We’ve seen every conceivable kind of setting put to good use in horror movies. Friday the 13th ruined summer camps forever, The Shining and Psycho don’t make good cases for ever setting foot in a hotel, and if it weren’t for The Return of the Living Dead or Pet Semetary most of us would have no reason to be unsettled by cemeteries. Boats are no exception — Jaws, Lake Placid, and Down Periscope all make their viewers never want to leave land again. (If you haven’t seen it yet, then whatever you do, do not watch the opening of Ghost Ship on YouTube. It’s this one scene with a full dance floor and a taught wire and…yeesh, it’s just the worst. Don’t look it up right now, on your phone.)
There’s something innately claustrophobic about boats, and that you can’t run away from them makes them especially creepy. That’s why the SS William A. Irvin in Duluth is such a perfect place for a haunted attraction — which it is throughout October. The annual crowd-pleaser is presented by the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, and it raises money for the ship’s maintenance and the museum it serves as during the summer. Many local high school students join in, as they’re more than happy to help out the community when doing so means getting to wear corpse paint.
“We do a different theme every year,” said Alexis Archambeau of the DECC. “In 2017 we did ‘Nightmare on Harbor Drive,’ which was themed after people’s phobias: clowns, zombies, insects, snakes, and dark forests. In 2016 we did ‘What the Government Won’t Tell You,’ with UFOs, Bigfoot, and people dressed as both Hillary and Trump. That way we got to scare visitors regardless of their political leanings. This year we’re putting on ‘Terror in the Twin Ports.’ I’m not allowed to go into detail on it, because we want people to be surprised when they come.
“Every night we keep a tally on how many people have to be escorted away before they can finish the walkthrough. On a busy night, five is normal. If we counted how many people were too scared to even walk through the door, that number would be much higher. They get even more panicked when they find out we don’t give refunds!”
I went to the Duluth Haunted Ship in 2014 when the theme was “Zombie Outbreak” — a classic. Faux biometric scanners scanned me at the door, and, being biometrically perfect in every way, faux or otherwise, I was let in. I was floored by the sheer magnitude of pageantry that awaited me inside. Ship workers bloodied from head to toe crept up behind me with the skills of ninjas to launch my head into the ceiling, and every twist and turn gave way to a brilliant set piece. Although it was a zombie outbreak through and through, the Duluth Haunted Ship lets their actors take certain liberties with the yearly theme so they can really let their creativity shine. A lot of characters from popular culture resided inside the haunted ship, including Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Beetlejuice, Pighead from the Saw franchise, and the bandaged nurses from Silent Hill. Donald Trump was not yet politically relevant and so he was absent.
Even if the Duluth Haunted Ship wasn’t squarely in the middle of the tourist section of one of Minnesota’s most delightful cities, it would be well worth the drive there. If you go, bring some canned goods for the CHUM Food Shelf, as each one will shave $2 off of your ticket price. You can learn more about the spooky ship and see this year’s schedule at duluthhauntedship.com.
By David Scheller