This past weekend, more than 200 people came out to take the Strauss Mansion Haunted Lantern Tours, an event run by and benefiting the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society. An army of over 40 volunteers helped produce an evening of Edgar Allan Poe, where a short story or poem of his was acted out in different rooms on the first floor of the historic mansion, as well as the basement and backyard. A great time was had by all who worked, and much positive feedback was heard from guests who appeared to be delighted the event was more than jump-and-scare. This year we made it our mission to return to lantern tour prototypes from the early days of the event in the 2000’s, where visitors were treated to an actual story with some scares along the way.
Normally a tour guide, this year I was tasked with performing as Roderick Usher, from The Fall of the House of Usher. In this monologue I played a widower slowly driven mad by his ailment, an acuteness of the senses, who suffers from the knowledge that his wife was accidentally interred prematurely in the basement crypt. Our tour guides for both evenings were Joanne Dellosso and Mary Ellen Landolfi—one a veteran of such productions, and the other taking part in her first. Both did excellent jobs, the audience enjoying the ad-libbed humor added to lighten the overall dark tones of the tours. Ken Frantz, the historical society’s treasurer took on the role of the raving madman from The Tell-Tale Heart, while junior volunteers Anthony DeFalco and Eryn Knapp played Edgar Allan Poe and Annabelle Lee.
Visitors were probably thrown off in the beginning because we started with Sweeney Todd, the only non-Poe tale included. It was Joanne’s idea to go this route to keep people on their toes. On the first night, the demon barber was played by Hunter Dillon, and then Nick DiVilio on the second. Madison Grover took on the role of Mrs. Lovett both nights. On their journey around the outside of house, The Pit and the Pendulum was the featured act, with Robert Hilman playing the executioner on Friday, and then the young Spencer Rugg on Saturday, who blew people away with an amazing accented performance. The basement contained most of the jump-scares as visitors worked their way through Mr. Usher’s crypt and towards the corner where The Cask of Amontillado was played out. The tour guide, doubling as Montressor, proceeded to then wall up poor Fortunato alive behind a tomb of real bricks. That role was played by a combination of Liz McEnroe and Matt DiVilio. The final scene in the backyard was The Premature Burial. Lou Fligor was the minister ignorant of his still-breathing and screaming burial victim, whose last line before the coffin lid closed was, “This wouldn’t have happened at the Condon Funeral Home in Leonardo!”, a nod to one of our sponsors.
There are too many people to name individually, because it really took an army to put this show on. We can start with Chris Williams, who you can thank if you were scared by our crypt. He was the basement crew chief. Cooper Bane and Ian McNair worked on sound effects one night while doubling as various victims the other. Sarah Conery provided the scream of Mrs. Usher. Other supporting actors included Brett Bodner, Jenn Criscuolo, Wesley Bane, and Matt Arcati. Crowd control and tickets were handled by Roy Dellosso, the Fligor Family, Kim Reddan, and Will Nunn. Lastly, Regina Keelan did the outstanding makeup for our actors. To the rest of the volunteers who chipped in their time to make this work, the historical society thanks you.
People were already asking about next year’s tour. I can tell you this: we have begun throwing ideas around, and if we end up sticking to them, you will find the event to be very much different, but also really exciting at the same time. Word on that will probably come in the spring, but it is never too early to look ahead. Happy Halloween and see you next time!
More articles in this special “Halloween Twenty-Fifteen” column can be found here.