Zach Studenroth

Posted on 16 October 2012

by Annette Hinkle

The Sag Harbor Whaling Museum Board member and “The Butler” at the “Wailing Museum” talks about what it’s like to be the keeper of the crypt at the haunted house which runs this weekend and next.

Every October, the museum is transformed into a haunted mansion for six nights. Who — or what — will people experience on a visit?

We have former residents of the house who met with mysterious deaths. Sometimes we have captains of whaling vessels and their lonely widows returning to occupy their former haunts. We have sad children lurking in the toy room searching for missing friends. It’s a large and rambling mansion filled with nooks and crannies and creaking doors — and grotesque shadows that sometimes come to life.


How many people came through the Wailing Museum last year?

We had over 1,000 visitors. From one night to the next, and sometimes even in the same night, people went around and came back through, which was amazing. We recommend it for ages 12 and up. It’s up to the parents to decide if their child under 12 is ready for it.


Which guests tend to be the most scared to enter when you greet them at the front door?

Usually it’s young girls who are the most vulnerable. I do find myself coaching them, even with my bizarre face, to come in and be brave. There are also big guys that seem to be freaked out by it. We’re always reminding them that there’s no touching. We have to assure that no matter how bizarre it looks and sounds, no one will touch you and you can’t touch anyone.


What do you think visitors like about it?

People love to be scared — well some do — and this is a natural setting to satisfy that urge. I always think of this as an extreme house. There’s a lot of architectural detail and it lends itself to a kind of dramatic effect. These columns are almost like gargoyles. There’s heavy carving, some of the ceilings are quite intricate, the scale when you walk through these rooms, the width of window frames and carvings over doors and windows — there’s so much architecture.

What’s interesting to me, even if you’re here working around this place, you rarely have an opportunity to see it at night. It becomes a different place at night. This provides an opportunity to see the place in a way you would never otherwise be able see it.

We have a couple candles, or a sconce on the wall, flickering. The effects we’re recreating are extreme and unnatural, but not that different from the way the occupants of this place originally experienced it.


Tell me about turning the regular exhibits into something a little more macabre.

Our mission since beginning this was to design it within a museum setting which is respectful of the architecture and the collections, yet showcases them in a light — or lack of light — you would never expect. With the artifacts, we have things like harpoons, shovels, hooks. So here we are in this setting of these things – the building and objects by day are interesting and educational. But by night, they turn into something grotesque – it doesn’t take much to transform it into a house of horrors. It’s the un-museum. What we talk about educationally on a regular basis is this bizarre world of killing things. Our butcher shop is not as bloody as it would’ve been on a deck of a ship.


On October 28 after the Ragamuffin parade, you let the little ones come through for a peek — how does that work?

Because the parade ends at the Custom House lawn next door, we realized we happen to be at the end of this traditional parade, and it would be fun to open the house up during the day Sunday to bring kids through with an adult to just see how fun it is. It’s not scary, there’s no people popping out and they get a guided tour through the set. That also provides an activity for the kids. We had 500 kids and parents go through last year.


What’s your favorite part of the haunted house?

My favorite part is the fence maze. It’s the first thing you experience and is meant to disorient you. We have a witch’s cauldron spewing smoke in a recreated graveyard, it’s like it’s own attraction – a foreshadowing of what’s to come. In terms of this maze we’ve found a way to recreate it in the house on a more elaborate scale. So every room on the main floor of the house is partitioned and divided into its own experience. This is a big house, but we carry that maze theme through to the large rooms inside and create an intimate path through all of the rooms.


Are you still looking for volunteers to sign on as ghost actors?

Yes – we’re still inviting ghouls to come join us.


The Sag Harbor Wailing Museum runs Friday to Sunday October 19 to 21 and again October 26 to 28, 2012. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. nightly and admission is $10 per body. The children’s haunted tours on Sunday, October 28 are from noon to 3 p.m. and admission is $5. To volunteer as an actor, call the museum at 725-0770.

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