Popular Science Monthly/Volume 89/July 1916/A Hallowe'en Chamber of Horrors
HALLOWEEN entertainments where young people of both sexes participate are usually characterized by merrymaking in which witches of a more or less friendly type are the principal feature; but where none but brave scouts of the genus homo are present, as at a club or a boys' school, the horrors may be as real as they can be made. The "Chamber of Horrors" described here was fitted up by boy students last October 31, and the thrills and shivers which the participants in the fun received are not yet forgotten. The materials used were borrowed from the school laboratory or from the students' homes. The experiences began at the very entrance doorway.
Beside the arch outside the entrance, which was draped with black crepe and surmounted by a sign reading, "The Cave of Death; All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here," stood a witch in skeleton mask and long black robes, who barred the way with a long dry bone, questioned each applicant as to his strength of nerve, and in serious tones made each assert that he entered the cave at his own risk and peril. Two raps from within the closed door signified that the victim had permission to enter. In the arch under which the victim passed hung a human skull and cross-bones, suspended by fine wires. Those who were curious to touch or handle them, received a moderately severe shock.
As the victim placed his hand on the knob to open the door, he received another shock and was commanded in hoarse whispers to close the door behind him. The room which he now entered
��was absolutely dark, except for phos- phorescent hands here and there, and a phosphorescent skull near him. Before he had time to see them distinctly, some- thing cold and flabby struck him in the face. A pair of the gleaming hands picked up the phosphorescent skull, and a voice whispered, "Take this baby's skull in your hands. Press it to your lips. There are maggots crawling on it — a-a-a-a-h." After actually experiencing the revolt- ing sensation of maggots crawling over his lips the victim was allowed to proceed. He was struck again in the face by something cold and flabby. A blinding light flashed in his eyes with a report like that of a pistol. "Look!" said a hoarse voice. Before him he saw an irregular-shaped greenish light, shin- ing down upon some white object stretched upon a table. "A corpse," said the voice. One of the phosphorescent hands took his own and placed it on that of the corpse, which was cold and clammy, and also on the foot, which gave the same chilly thrill. From the dead man's side, a jack-in-the-box jumped in the victim's face. The flickering light died and the whispered voice commanded; "Proceed!" He passed between two phosphorescent snakes, crawling on tables. A door- knob glowed nearby with a phosphor- escent light. I<"rom just above the knob, with a loud and continuous crackle, a 6-in. spark commenced leaping to a point by the side of the door. As soon as he started toward the door, this spark, which would really have been dangerous to receive, ceased, and when he went out of the door, he received the same comparatively mild shock he had
�� � fell when he opened the first door.
Nearly all these effects, and a number of others, were produced by comparatively simple means. It is important to have someone in charge of the chamber who can talk — or whisper hoarsely - and convincingly, in order to make a pound of raw beefsteak and a chunk of ice which
��are used occasional!)' sufruiently terrible. But, of course, the more mechanical and electrical effects there are, the better. All the electric shocks came from a small but active induction coil operated by three or four dry cells. One pole of the coil was connected with fine wires that suspended the skull outside the entrance (Fig. I and I-ig. 2, A), with the door-knob at the entrance (Fig. 2, B), and with the one at the exit C. The other pole was connected with a luimber of steel door-mats properly placed as D, E, and F.
��The flabby objects which strike the victim's face are merely rubber football bladders (hot-water bags would do as well) kept moist, and suspended from the ceil- ing at the average height of the face. They are merely drawn back and allowed to swing into the face of the victims (Fig. 3). It was necessary to use the scheme diagram- med because every movement of the phos- phorescent hands was ^•isible.
The baby's skull was a papier-mache candle- shade picked up at a ten-cent store. The illusion of the crawling on the lips was produced as follows: The skull was coated with tinfoil which was connected with insulated wires to one of the poles on a medical coil, the other pole of which was attached to a metal floorplate located where the victim would stand. The coil was tuned down so low that the shock could not be felt in any other part of the body except the sensitive lips, and gave them exactly the impression of numberless small crawling objects. The bright light which flashed in the eves was merely a pocket flashlight; the sound which accompanied
il was made by a sharp blow with a hammer on a jiiece of sheet-iron sus- iKMuK-d from the n-iliiig.
The corpse was a pasteboard torso in the possession of the biological laboratory, but stuffed garments would have been just as serviceable. The weird light above it was produced by a Crooke's tube from the physics laboratory, operated on another small induction coil (Fig. 2, G). The dead man's hand and foot were of course a glove and stocking filled with wet sand. The snakes were real, but artificial ones would have served as well. The 6-in. spark above the door-knob, which was probably the only effect not available in the average high school laboratory, was produced by a large induction-coil operating on a current of about 50 volts, taken through a rectifier and a rheostat from an ordinary electric lighting circuit.
Although there are a number of phosphorescent paints on the market, the paste used in this instance was made from the heads of three or four boxes of matches and a little water. Anything which is a sudden shock or surprise is valuable. Snakes, rats, bats, and anything suggestive of death or decay will arouse terror in most people; but one boy went through the entire chamber without having any impression made upon him. Just as he was going out the door, however, a terrified yell proclaimed that the big rattler had gotten loose in the darkened room. There was really no rattler in the room, but the boy went out thoroughly frightened at last.