On a recent Sunday, Ledcat and I took a six-hour tour of one of our favorite Halloween haunts – The ScareHouse in Etna, courtesy of Pittsburgh Tours and More. We’ve been to ScareHouse in the past – almost yearly, but the chance to go behind the scenes was too good to resist.
The tour started at Station Square. We boarded the tour bus and settled in as our tour guide, Kelley, reviewed the agenda. There were 9 of us so plenty of room on the shuttle. Kelley gave us a little history on the haunt, but saved the juicy details for the tour. She did have a fascinating anecdote about a former Pittsburgh resident named Francis Tumblety to share.
When we arrived at The ScareHouse, sociologist Margee Kerr (no relation) met us and escorted us into the lobby. She gave us a historical overview of the building which was fascinating. It was at one time a flourishing lodge for a local Elks group. To honor that history, they reworked a third of the haunt as a sort of demonic bordello/speakeasy/social club. And it really works – it is both gorgeous and creepy.
The ScareHouse has three regular haunts – the Summoning, Creepo’s Christmas(3-D) and the Pittsburgh Zombies. It also has an additional haunt called The Basement which was not part of our tour and requires an extra fee. Our tour included a walk through all three with the lights on and with a running commentary from Margee. She described the process used to design and build the various sets. Head designer Macabre Noir insisted that every detail of The Summoning be accurate in terms of the early 20th century themes. The rooms are just gorgeous and this tour gives you the chance to see the elaborate details that contribute to such a frightful haunt. It is an interesting homage to the glimpse of immortality that is captured in our stuff.
Margee discusses some technical terms (like “sift’ which is the stuff they hand to sort of get in your face and slow you down) and explained the mechanics of several rooms. Her commentary was peppered with discussions on how and why they made certain choices – using measurements of fear to create entertainment.
The tour lasted about 30 minutes and then we climbed stairs to the dressing room. The head makeup artist explained her process and gave one of the children in the group a zombie makeover. Dudders, manager of the Summoning, talked in more detail about the design work as well as talking about the haunt industry. We wrapped up with a visit to the costumes which are both lush and freaky at the same time.
At this point, the tour departed The Scarehouse for a group dinner at the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville. This was a fun pairing in terms of the restaurant being a deconsecrated Catholic Church. We had a reserved table on the altar and were offered a limited menu that was rather robust. We were offered a chance to order off menu and pay the difference. Our group was a nice size to be able to continue chatting and discussing while we ate.
I have to admit that having taken the tour, I was a little anxious about the haunt version. But when it was time to return to Scarehouse, I squared my shoulders and took my place in line. Then I screamed like a little girl. I did find that a bit of anticipation was helpful until I scared myself so much that I forgot what was coming next. The Summoning was the best/worst part. I’ll say no more.
It was great fun. After the tour, we headed back to Station Square and ended up home by 8:10 PM.
If you like haunts, this is an excellent adventure. You’ll get a solid history of a working class neighborhood that used to play a lively role in the social life of Pittsburghers and Allegheny City. The behind the scenes tidbits about the inner workings of a haunt are very cool and interesting. The staff have terrific stories. And this is a good experience if you are a little uncomfortable or anxious about haunts because the staff also took a lot of time to explain and answer questions. During the tour, I got a bit turned around and was probably looking a little panicked because one of the zombies came out of character to tell me where to walk in a very soothing and calm voice. I knew from the earlier tour that they always do this and will even walk people out to an emergency exit if necessary.
Tickets are $85/person with a savings built in if you buy group tickets (so two for $160, etc) That includes the RIP Ticket at Scarehouse ($40) plus dinner ($15-20) plus the “Behind the Screams” tour, tour guide and the shuttle. You’ll also get a bottle of water and a snack size bag of popcorn on the bus. It does not include parking or gratuities.
This is the first year The Scarehouse has partnered with Pittsburgh Tours and More. Next Sunday October 27 is the final tour of the year. You can visit the Tours and More website for a list of other tours including a movie industry tour, a brew tour, a food tour and several winter holiday tours of historic spaces. You can also purchase gift certificates which is a great idea.
You can also team up with Pittsburgh Tours and More and Scarehouse to arrange your own trip – say if your Elks lodge wanted to visit the historic rewrite of your history and see what all the screams are about. I think this would be awesome way to recruit younger members and have a little fun with the secret ritual concept.
Things I would tweak about this tour – I’d add a few more ghost stories to the trip, I’d consider finding a restaurant that is affiliated with Etna and perhaps using the ScareHouse party room for a catered casual meal rather than leaving and returning. I’m not sure if that’s possible. I’d also more explicitly state on the promotional material that the venue is not accessible and requires some degree of surefootedness to navigate the haunts. The other thing I was bummed about was that we didn’t get to talk with anyone in character. A private audience with Princess Holly and her minions would be very fun. Or a few moments for photos. **This all being said, this was the first year so I realize there’s always a trial and error period.
Best of all, this is a tour you can take multiple years because Scarehouse renovates at least 1/3 of their haunts every year. To do that, they continue to interview community elders who have the institutional knowledge of the building’s history. One of the reasons this haunt is so appealing is their devotion to the craft and art of authenticity. From wallpaper to makeup to actor conduct, the professionalism and passion for creating a good experience is evident.
I received two complimentary seats on this tour in exchange for my review. The opinions are my own. They always are, right?
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