It’s October and officially the time for Haunted House attractions and their evangelical knock-offs known as Hell Houses. A Hell House takes the thrills and chills of a traditional haunted house but dresses them up with a heavily moralistic and pietistic spin. A common feature, I gather, is a lurid depiction of Hell and all the tortures awaiting immoral, impious folks. This phenomenon is nothing new, heck some of the best medieval plays are thinly veiled cautionary tales. But I was charmed to find a post about a midway attraction from the early decades of the 20th C named “Darkness and Dawn” that featured a peek into Hell, presumably for pure amusement not instruction.
The first reference I found came from the blog Anonymous Works that featured a ticket for this attraction plus a snippet of information. They noted the attraction was located in Coney Island, that is burned down in 1903 and was later re-built in Luna Park. The style of the attraction was a cyclorama, a circular panorama intended to give a sense of all encompassing vista.
The blog Gaping Media Hole had several postcards from the attraction’s appearance in different locations, including the promotional card shown above and the shot of the midway that shows the front of the attraction. The locations noted are Revere Beach and Venice Beach.
The best description about the attraction came at a site devoted to the Pan-American Exhibition of 1901 held in Buffalo, NY. If I read the information correctly, “Darkness and Dawn” grossed the highest amount of any of the Midway attractions, scoring 17th overall behind restaurants and concession stands. The attraction started with a “Cabaret du Mort” where patrons drank from skulls and sat at coffin-shaped tables. Likely these beverages were alcoholic since at this time, amusement parks were aimed at young couples and were not particularly family friendly. I found little description of the Hell portion other than the note that while the creator of the attraction was puzzling out a way to get patrons over a lake of fire he came up with the idea for another attraction, “Visit to the Moon.”
These were the details I was able to piece together with a few minutes of research. I’m sharing them here mostly to remind myself to look into it further when I get a chance. Suffice to say, our interest in fear as thrill is sometimes served with a candy coating of instruction, and sometimes that candy coating is quite thin.
Bog bodies are cool as hell, in a morbid kind of way. Human remains sometimes ritually slain that become subject to nearly spontaneous preservation to become leathery “mummies” rate pretty high on the spooky-o-meter. But this one example appears to be a corpse not of one poor unfortunate someone but rather of several folks, meticulously assembled to a complete body.
The evidence makes it rather hard to assert that the guy died peacefully in his sleep.
For more on bog bodies, check out this article too.
And if you’re especially interested in ancient hair care check out this article here, too
The idea of pompadours stiffened with pine resin makes me think “Bog Bodies” would be a great name for a psychobilly band, wouldn’t it?
(Male, 30′s) Weird dream alert. I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you’re looking for but it was pretty disturbing to me. Just please don’t print my name, OK? I don’t know where this stuff came from.
It was in some kind of a green area, like a clearing in a woods but also institutional like the courtyard of a school. There was a crowd of people gathered, maybe 20 or so. Women as far as I could tell. They were there to see the Goddess. The Goddess was maybe 20 feet tall. Her head was slightly out of proportion, a bit too large for the rest of her. I don’t think she was wearing any clothes but none of her had much detail. She was kind of abstract like a modern sculpture. But her eyes were closed and she was lightly drifting back and forth like a balloon float in the Thanksgiving parade. She had a peaceful smile. She reminded me a bit of a very large insect pupa. VERY large. But frankly I wasn’t that impressed.
There was the table for a blood oath. Devotees of the Goddess had a folding table set up and were trying to get people to do a blood oath to the Goddess because they hoped that would make her wake up. These were everyday, normal looking suburban housewife type people and they brandished this nasty ceremonial knife.
I watched someone give one of these “blood oaths.” They took the knife and they sunk it cleanly through the middle knuckle of their pointer finger. Then they cut again on the other side and handed the knuckle joint to the two women at the booth. The women collected the knuckles in a ziploc baggie – weird, right? and they gave out a bandage for person who’d made the oath. I didn’t feel convinced that the finger would just heal on its own.
Then the women addressed me. They weren’t so concerned about getting me to give a blood oath, thank goodness but they were concerned about what I had eaten for lunch. Come to find out the Goddess has a life-threatening allergy to tree nuts.
I guess they could tell that I indulge in peanut butter or something because just then the whole crowd of Goddess gawkers turned to look at me. All of them, or at least all the ones could see, had bloody bandages wrapped around their pointer fingers. Suddenly, I didn’t feel very comfortable.
When I was a kid, everyone I knew thought “The Exorcist” was the scariest movie they’d ever seen. Me? When I watched it, I had the overwhelmed sensation “Damn, that looks cool.” Forget fireman or doctor or lawyer, I wanted to be an EXORCIST!
Trouble was, the high school guidance counselor didn’t really have much advice for that career path. Things might be changing though, following this report:
The most recent guidelines appear to have been updated in 1999 – so they won’t be able to address any juicy new demons that the 21st century has spawned. And of course, they’re written in Latin, which wasn’t exactly one of my strongest classes. I suppose the most damning blow to my demon-evicting job search is that I’m not Catholic must less a priest nor am I likely to become one in the near future… like this life-time.
Maybe I’ll have to fall back on my other childhood dream job: astronaut who leaves earth never to return.
Fun little article at Slate.com about how contemporary vampires suck, or more precisely, that they don’t. The once terrifying Other is now just a cuddly idealized boyfriend – who no longer sucks blood. The article nicely traces a line from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to Anne Rice’s tortured immortals to Buffy’s beau Angel to the monster’s nadir in the paranormal romance genre a la the Twilight series.
( http://www.slate.com/id/2223486/ )
Makes me wonder if all objects of terror undergo a certain domestication, a processes of Disneyfication where anything that is truly terrifying is sanded flat, made safe and consumable. Happens with all attempts to depict the wholly Other, I suspect, making that “make no graven images” commandment a bit more sensible. After an experience of awe / wonder / terror / amazement it’s understandable to make some record of that encounter. But then there will be folks whose only experience of that Other is via the representation, through the vicarious thrill. At the risk of sounding like a neo-Platonist here, the continued repetition of representation pushes the Other farther and farther away from our actual experience. It’s how that piss-your-pants / fall-on-the-ground-numb / struck-blind-with-scales-on-your-eyes experience of true religion becomes gradually codified into something boring and mundane like ethics and orthodoxy.
Damn. Did I slip from talking about the Monstrous to talking about the Holy again?
(Male, late 30′s) I was visiting the church that I attended while growing up. I was there with my wife but it wasn’t a Sunday morning. It was a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday afternoon. We were in the basement which was traditionally used as a large recreational area. It was entirely dark. On the floor every foot or so were piles of fabric which we figured were child-sized sleeping bags — probably hundreds of them. We figured the church youth group had a sleep over. But where was everyone? Most of the sleeping bags seemed empty but the room was also filled with that hushed sound of slow breathing, like all around us, people were sleeping. We tiptoed through the area and gradually came to an area where there were adults. They were mostly very old and very awake and for that matter, pretty mean. They said “Who are you?” “We don’t recognize you” and “You don’t look Methodist to me.” I explained how I had attended this church as a child, how my father had been the choir director but they must have called the police. As we were leaving, a police car arrived. I raised my hands and turned to face the policeman and I saw he had a rifle aimed at me. He must have been startled when I turned because he shot a bullet clean through the palm of my left hand. I looked over at it and thought to myself, “That son of bitch just shot me” and while and I looked at the blood coming out of my hand, the police man shot me again in my right hand. I don’t remember the pain so much as the force of the impact and then the sense of the tissues giving way and being torn aside by the bullet. Finally, the policeman shot me in my belly and I woke up.