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Haunted tour at Maplewood House brings crowds to historic Columbia

Monday, October 31, 2011 | 9:35 p.m. CDT; updated 3:09 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, November 1, 2011
From left, Archer O'Brien, 9, Isabella Moser, 7, and Madeline Moser, 8, rush out of a room at the Maplewood House on Monday. As visitors went through the historic home, they met with actors dressed as ghosts and undead members of local history.

COLUMBIA — Outside the Maplewood House, a costumed band of children are eager to begin their tour. 

There are witches, a mummy and a skeleton monster, among others. They run around the grass in giant circles, fueled by candy from a bag on the admission table. Many laugh, hang on their parents' arms and ask when they can go inside.

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The tour guides come out of the home — two young women with flashlights — and the group is on its way. After a brief history of the surrounding grounds, the group is taken inside and into the "dark parlor," named for the heavy window curtains that were common in the 1870s, when the house was built.

All the while, the children glance around and giggle.

Suddenly, the lights go out, and the giggles immediately turn to whispers and whimpers.

The first Haunted Maplewood House tour uses Halloween as a way to tell the story of Maplewood House's history. Actors from the Maplewood Barn Theatre are dressed up as historical characters for the event, put together by the theater and the Boone County Historical Society.

"A haunted house seemed like a natural thing to do," said Jenifer Flink, executive director of the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum. "It's an old Victorian house with lots of history."

On Monday night, the home is lit up with stage lights. The windows show a red and green tint, and behind the house a makeshift graveyard glows blue. 

Lights cast similar, eerie shadows in the old home's rooms. 

In the living room, two brothers tell the story of how "Brother William" was killed and left in an icebox for months. Upstairs in Frank Nifong's office, a doctor stands in front of a body, draped in a white sheet, that lies across a table.

This, the doctor says, is Martha Bass. Suddenly she rises up, thrusts out her arms and reaches for the tour group. 

Not all of the house is filled with dark, spooky stories. In one room, the lights glow with a warm golden color, and a seamstress for the family offers children a stamp on their hand. 

The group then finds the house's front door won't open, so they head for the back entrance. That takes them to the dining room, where actors sit at a table and summon the spirit of Martha Bass. The tour ends by running out the side door and back onto the Maplewood House's grounds. 

Outside and safely at her mother’s vehicle, 9-year-old Archer O’Brien, dressed as Misty from Pokémon, scoffs that the house wasn't that scary. 

"Who gets scared at someone who dressed up in makeup?" she asked. "If they made the zombies come out of the house it would have been scarier."

Archer's 5-year-old sister, Killian O'Brien, doesn't agree. 

"My favorite part was the zombies staying inside," she said. Killian is dressed as Dawn, also from Pokémon.

By the time that the O'Brien girls are in their car, the tour guides have already moved on to the next group.

Flink notes that this group is older than the group that just left. 

"They'll ramp up the effects inside," she said. "The tour can modify the scary factor depending on the age of the group."

For a moment, Flink thinks back to when she was little.

"Can you remember being that little and coming to one of these," she said. "No matter how hard your brain said, no, that can't be real, tears still came to your eyes."


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