

I thought there was no way I’d be scared by some cheap props and volunteer actors. I was wrong. Try it yourself Oct. 26 to 28 and Oct. 31 if you think you’re braver than I am. Hint: You’re not. Wandering through dark hallways packed full of corpses and people popping out of secret side hatches is enough to get anyone screaming.

But when it was over, we swung by In-n-Out to mack French fries and laugh at the havoc another coworker routinely wreaks on my wife’s employee restroom. No one was traumatized by the horror, and somehow, that was a letdown.

I wanted to see the real thing, to tackle supernatural forces head on and possibly wet myself a little. That’s the good stuff.

Now, on the list of things I want to do before I die, “dying” is dead last, but I’ll have to face it eventually, because no amount of Rogaine or virgins sacrificed to Satan can change the fact that I’m getting older.

Case in point: My wife let me go on an epic weekend road trip with the guys, giving us a few nag-less hours of man time. We were off our leashes, free to indulge our vices like a gaggle of junkies with unlimited credit and a dealer who’s got one of those iPad jobs with the little square that lets him scan debit cards. Also, no one in the aforementioned simile is overly concerned about leaving a paper trail, probably because heroin addiction just ruins the brain’s capacity for sound judgment. It’s quite tragic.

Anyway, Marc, Dustin, and I went to San Jose, but we drove right past the bars, the strip clubs, and the dude on the street corner who was totally holding.

Instead, we enjoyed a nice lunch and toured a historical site. The worst part is that I thoroughly enjoyed it, like a boring, old square. It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d squandered the perfect opportunity to party like a young’un. You see, I was too distracted by the engrossing mysteriousness that is the Winchester Mystery House.

When her husband and child died, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune apparently blamed the wicked ghosts she thought were dead-set on punishing her family for making the guns that killed them. According to lore, she held séances, and good spirits told her how to build a house that would keep the evil spirits out.

The result is a huge mansion that looks like it was designed by M.C. Escher. Staircases zig and zag oddly, windows open into brick walls, and there’s a door that leads to a drop from the second story. It’s whimsical and crazy, and I liked it, even though we were shuffled through by a mirthless tour guide who didn’t do squat except tell us which buttons to press on our headphone doo-hickies.

We went because we were told it was haunted. It wasn’t, but we learned interesting stuff and saw neat things. In the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

Join staff writer Nick Powell next weekend, as he splashes through the Laguna Lake Mud Mash. Or just send him a message: npowell@newtimesslo.com.

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