September was a horror show, but it had nothing on these ghouls
Call it “Nightmare on Lansdowne Street 2011: The World Series That Wasn’t.’’
Barely a month after the Red Sox suffered the most frightening collapse in modern baseball history, losing a playoff spot to a witch’s brew of clubhouse beer, fried chicken, and bloated ERAs, Fenway Park now opens its doors to . . . a Halloween theme park.
Coincidence? Um, yes.
“Fear at Fenway,’’ a scarefest designed and operated by SpookyWorld/Nightmare New England, opened for business on Thursday but has been on the drawing board since June. Back then, the Sox were riding high, Terry Francona and Theo Epstein were still gods to Sox Nation, and the Bambino’s curse was an old ghost story supposedly put to rest forever.
Contracts to bring SpookyWorld to Fenway were signed months ago. All-new attractions were designed and built over the summer. Opening Night was scheduled for Oct. 28, immediately after what was projected to be a likely Series victory party.
“When the powers that be changed things, we changed things, too,’’ said SpookyWorld co-owner Michael Accomando this week, as construction crews worked feverishly to complete the main exhibits. By powers that be, he meant, of course, the baseball gods - unless it was the nearby Popeyes restaurant, on Brookline Avenue, the team’s favorite in-game takeout joint.
Hard to say.
A genuine Sox fan, Accomando insisted that he rooted for the team to go all the way this year, even though its epic collapse allowed “Fear at Fenway’’ to open a week early. Moreover, the initial phone call about bringing SpookyWorld to Fenway came from Sox management, not his organization. After opening Fenway to concerts, movie shoots (e.g. “The Town’’), and other special events, Sox ownership appeared eager to milk some extra green out of Halloween.
And while SpookyWorld, whose home field is in Litchfield, N.H., had been eyeing an in-town location for years, said Accomando, he never imagined bumping up against a baseball season that ended in a real horror show, not a staged one.
“New England is the country’s Halloween capital, and this seemed like the perfect fit,’’ he said, surrounded by enough costumed players and props - serial killers, gargoyles, zombies, demonic clowns - to stock a Wes Craven film festival. “If they win the World Series, we thought, everyone comes to Fenway Park. If they’re successful, we’re successful.’’ Or not.
Setting aside images of Theo fleeing to Chicago in a gorilla suit this month, or Sox starting pitchers dressing up for Halloween as the Three Little Pigs, what fresh frights can the Fenway Faithful expect when they walk into the old ballyard?
Entering through Gate B, visitors will be mostly confined to the Grand Concourse area, situated underneath the outfield grandstands. Three walk-though attractions await, beginning with 3D Freakout, which is modeled on a similar attraction in Litchfield. Its twisting maze, populated by warring freaks and clowns, is made even scarier by donning the 3-D glasses provided, which enliven the exhibit’s in-your-face special effects.
Next is Hancock Hill Cemetery, a New Orleans-style, crypt-laden graveyard with a special surprise at the end. (Spoiler alert: Expect to see more of the Green Monster than one might imagine. Also, any bullpen spirits encountered will likely not be named Bard or Papelbon).
Lastly, there’s Brigham Manor, a house haunted by “spirits that dwell in the stately rooms (who) have unleashed tragedy to those who tempted fate by calling this manor home,’’ according to the park’s media guide. Many of its furnishings come from the Brimfield Fair, to lend the exhibit even more Olde New England authenticity, according to chief designer Mike Krausert.
“The challenge for us was, you’re in Fenway Park - but how do you make it feel like you’re not?’’ said Krausert on a tour of the walk-through exhibits. Inspired by the ballpark’s unique history, he added, “It drove us to deliver really special attractions, to make it the full customer experience. I’ve been building haunted houses for 22 years, and these are among my top favorites.’’
Ah, but why no local baseball references? Not even a headstone paying homage to the Babe? Or sly nod to Bill Buckner - the Nation forgives you, Bill - and the supernatural events that enveloped him one eerie October night 25 years ago?
No, said Krausert, not a single ghost-of-Sox-past idea came up during the design process. Accomando said Fenway’s otherworldly history was not put off-limits by team management. It simply never factored into what they wanted to create. Nor did they ever plan to build attractions on the ballfield itself.
“That’s sacred lawn out there,’’ Accomando said. “We bring our own ghosts here, that’s what we do.’’
Like Fenway, SpookyWorld has history to celebrate this year. Begun on a Berlin farm 20 years ago, the park’s brand was sold in 2008 to Accomando and partner Wayne Caulfield. Since then, they’ve invested $3.5 million in expanding the New Hampshire site, while seriously upgrading its gore quotient.
Some 6,500 visitors per night are expected at the Fenway exhibit over the next two weeks. During special family-friendly matinee shows, Accomando noted, the scariest stuff will be covered up and fairy princesses will roam the midway, not wicked witches. Kids will be encouraged to come in costume, and treats will be handed out.
Nightfall is another story. With as many as 140 actors on hand, plus state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and costuming, “Fear at Fenway’’ will not be for the faint-hearted, organizers promise.
“The more realistic we make these [exhibits] look, the more comfortable you get,’’ said Krausert. “And if you’re comfortable, then I can scare you when you least expect it.’’
Over next weekend and on Monday night, parkgoers can dress up as they wish, although masks must be removed upon entry. How many Terry Franconas does Accomando imagine walking through Gate B?
“We’ll get a few of those, absolutely,’’ he said with a devilish laugh.
“Fear at Fenway’’ is open today and tomorrow as well as Oct. 28-Nov. 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is $45. VIP tickets as available for $69. On Oct. 22, 23, 29, and 30, doors open at 11 a.m. for a family-friendly matinee. Admission is $19. For more information, visit www.redsox.com/spookyworld.com.
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at email@example.com.