Before the unassuming patrons of the Baxter Avenue Morgue, drunk on Halloween spirit, are harassed by bloodied hacksaw victims, or forced to shimmy their way through a forest of suspended body bags, they are ushered into a funeral parlour, equipped with a resplendent and very much occupied coffin. As the room fills, the lights suddenly disappear and the door shuts. But when illumination is restored, a somewhat malevolent figure emerges into the dimly lit room. Victor Vanderdark, owner of the morgue who disappeared decades ago, under mysterious circumstances welcomes the guests and lays down the rules.
â€œTonight youâ€™re going to see some things that youâ€™ve never seen before,â€ Vanderdark utters ominously, â€œand some things that youâ€™re going to spend the rest of your life trying to forget.â€
â€œWe have rules in the house,â€ he continues. â€œDo not touch anyone or indeed anything.â€ As the visitors show hesitation, Vanderdark adds a single caveat. â€œYou on the other hand may get touched, and some of you at this moment I can see are thinking, â€˜Well thatâ€™s not fair.â€™ Well, in a few moments youâ€™ll understand how unfair it can truly get.â€
In the land of the living though, Victor Vanderdark is also known as Lucian Tomes Jr., a veteran of the haunt business and the first person to greet Halloween thrill seekers visiting the famous Baxter Avenue Mortuary.
â€œIâ€™m 52 now, and I started when I was 15,â€ explains Tomes. â€œI was playing characters such as Igor and then the Wolfman. I retired from the haunt biz in the 1990s but then saw an ad for the morgue and I figured, why not, what the heck and they [the owners] said, â€˜Youâ€™re perfect.â€™
Tomes has his character down to a tee, like a true method actor in his pomp, but something he says he owes to previous creative directors at the morgue who had actually gone â€œdown to the minor details constructed what I call the bible, giving backstories to even the smaller characters that you would encounter when you take a tour of the morgue.â€
But while the mortuary might be packed every night with an abundance of living charlatan ghouls, Tomes is adamant that there are residents of Baxter Avenueâ€™s fright factory that are very much of another world.
â€œThe building is legitimately haunted,â€ explains Tomes, who recalls how on numerous occasions paranormal investigators have visited the old building and recorded the presence of the unexplained.Â â€œWe have had several paranormal investigations down here, and one of them was a former member of the FBI and you know they decreed this place was the legitimate article.â€
If that wasnâ€™t enough though, Tomes has his own encounter to re-tell, that convinced him how haunted his workplace is.
â€œIt was the year before last, two weekends before Halloween, it was a slow night and I was standing there in the hallway looking into the reception room and I saw a medium sized figure dressed in a long white shroud and long flowing hood, glide from right to left right in front of the casket. When it reached the other side, it just disappeared. I did a double take and rushed into the room. Of course there was nobody there, but I found out later that night that a few other cast members had seen the same figure that evening.â€
As for the source of these apparitions, theories abound that when the flu epidemic hit Louisville in 1914, there was not enough room in the cityâ€™s morgues, meaning that the cold storage facility at the bottom of the current building may have been used as a temporary morgue.
But until Nov. 2, when the Baxter Avenue Mortuary closes for the season, it will be Tomes and his motley crew’s job to be the ones who make people believe that theyâ€™re encountering the unexpected, the frightening and the devilish. As to why thousands line up at his house of horrors every year Tomes is adamant for the reason â€“ we just love being given a good fright.
â€œItâ€™s the same reason we love going to horror movies,â€ explains Tomes. â€œYou get to sit in the dark, in your seat while all this chaos goes on around you thinking anyone will lose their life at any given moment.Â But you know, we have just as many people leaving us laughing as they do crying, screaming and sobbing.â€
And as for the question of whether the goosebump merchant gets as much pleasure delivering the frights as he does receiving them, he takes pause.
â€œWould you think bad of me if I said yes?â€ chuckles Lucian Tomes â€“ majestic moustache bouncing. And with that he potters off into the night, waiting for a new cohort of unsuspecting thrill seekers to arrive.
Come see Lucian Tomes at the Baxter Avenue Morgue; open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Nov. 2. 451 Baxter Avenue, Louisville, Ky. www.baxtermorgue.com.
Â Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune