haunted houses in winter, part 1

Most people aren’t thinking of haunted houses in December. And yet we decided to leave Philadelphia around 1AM and head to Wildwood, because driving two hours to the ocean now was better than driving seven hours to get there when the weather was warmer.

It’s good I wasn’t driving. Tired doesn’t begin to describe my exhaustion. When we arrived at a mercifully still-open hotel, I wanted nothing more than to be carried from the car to a prewarmed bed.

Alas. Adults don’t get to ask such things of other adults.

The hotel manager told us there was no rush to check out in the morning.

“Wow. REALLY? This is the best shore hotel ever! I’m totally coming back here!”

He smiled at me. “Well, in-season is a whole other story.”


Not surprisingly – but disappointingly – the room we were given was cold. I crawled into bed still wearing the heavy velvet dress I’d worn to the steampunk party earlier. I may have still been corseted as well…I can’t remember, and I wouldn’t have cared.

Curled up in a ball, I shivered myself to sleep.

Daylight eventually woke us. Back to the car, and off to meet up with our Wildwood friend. He was a co-owner of a boardwalk haunt that had never quite opened its doors over the summer. I’d been following the convoluted tale of woe from the western side of Pennsylvania, and wanted to see for myself the state of the attraction.

We meandered through a maze of ice and warehouses until we found the one housing our friend. Eric’s workspace was vaguely warmed with space heaters and filled with half-finished projects and collected animations from too many places to list completely. I stared at pieces from Castle Dracula, the boardwalk haunt I had loved so much as a child, had written about after it went up in flames, and secretly miss to this day. I looked at the bigger version of the animated dragon head I had worked on in western PA. I listened to Eric’s stories of what things were, and I couldn’t focus on his words. So much history, and all I wanted to do was stroke the noses of the gargoyles that survived the fire. So much of what I love about haunted houses came from my visits to Dracula’s Castle…

Which eventually brought us back to the shore.

The New Jersey boardwalk off-season is nearly empty of people. There are still a few, a very few. Mostly it’s the domain of seagulls. We climbed over short fences and walked to the undeveloped sections of Sportland Pier. Real estate at the shore is controlled by the uncontrollable ocean. As the beachfront changes, pier owners are allowed to extend their property. They don’t have to use the expanding pier, but if they don’t build in a timely manner, they lose the ability to do so at all.

Broken seashells lay scattered across the boards. “Seagulls drop them here to break them open,” Eric explained. I picked up some of their mostly smooth shapes, pocketing them for later inspection, and they’ve taken up a permanent residence in that coat pocket ever since. Past the edges of current amusements were rusted out pretzel ride cars and figures from a long-since-gone funhouse. I hovered near fallen demon and took photos, long since lost to unreliable phone technology.

“This is a movie set begging to be used,” I commented. Images like these seem too impossible to be stumbled across in everyday life..let alone on a dock, scented by sea air and surrounded by the remains of seagulls’ meals.

We went into the haunt that had brought us there in the first place. Cold and dark, it still smelled like home: paint and woodchips and the vague unidentified scents of a quiet workshop. I’d seen photos of what the place had looked like seven months before. The doors had never opened and yet everything had already been changed. Much was slated to be changed again.

“You just need to open,” I scolded. “Money first, then fix it.” We commiserated over the waste of space, over hallways designed to be too straight, too long, over rooms build too shallowly. “You can fix it. Later.” Holding flashlights, we walked the not-quite-maze, discussing what had happened to several of the past employees.

I can’t say it’s the coldest I’ve ever been at a haunt. I can say that the ocean’s siren call made me not mind as much as I normally would. Oceans and haunted houses are, for me, a magical combination, perhaps because of my too few memories of boardwalk dark rides. And I’ve not been back in warmer weather, so Morbid Manor remains a cold place in my mind.

Which isn’t such a bad thing, per


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