And I’ll scare you right out of your pants
To a guy in Kentucky I’m Mister Unlucky
And I’m known throughout England and France
And since I am dead, I can take off my head
To recite Shakespearean quotations
No animal or man can SCREAM like I can
With the fury of my recitations...
– Jack Skellington, in The Nightmare Before Christmas (music and lyrics by Danny Elfman)
Jack Skellington, a.k.a. The Pumpkin King, chief scarer of Halloween Town, is tired of his work in Tim Burton’s beguiling animated musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Without giving too much away to those who haven’t seen it, Jack makes an excursion into Christmas Town in the film, but eventually returns home where he belongs. We, too, are poised at the edge of the winter season here in the San Juans, but Christmas and the holidays can wait a little longer, thank you. Right now – as the Pumpkin King comes to understand – it is good to be exactly here, reveling in Halloween.
The Telluride Historical Museum has been celebrating All Hallow’s Eve for weeks now, screening macabre movies, sponsoring a cemetery walk and, this afternoon, presenting pumpkin carving in its amphitheater from 4-6 p.m. (bring your own pumpkin; the museum will supply assorted tools for carving, snacks and cider).
Anyone who enjoys The Rocky Horror Picture Show – the movie musical starring Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Tim Curry as the sweet transvestite transsexual from Transylvania – knows it is best enjoyed on the big screen, with the audience singing along. RHPS actually had its beginnings on the London stage (as The Rocky Horror Show) in 1973; it was later adapted for the big screen, but the movie was pretty much a flop, says Sasha Sullivan of Telluride Theatre. In a sense, however, the film did return to the stage; as it grew increasingly popular at midnight screenings, the audience became part of the show, and the film became a cult classic. Today Rocky Horror is considered the longest-running release in film history (it has never been pulled by 20th Century Fox after its original, 1975 debut). This week there are two showings, in Telluride and Ouray. The Telluride production is 9 p.m. tonight at the Palm, and benefits Telluride Theatre. “We like to do fundraisers where we’re doing what we do best,” Sullivan says: being raucous, creative, funny. “Audience participation is mandatory,” she adds. “You’re encouraged to scream and sing along. We have 20 actors participating in the ‘shadow cast’ on stage, and we yell out a lot of Telluride-centric lines.” The show is for ages 19 and up. Rocky also plays the Wright Opera House in Ouray this Saturday evening, with a Ouray County cast. It starts at 10 p.m.
Speaking of the Wright, and Ouray, brings us to hauntings, and historic buildings. Numerous people believe the Wright Opera House is haunted, says Executive Director Josh Gowans. “We even have a group who wants to come in and do a paranormal investigation, but we haven’t had a chance to set anything up over this past year,” he said. Jennifer Leavey, owner of the Historic Beaumont Hotel across the street, isn’t waiting to find out. Her paranormal investigation – she hired a group out of Colorado Springs to do the job –will take place at the Beaumont’s Haunted Halloween Ball this Saturday evening, 8 p.m. to midnight, where in addition to ghost hunters, a tarot card reader will also be on site, and a live séance will be conducted.
Odd stuff goes on at the Beaumont all the time, Leavey said. “Strange things. Like the tables in the dining room will be set perfectly, and I’ll come back later and one of them will be moved. Or people will tell me they’ve seen unusual things.” In fact, “People ask me constantly if the Beaumont is haunted,” she said. “So this year, I figured I’d find out.” The paranormal investigators “are going to set up equipment and go through the hotel to see if they can pick anything up.” Costumes required at the Halloween Ball; $5 cover; ages 21 and up.
In Montrose this Friday night, there’ll be a haunted history walk led by Sally Johnson departing from the Historic Museum at 6 p.m. The stroll will roam the streets of town and take note of supposedly haunted homes, ghastly killings such as the “soap kettle murders” from the early 1900s – where two victims’ bodies were melted down in kettles and used as soap – and a mysterious apparition known as the River Witch. “She lived in a couple different houses here, and lost her baby in the river,” Johnson said. “On full-moon nights in these two places, you can hear her crying and rocking in her rocking chair.”
Finally, on Halloween night itself, the Telluride Historical Museum will offer a twofer: ghost stories (suggested donation: $5) in the amphitheater from 7-8 p.m., and what it calls “a lamplight tour” ($20 for adults, $15 children under 12) following the stories, from 8-9:30 p.m. This historic building was a hospital from 1896 through the 1960s. “There were over 300 births here, and probably just as many or more deaths,” said Cameo Hoyle, director of programs and interpretations. Hoyle has heard shuffling footsteps and knocking on walls in the museum, usually when she’s alone in the place. “It makes the hairs on my neck stand up,” she said. “These are definitely not normal noises. I’ve become used to them, after hearing them a few times, but they kind of give me the heebie-jeebies. When I hear them I think, ‘Time to go home.’” Another colleague has heard the up-and-down pedal of a sewing machine; others have reported “a little girl’s voice will greet you while you’re climbing up and down the stairs,” Hoyle said.
David Byars won the Sleeping With History contest last year; his “prize” was to be $500 for daring to spend two nights alone in the museum. That first night, “They had a little screening of Ghost Busters II,” he said. “I was taking it all very lightly.” Then everyone went home, and Byars had the museum to himself: “I set up a cot with a sleeping bag in the big room to the right of the stairs.” He lay down, and started doing some reading. “And then I started hearing things. There were all these weird noises – popping sounds. Like the building was settling.” He thought he heard Native American chanting. The chanting would come and go, and finally Byars went downstairs to investigate. Turns out, what Byars had been hearing was an audio recording of Native American chanting. Byars learned that by walking into the room where the audio was, and setting it off. “Scared the crap out of me,” he said. “It’s loud. I almost jumped out of my skin.” The setting grew eerier when he realized what triggered the chanting: a motion detector. What could have set a motion detector off, randomly and repeatedly, while he was lying upstairs? “Definitely creepy. I ended up with all the lights on that night,” Byars summed up. “I got very little sleep.” He made a video inspired by his experience. See it at vimeo.com/29579013.
Next Thursday, Telluride local Ashley Boling will tell historically accurate ghost stories in the amphitheatre, following which “lamplight tours” of the museum will commence. “Lamplight” is something of a misnomer, since nothing so luminous as lamps will be involved. The tours will be “self-guided” (meaning: you’re on your own), and flashlights will be required for admittance, since the lights won’t be on. Not even one. Except for a few, stray, flashlight-beams, in other words, you’ll be free to roam this historic former hospital – site of so many deaths, and replete with sinister-looking medical instruments – totally alone and in utter darkness.
Curatorial Tour: Anasazi Heritage Museum
If you find yourself out of the region on Halloween and, say, down near Dolores, you have one last chance to take a curatorial tour of the Anasazi Heritage Museum this year.
Most of its vast collection of Puebloan pottery is not on display – there simply isn’t room to show it all – but every Thursday through the end of this month, the museum offers a behind-the-scenes look. Unlike the vaporous ghosts of Halloween, these artifacts are real, and so is the enduring mystery of who owned them and what their lives were like. Take the tour, then stay to see painter Stanton Englehardt’s luminous show, Arches, which also closes the end of this month. More mystery: an exhibit that examines the nature of the elusive mountain lion, and its historic relationship with humans, opens November 29.