Thursday, September 18, 2014

Salem's Gallows Hill Witchcraft and Ghost Experience Offers Thrills this October

Halloween New England recently took a jaunt up to Salem, MA for dinner and a show. Our trip was an impromptu one and really, we never need much of an excuse to pop in to one of our favorite cities in Massachusetts.

Gallows Hill Museum Salem Attraction_Halloween New England_Lobby
Gallows Hill Museum in Salem, MA
After a wonderful meal at Tavern on the Square we took a short 3 minute walk up the street to Gallows Hill for the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience.

We met up with owner Erik Rodenhiser, a Salem native, owner of the theatre space, and creative mind behind the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience.
He welcomed us and shared a bit about the history of the theatre as we waited for a large group to arrive. The theatre is the home base for the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience as well as a number of tours and special events including the Ghosts and Legends Trolley (October only). 

Gallows Hill Museum Salem Attraction_Halloween New England_Gift Shop
The gift shop with Gallows Hill tees
The main lobby doubles as a small gift shop and a visual display of different memorabilia related to Salem’s history and traditions. Set between two open rooms, the museum features photos, short videos, and a number of plaques showcasing the important people and timeline of Salem’s Witch Trials.

There was plenty of posted material explaining aspects of the Witch Trials and debunking myths about witchcraft, especially as it is practiced in modern day Salem.

The museum, which is only open before and after scheduled shows, was a nice, clearly presented educational diversion while we waited to take our seats. We both noticed how spotlessly clean and well-taken care of the whole theatre was—a testament to the care Erik gives to the space and attention paid to the complete customer experience.

Gallows Hill Museum Salem Attraction_Halloween New England_Witch Trials
Nine women who figure prominently
in the Witch Trial history timeline
Outside of October, the theatre opens just for booked groups. The night we attended there was a large group that was kind enough to allow us to tag along.

Being the end of summer, it was no surprise that the group turned out to be about sixty middle-school aged campers! The moment they arrived en masse the level of energy in the lobby reached a buzz of epic levels—it was truly something to behold! We could overhear some of the preteens who were nervous about seeing the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience—they didn’t know what to expect and were anxious about what was to come.
The counselors were very reassuring to the kids but we knew that there were a number of audience members who were headed in already feeling jumpy. As it happened, you couldn’t ask for a better audience.  

As much as we tried to read up on the Experience, we couldn’t quite get a handle on what exactly we were about to see. We had imagined it would be somewhat like Disney’s The Hall of Presidents show—interesting, but more about sitting in your seat listen to a historical presentation.

Gallows Hill Museum Salem Attraction_Halloween New England
Some audience members are seated
right in the center of the action.
It turns out “Experience” is really the right way to describe this evening—and it is nothing like the Hall of Presidents which frankly I think is a good thing. 

With only two performers handling all responsibilities onstage and backstage, it is a non-stop ride of storytelling, startling surprises, interactive props, costumes, smells, sensations, (did I feel something on the back of my neck or did I imagine it? I still honestly don’t know…), scares, and laughs from start to finish.

It is the kind of performance that you cannot help but become a part of -- yet not in get-up-on-stage kind of participatory way which will certainly come as a relief to some. It would be impossible at any age to simply sit back aloofly during a show like this. From the moment the lights turned down for the show it was a whirlwind of fun right to the end.

The show is a careful choreography of special effects, costumes, story-telling, diversions, exhilarating surprises/scares (depending on your perspective) with historical facts and local legends presented in a way to keep the story moving along at a swift pace. 

A creature in the Witchcraft and
Ghost Experience at Gallows Hill
The campers, we can’t resist mentioning, were completely hilarious. They weren’t obnoxious in the least (which I’ll admit we’d secretly feared being that the adults that night were roundly outnumbered) but instead the kids were just the right age to still get legitimately spooked.

They were the right mix of jumpy and fun. They clutched onto their friends at the slightest surprise and spontaneously shrieking—every single one of them—at a sudden special effect or unexpected noise.

It really was a treat to have enjoyed the show in their company and it added to the wonderful time we were already having. Their energy established the atmosphere right from the get go and made for a really memorable time.

There was a brief post-show Q&A which was equally fun, entertaining, and interesting. The length of the show typically runs just under 25 minutes and it felt like we’d only been there for 5—the time simply flew by.

So, you ask, what IS the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience?
Was a performance? Yes. Was it historical? Yes, mostly fact-based to move the story along, not as a re-enactment.
Was it scary? Yes, but in more of a surprising, thrilling way (see my notes below about age). Was it funny? Absolutely.
Was it predictable or cheesy? Not in the least!  Was it original? It definitely felt like we’d never seen a show like this before.
Gallows Hill Museum Salem Attraction_Halloween New England Theatre
The spooky setting for the Experience 

The closest way to describe the performance is that it was interactive, exciting, surprising, and immersive in the way going to a haunted house would be yet this was NOT anything like a haunted house nor is it intended to be frightening. However, it will surprise you and make you jump—at any age. Just to be clear, you are not walking through anything. The only “conventional” part of this show is that you enjoy it as a proper audience member in a seat taking in the show on the stage.

Nothing about this show feels like it is catering to the lowest common denominator of tourist activities. It would be wholly unfair to lump it as “just another” way to spend your time in Salem. Instead, we’d like to emphasize how much we appreciated the effort to give the audience an original, fun, and memorable experience in a clean, well-kept space.

Gallows Hill Museum Salem Attraction_Halloween New EnglandIf you are headed to Salem this fall, book your tickets early to lock in a chance to see the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience at Gallows Hill. They also offer an opportunity for the nighttime Ghosts and Legends Trolley during October –with special combo ticket prices for attending the two events in the same evening.

Gallows Hill offers a Tales and Ales Tour and a "Grave Hopper Pass" which is a combo ticket to the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience and the Nightmare Gallery.

Tips for your visit to Gallows Hill
  • Book your tickets EARLY for the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience and the Ghosts and Legends Trolley. These events are offered to the public in Salem in October only (and to booked groups year round). As you are not going to be the only one in the city looking for something memorable to do, don’t even think about taking your chances…just book in advance and early. 
  • There’s a small gift shop where you can buy t-shirts and other small items.
  • Arrive early so you can take in the museum portion of the lobby.
  • There are two individual bathrooms so we could see there being a line at the last minute—arrive early if you need them.
  • This show is a thrilling 25-minute sensory adventure without an intermission.
  • Tickets available online.

Family Tips for your visit to Gallows Hill 
As we didn’t attend with children on that night, we debated over what the youngest age would be for a child to find this fun and at what age a child would be too scared to enjoy himself.

On every level the show is entertaining, well-paced, and full of historical facts and fun so a 6 or 7 year old wouldn’t be bored in in the least—neither would your middle schooler, as we witnessed first-hand. The content was suitable for kids but some kids are going to be upset by the sudden darkness while others will find everything exciting. We’ve seen older teens standing outside a haunted attraction and cry and this is not intended to be frightening in the way a haunted attraction is. It’s pure entertainment. One person’s scare is another person’s thrill so it really comes down to your child.

Our consensus is that 6-8 years old is probably about the youngest that would be ready for this show. Mostly it will depend on how sensitive your child is for your younger or older child is game. Will getting surprised be scary or fun for them? You decide.
  • This is not designed as a “kids show” per se but it is certainly is intended to be a family-friendly one. The adults will enjoy it and, if you have kids in tow, they will have fun too.
  • We think 7-8 years old is a suitable age to start bringing your child to the Witchcraft and Ghost Experience. If your child is frightened by surprises or even brief moments in the dark, they may not be ready for this yet. See our notes about age earlier.
  • It’s a swift show that will hold your child’s attention the entire time. Even older kids and teens have a blast, as we witnessed. 
  • There are two individual unisex bathrooms—they are large enough to comfortably fit more than one person if you are accompanying your child.
  • If you are concerned about your child being too afraid to stay through the show, we suggest sitting at the very back of the theatre and leaving during an illuminated moment. If you sense your child is very nervous, perhaps hold off for now.

1 comment:

  1. This was great! We visited Salem last October and sat right in the front for this show! Loved it!