Located in an old department store, the Nevermore is a haunted attraction to die for
By David A. Chiodaroli
My photographer and I arrived at our destination, a parking lot behind a block of beaten and worn rowhomes. On the outside, there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about our location, no indication of what waited for us inside the white, roughly four story tall building that overlooked the mostly vacant tarmac. I gave our guide, Joe Hudson, a call to let him know that we arrived. He asked if we were parked below the sign, which puzzled me because I hadn’t seen any sign in the vicinity. That is when I happened to look over my shoulder to see a large, ominous poster that clung to an old fire escape, showing a picture of what looked like a decomposing corpse, and the name of our destination, the Nevermore Haunt, a haunted attraction that is currently in its second season.
The owners of the Nevermore, Joe Hudson, Thomas Wingate and John Ratkoff, greet us and take us inside, to the room where guests will enter. In front of us is a model of a bloody, mutilated corpse, lying atop some barrels. From this sight, it’s apparent that this haunt is no boo barn, but a real, nightmarish journey deep into Baltimore’s dark side. As we stand there, taking in the ambiance of the place, we are given the history of the building that houses the Nevermore.
“Almost a hundred and thirty years ago,” we are told, “Isaac Benesch knocked down four rowhomes and built his grand emporium.” Known at the time as The Great House, Benesch’s four story furniture store became a major commerce hub for east Baltimore. This reputation was further cemented by Benesch’s decision to allow blacks, immigrants and other ethnic and racial minorities to both buy and work at the store. The Great House would continue to serve the area for almost seventy years before being bought by Kaufman’s in the 1960’s. But over the years, the area fell into decline, and in 1997, the store closed. For the next seventeen years, The Great House would remain vacant, until Engineered Fear Productions bought the property in 2015 and transformed it into the Nevermore.
After our introduction, our guides take us through a maze of claustrophobic rooms, pitch black hallways, and nightmarish scenes of blood and decay that delve deep into Baltimore’s past for inspiration.
“One of the things that makes us unique from other events is the entire thing is themed, around the late 1800’s early 1900’s,” one of our guides tells us, around the time Benesch opened his store. “We’ve designed some of the scenes to take into account some of the city’s history.” To give us a better sense of what to expect when guests enter the attraction, the lights are shut off, and we are forced to go through the Nevermore in almost complete darkness.
While many of the sets are still under construction and none of the actors are present, I can’t help but feel unnerved as I traverse a series of scenes that would make Edgar Allen Poe proud. Among the many handmade props that are scattered about, including an intimidating army of plaster skeletons that took almost a year to make and assemble, are a number of antiques to nail the Victorian era feel of the attraction. One such specimen, which greets us early on, is a coffin, which our guide tells us is very real, and very used.
Some of the rooms in which we are lead through test our senses and our nerves. The belly of a ship, an ode to Baltimore’s nautical heritage, leans violently on a seesaw contraption, knocking us off balance. Another makes us go through a pitch-black maze, lit only by the occasional flash of a strobe light. During operation, our guide tells us, loud thunderclaps will accompany the flashes to simulate a thunderstorm, while actors wait in the shadows, ready to attack. One of the most disturbing scenes, a favorite from last year’s event, has guests stand before a judge, who proceeds to accuse them of various crimes. The guilty are sent through the catacombs, while the innocent are made to go down a different hallway.
“We split them up,” we’re told, “so if you have a couple here who are holding hands, and one is a little more scared than the other, the judge might assign different sentences.” At this point, I can’t help but think of how my girlfriend, who frightens easily, would feel if we were in such a situation. It was at that moment that I decided then and there to never take her to the Nevermore, if I ever want her to speak to me again.
There are other scenes to explore, ones that pay homage to Baltimore’s industrial past and the great fire of 1904. However, on the bequest of the owners, who wish to keep some of the more terrifying scenes a surprise, I have decided not to go into too much detail and let readers discover them on their own. But should one visit the Nevermore, it is wise to keep in mind that the actors and props aren’t the only things to look out for in the dark and twisted halls.
“We’ve had a couple of mediums come through,” we’re told, “and they all kind of say the same thing.” If the mediums are to be believed, there are two spirits that occupy the building: a caretaker who watches over the place, and an evil entity that dwells in the basement. Right before we leave, the owners take us down into the basement storage area of the building, a damp, musty cave littered with remnants of the Great House’s past. As we walk through the dark, forgotten rooms, I can’t help but think that if any place would be home to a demonic entity, this would be it. The owners might find out for sure very shortly; on September 30th, a paranormal investigation is set to take place in the building, and will be streamed live on Facebook.
While the basement is currently off limits to the public, this may change as the attraction continues to expand. “The long-term goal is to continue reinvesting into the building, expand the events to the other floors,” we’re told. “We also hope to open this space up to other events the rest of the year.”
While these plans are still years in the making, if the guys’ vision comes true, the Nevermore has the potential to become one of the largest haunted attractions in the state. But even at this early stage in the process, the Nevermore is quite a feat to behold, and undertaking that puts other attractions of its ilk to shame, and gives thrill seeking guests an experience that will leave them quivering, traumatized and begging for more.
The Nevermore Haunt is open Fridays and Saturdays, from October 6th to November 4th, from 7:00pm to 11:00pm, and every night from October 26th to the 31st. Tickets are $25. For more information, and a more detailed history of the historic location, check out their website.
photo credit: Hailey May Chaudron