Behind the Scenes of ‘Haunted Arcadia’

by Mitchell Boulden Peiffer on November 2, 2017

It’s nearly 12:30 a.m. and more than 50 people dressed in togas are resting on the steps of the grand hall in Grey Towers Castle at the end of a long Saturday. The president of the Society for Castle Restoration calls for attention and makes the announcement everyone has been waiting for: “We raised $710.27 this year!” The mood turns instantly celebratory as the group breaks into cheers and applause. The annual Haunted Castle wasn’t just one of the most fun nights of our lives, but it was another successful fundraiser for this coveted Arcadia landmark. And Halloween was its night to shine— and fright.

Haunted Castle is my favorite event of the year, and I can’t wait to see it from an alumnus’ perspective. We have built an active alumni network over the past 25 years and I'm excited to join it.

- Mitchell Peiffer

Planning for this mammoth event starts at the first club meeting of the fall semester, where we acquaint the first-years with the castle and brainstorm the year’s theme. At the beginning of the third meeting, we take a final vote to choose the theme— this year’s was Greek Mythology.  “You’re grounded, go to your rooms!” (a running joke) is always the order as club members divide up and pick rooms, where each group will work on their part of the show. Throughout October, scripts and costumes get more and more concrete, and we get more and more excited. On “Make Day,” usually the Saturday before Halloween, we craft props for each room.

We arrive at 10 a.m. on the day of the Haunted Castle. Being in one building with the same group of people for 16 hours isn’t as horrible as it sounds though! Each room starts lazily at first, then the excitement picks up as we get busy making whatever props weren’t assembled on Make Day and setting up decorations for the show. A stressed-out room member sits among a pile of scissors and fabric around 5 p.m.; one room has moved onto the lawn with a can of spray paint to finish a makeshift wood-and-cardboard structure; other rooms are frantically seeking out tour guides so they can run their lines and get everyone positioned. Alumni wander around, helping out here and there where they can. “This is why we start at 10 a.m.!” quips an SCR board member.

We take turns donning our costumes and applying our makeup, and board members organize a group of fully costumed actors to go into Glenside and Keswick and advertise for the event. Doors open at 7 p.m., but community members start lining up at 6:30. We can’t help but get excited as we peek out the windows at the crowd. The front table is set up. Complimentary (non-alcoholic) drink mixes are offered to everyone in line. The first tour of the Castle heads off.

You can practice as much as you want, but the first tour is always clunky. I robotically read my lines as they were written on the script, but I messed up a little in the last room of the Castle. I don’t think any of the guests noticed. My non-verbal acting gets refined throughout the night.

We continue leading tours for almost another three hours. It sounds tiring, and it is, but by the end of the night, I eagerly volunteered to take the final small group, four SCR alumni, through the castle. My favorite tour groups are always the alumni. As the tour ends, rather than leaving the castle, the alums join the last room in clapping and cheering.

Check out this 360° video of our practice.

It takes over an hour to take the Haunted Castle props down, clean up our mess, move things to storage, and double-check that the furniture is in the same place we found it. But I'm sad to see it end. With a mix of giddiness and exhaustion at the end of the night, we all crawl home to our beds.

Haunted Castle is my favorite event of the year, and I can’t wait to come back next year and see it from an alumnus’ perspective. We have built an active alumni network over the past 25 years (2019 is the club's silver anniversary!) and I’m excited to join it.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned our fundraising totals. You may be wondering what we do with all that. Well, we restore the Castle! In 2016, we used our funds to get cushions below the windows in the Mirror and Rose rooms. The year before that, the president of the board at the time organized the installation of a clean-and-polished historical landmark plaque, the unveiling of which was a big event. I'm proud I can put “Society for Castle Restoration Vice President” on my resume, but more satisfying than that is looking back on all the improvements we’ve made and the fun times I’ve had with SCR.