Horror in Middle Earth (No, not really)

posted Oct 30, 2012, 1:47 PM by Jeremy Fowler-Lindemulder   [ updated Oct 30, 2012, 1:49 PM ]
Living in Middle Earth was a true learning experience. In October of 1980, I began one of the most useful courses of my college career. You might call it creative management of available resources. We called it the Lorien Haunted House.

At that time it was a Lorien dormitory tradition to raise activity funds by turning the entire building into an interconnected experience of comedy and terror. Well, comedy and scary mind games might be more appropriate. Every year there were new recruits who eagerly learned the craft of creating a new and unexpected environment from simple and readily acquired materials. There were no chain saw massacres, and zombies were not chic, but wizards, witches, ghosts, monsters and labyrinths abounded.

Mr. Tumnus anyone? c. 1982
Mr. Tumnus? As I remember, the complete costume had a vest...

During my tenure as part of the experience I learned many things. These are just a few:
  • Teamwork is great when you have a well defined task - like painting a pattern on a wall. Not as effective when the task is not defined. So having vision is not enough. You have to be able to break it  all down into tasks. The level of simplicity or difficulty of the tasks is directly dependent on the ability level of your workers.
  • Any room can look just like a cavern with judicious use of a roll of brown butcher paper and a staple gun.
  • It is entirely possible to hang a person safely from a noose, but it may not be particularly comfortable for them.
  • People are easily terrified by the unexpected. Timing is everything. You can even build a ghost out a sheet and a flower pot, and make entire rooms of people hit the ground in a prone position under their own power if you just time it right.
  • Sudden bright lights combined with loud noises are entirely more effective than the most elegant robotics. One is cool, the other, however, can cause a stampede.
  • You CAN make people invisible right in front of your eyes. Even Brian.
  • Tesla Coils may be cool, but you have to trust them or you can really zap yourself. Once you zap yourself, it is exponentially harder to trust that thing. There is something gratifying  in hearing Steve-o getting zapped by a Tesla Coil in the distance. No one else. Just him.
  • It only takes about a dozen portable closets  and some old carpet samples to make an infinite maze. No, really.
  • There is no substitute for a really good witchy cackle. Protect your witch’s voice.
  • For short term make up, you really don’t need the full facial bust. Even though I made one, I only used it for one appliance.
  • Jell-o has more uses than are listed on the package.
  • Sometimes improvisation works... sometimes not so much. Still you can’t beat a dedicated band of college students who aren’t yet afraid to try something new.
  • You can accomplish it all on a shoestring budget. You just have to know where to look, and how to creatively acquire materials.
When we went to visit the old buildings last April, we brought many memories, and it was a little painful seeing the security measures now in place in the old buildings. The living areas are now smaller, and the old sliding doors were now permanently closed windows. Many of the years are now blended in my mind, and so I tend to mix it all into one mashup.

Wizard Robes c. 1983This picture was taken in Campus Village, most likely around 1983.

I remember with fondness guiding tours of 7-10 patrons from the storage closet at the back of the landing, up into the 201 suite, winding through the rest rooms areas around and across a temporarily enclosed long balcony over to the 202 suite, through their rest rooms and down to the 110 suite landing. Each suite was responsible for their area and the areas leading up to them. The 110, had the stairs down and a hallway experience to construct and populate. Each space had their own theme. Each tour guide had their own theme... It seems we were all about the themes.

We really had them going by the time I would bring them down the main stairs from the 110 suite hallway. (Well, I was mostly dodging the stampede of patrons that I had led there and were now trying to desperately escape that area.) We’d usher them past Sara or Steve-o performing some sort of mental or physical magic, and send them into the maze with Mad Monk Kev.

The maze had no light within, and was structured with pivoting walls that could be changed by the semi-permanent occupants. It also had no exit, and no entrance once the group was inside. So, we could use it as the perfect “intermission” device timing the three groups on tours in the building at any given time.

Once the other groups had reached their marks, I would go around the whole contraption, make the exit, and impatiently demand that they hurry up. None of them seemed to realize that I had never gone in with them. Hustling them out the sliding glass patio door, I would usher them within the fenced outer area past the front dorm entrance and down to the 101 suite’s other sliding patio door. Yes, they had a theme too.

Exiting the suite into the main hall led to the graveyard where most of the tour groups were relieved to just nod to the grim reaper (Steve/Jamie) who was standing there, unaware of the job he would perform while their backs were turned. (Since a false wall had been constructed, they could not see the stairs leading up to the 110 suite landing, and instead were being shepherded down a straight corridor into the next section of hall leading to the 104 suite.) Gathering them together before the great door to the next section was easy, and on a sound cue from the reaper, I’d point behind them and shout in terror “look out.”

They always turned their attention just in time to see a white sheet traveling directly toward their heads at what may have approached mach 1. As gravity took them all to the ground, the approaching ghost veered up at the last minute and made a resounding hollow flowerpot-like thunk into the wall above the lintel. Me? I just opened the door behind me as the follow guide (Melanie) scraped our group off the floor.

The chamber beyond was where the invisible man lived. Brian had a great time in there. We had covered the white walls of the otherwise void corridor with repetitive black swirl motifs, just a little too random to be called a pattern. The strobe light made it just disorienting enough to keep everyone guessing and a bit relieved to see nothing inside. But, Brian was there. He just happened to be dressed like the walls, in a sheet covered in swirls. even knowing that he was there, I could only find him by spotting his white socks as they jutted out over the much darker carpet. His task was simply to jump between a couple of people in the group, and then go back against a wall somewhere else. By the screams he elicited, I think he must have goosed people. We later heard comments as people left like,“there was no one there, and then there was, and then they just... well... disappeared.”

From there it was into the 104 suit and eventually out the patio door. Like all the other suites, they would have a theme and a farewell to the group.

The tradition has long since fallen to the wayside, and our society is now more concerned about things like privacy and security than learning n interactive camaraderie... So, I bid a fond fare well to the likes of Dr. Frank (both of them), and Henry (and his friend). Should you be one of the few, and proud, Lorien Haunted House workers or patrons from the days of yesteryear, I invite you to share some of your story, as i have and let the rest of us know the memories of your experience.