It was a dark and stormy night. And that, in and of itself, is not so unusual. There have been a lot of dark and stormy nights here Northeastern Pennsylvania lately. The unusual part of the evening was the destination at the end of my foggy drive. A new museum has opened right here in our own backyard. And if you’re thinking, “A museum? Oh, snooze,” bite your tongue (before one of the museum’s odd attractions bites it for you).
The “Showcase of Shadows” isn’t devoted to musty old canvases or dusty sculptures. It focuses on something that’s sure to get your heart pounding - fear. Every exhibit has been specially chosen because of its unique ability to make pulses race and blood run cold. Sinister? Darn right. But if you’re brave enough to face your fear, in addition to giving yourself a good scare, you’ll also be doing something special to help your community. For “Showcase of Shadows” is no ordinary museum. It is this year’s production by the talented folks at Gravestone Manor, now in their eight year of creating gruesome scenes for a good cause: the United Way of Wyoming Valley.
Gravestone Manor was the brainchild of Sallie Mae employee and Halloween aficionado Ray AnnHaigh. AnnHaigh loved the Jersey Shore haunts of his childhood, like Brigantine Castle and the Long Branch Haunted Mansion. Those attractions were all about creating and building a complete atmosphere of fear rather than simply highlighting a chainsaw-wielding maniac jumping out of a doorway. As the shore attractions closed and AnnHaigh began exploring other scary sites, he noticed that a lot of the care and creativity he remembered from his younger days had disappeared from the horror scene. Tired of searching for a clever scare, this modern day Frankenstein decided to take matters into his own hands. With the support of Sallie Mae and the assistance of evil henchmen Rob Padden, Dave Pinkowski and countless volunteers, Gravestone Manor first came to life in 1998.
A tribute to the haunts of AnnHaigh’s boyhood, Gravestone Manor is a unique mix of haunted house and theatrical event. As visitors are guided through the attraction, they are treated to mini-scenes in each room, all of which connect to tell one spine-tingling tale. Gravestones of years past have treated brave souls to stories of an eerie will, a murder trial, the American Institute of Parapsychology and the horrible disappearance of a vaudeville troupe.
The story behind this year’s newly created supernatural museum is no less thrilling than the horrors of years past, but there is one major difference. While the haunts previously lurked around the Ruvane Mansion, first discovered on the site of the Sallie Mae cafeteria and then painstakingly moved to an empty office building on Public Square, the horrible house had to be demolished due to the rebuilding of Downtown Wilkes-Barre. Not willing to let their seasonal scares rest in peace, the Gravestone gang searched out a new haunt. With the generous donation of space from Trion Industries and 12 months of hard work from volunteers, Gravestone is back at a new home on Route 315 and screaming for patrons willing to risk their very lives to help the United Way.
I barely escaped a recent visit to the “Showcase of Shadows,” and judging from the long lines outside the terrible museum even on opening weekend, there are many others willing to subject themselves to a good scare for a good cause. With a price tag of $8 per person, plenty of grisly exhibits and even some good, old-fashioned laughs, Gravestone Manor’s Showcase of Shadows is definitely worth the risk of life and limb this Halloween season. For as scary as this site may be, even scarier is what might have been without the good ghouls at Gravestone, who have to date raised more than $96,000 to support the local United Way.
So take a chance on this sinister Showcase of Shadows. If you’re lucky, like I was, you may live to tell the tale. If not, you may just become a part of a creepy exhibit, held in horror for all eternity.
(Fridays & Saturdays during the month of October, 7-11p.m., Trion Industries, Route 315. Tickets are $8 and are available at the door. Visit www.gravestonemanor.com for more information.)
If you’re a true scaredy-cat, or if you have little ones in tow who might be too tender for a haunted house, you can still celebrate the fall season with a visit to Applause Theatre Company for their upcoming production of “Pocahontas.” Under the direction of Lee Lachette, Applause begins its children’s theatre season with the musical tale of Pocohontas, or “She Who Likes to Be Mischievous.” The daughter of Algonquin Chief Powhatan spends her days frolicking in the forest and befriending struggling English settlers in Jamestown. Part Native American lore, part history lesson and part musical fun, “Pocahontas” is a beautiful story of harmony, friendship, bravery and adventure.
(October 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m., October 8 and 15 at 3 p.m., Applause Theatre, Main Street, Duryea. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under. Call 457.4115 for reservations or more information.)