The awesomeness that is Asylum 49 — Halloween 2017
My team and I are home from our third Halloween spent investigating the former Tooele Valley Hospital, now a full-contact haunted house attraction known as Asylum 49.
Three years ago, when I was researching my book The World’s Most Haunted Hospitals, I drove out from Colorado with two fellow investigators to spend a Saturday night inside the building. Our hosts, Dusty, Kimm and Cami, were gracious enough to give us a guided tour, tell us about the haunted history, and then lock us down for the night. What we found was…nothing. In fact, we fell asleep while sitting around the table in what was once the hospital’s boardroom but is now the creepiest-looking chapel you ever saw (see below).
It was only afterward that Cami explained to us that we had visited off-season, when the paranormal activity was at its lowest ebb. “You guys should come back at Halloween,” she said, “because that’s when things get crazy around here.”
That was great advice. Six months later I went back to Asylum 49 with a full team of investigators, plus some fellow paramedics and nurses. This time we were back for a week, and experienced a lot of inexplicable activity — enough to fill an entire book, in fact (The Haunting of Asylum 49). Halloween of 2016 was every bit as awesome. The only place we couldn’t go was into the nursing home which directly abutted the hospital building, but that changed in March of 2017 when the nursing home residents moved out and the owners of Asylum 49 took over the entire structure. We were privileged to be the first team allowed to investigate the nursing home, and yet again we got some great evidence.
This Halloween some of us moved into the former nursing home, living and sleeping in what were said to be some of the more haunted rooms for five days and nights. Once again, the paranormal activity did not disappoint, and once the evidence review is done, Cami and I will have some great chapters for the forthcoming Asylum 49: Beyond the Green Mile. Following a distinct burning sensation, three of our investigators — all of them female — received unexplained scratches on their bodies while conducting EVP sessions.
A fruitful investigation is always a wonderful thing, and I’m really looking forward to writing it up. But for me, the single best thing about returning to Asylum 49 is getting to spend time with the wonderful people who inhabit the place all year round. Putting on a full-contact haunt is a lot harder than it looks. It requires a diverse cast of characters, the ghouls and creatures that actually terrorize the customers; but there is also a huge logistic tail behind them, without which the monsters of Asylum 49 could never be brought to life.
I am going to need to ask for their forgiveness because inevitably I’ll forget someone crucial, so I apologize in advance, but just to give you an idea…
The make-up team goes through gallons of blood, latex, and prosthetics, turning some of Utah’s nicest people into creatures that have walked straight out of your nightmares. The costume department makes sure that they are appropriately attired, fitting them out with scrubs, gowns, nursing unifoms, or whatever clothing each character needs. People prepare food in order to keep them stay fed (working a haunt is hard work) and security guards are ever-present to help keep them safe: there can be a high propensity for drunken assholery on the part of some customers, and safety is everybody’s top priority. The only physical contact should involve the cast members touching customers — unless it happens to be ‘no contact’ night, better known as Wimpy Wednesday — and all visitors acknowledge that fact in a signed waiver. Yet every so often comes the inevitable douchebag who thinks that they are above the rules, and tries to get grabby with one of the actors. Thanks to an all-seeing CCTV system and radio network, Asylum 49’s security staff can nip completely unacceptable shit like this in the bud by evicting the miscreants without appeal. The security folks are very professional, but they have a very low tolerance for those who would abuse other members of the Asylum 49 family.
And it absolutely is a family. The single most impressive thing I see each time I visit is the way that the cast and crew pull together and take care of one another. From the youngest (we’re talking single digits) to the oldest, everybody works as a team to make the magic happen. A lot of hard work goes into each performance; the actors audition and then attend what is called ‘Boo School,’ making sure that everybody is on the same page before the haunt opens for the season. From what I gather, this is a lot like serving an apprenticeship — nobody just walks into Asylum 49 and gets to play. Having a place there is a privilege that must be earned, as does the respect that goes along with it.
Speaking of respect, I saw a great deal of it among the cast and crew. While there’s plenty of the usual good-natured bitching that you can find everywhere these days, it was very plain to see that these guys have a great deal of mutual respect and affection for one another. Every family has its drama and bickering, but it was far outweighed by the positivity I saw among the ranks. These guys are a band of brothers and sisters. They all seem very aware that they are a part of something truly unique and special, and most have a true appreciation for their place in it. How ironic that one of the warmest, most caring and safe places I have ever been to has blood-splattered walls and monsters lurking around every corner.
On the Saturday before Halloween, my team and I went to visit another haunt in Salt Lake City. Fear Factory is huge, very professionally done, and we all had a great time there. Virtual reality rooms and rope slides made for a slick and flashy experience, yet I couldn’t help think that the sheer heart and soul of Asylum 49 was missing. I mean no disrespect toward the place, and I have to acknowledge that I wasn’t privy to events behind the scenes, but the cameraderie and mutual affection of the Asylum 49 cast, plus its security staff, makeup artists, management team, photographer, gift shop staff, wardrobe department, runners, and anybody else I’ve neglected to mention, set the haunted old hospital far apart and in a league all of its own.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to be part of their family, even though I am just a peripheral part — I’m like that weird relative from out of state who only drops in for the holidays — and I feel indescribably fortunate to have been accepted into their ranks.
The people of Asylum 49 are some of the finest I have ever met. If you ever find yourself within driving distance of Tooele, you should go and see for yourself. (I recommend wearing something you don’t mind getting stained red, though)
How many days until Halloween…?
Some photos credited to the awesome Daniel Pacheco!
Posted on: November 5, 2017Richard Estep