Not every Halloween event in Los Angeles needs to be a night-time fright-fest; some can be daylight excursions with educational value. Case in point: this past weekend, the Heritage Square Museum presented their 7th annual Halloween and Mourning Tours. Heritage Square is a small parcel of land off the Pasadena Freeway, not far south of Eagle Rock, where several Victorian buildings have been preserved. On most weekends, you can take guided tours and learn the historical details of the preserved structures. The museum takes a somewhat more somber turn for Halloween, with costumed characters providing living re-enactments of the rituals, practices, and superstitions surrounding death, dying, and Halloween during the Victorian era.
Guests wander through houses like unseen ghosts while black-clad mourners surround a coffin lying in the living room nearby mirrors are covered to prevent souls from being seen in the reflective surface. In the adjacent room, an organist nimbly fingers the keyboard, churning out a funeral dirge. A helpful woman in black displays memento mori – photographs of the departed, taken shortly before burial, as a way to preserve the memory of loved ones, especially children, who were seldom if ever photographed while alive.
Next door, fortune tellers ply their trade while down the hall a black maid takes an opportunity – when her frowning white mistress is not looking – to reveal gossipy stories about the ghosts that haunt the premises. Later, a funeral procession delivers a child-sized coffin to its final resting place, followed by a crowd of mourners filing down the unpaved avenue.
After the funeral, you wander through other houses, one containing examples of Victorian clothing. Another offers a recreation of a room prepared for a Halloween party, complete with party favors, decorations, and Jack O’Lanterns.
Most of what you see is, in a sense, a living museum display, with living people instead of mannequins; although often in character, the helpful docents answer questions about the customs on display. (For example: Why are the mirrors covered? For fear of seeing some omen of who will be next to die.) The highlight is the spirit photographers, whose too-deep expressions of sincerity, concern, and authenticity betray the con game they are perpetrating on a woman in mourning.
Halloween & Mourning: Spirit Photography
One highlights of this year’s Halloween and Mourning Tours was a display of “spirit photography” in the Perry Mansion, performed by Mario Corral, Jordan Byrne, and Donna Anderson. Although no expert on the subject, we did attend an exhibition of spirit photography a few years ago (“Immaterial World” at the Stephen Cohen Gallery), which familiarized us with the art, whose most notable aspect to the modern eye is its rather transparent fakery. At the time, we assumed that the human subjects in the photographs were in on the con game, but the mini-performance at Heritage Square presents a different spin, with a pair of self-proclaimed spirit photographers describing their work, which involves involves exploiting a grief-struck woman who has lost both her husband and her child.
The video embedded at top provides glimpse of the tour’s other Victorian Era activities but focuses mostly on the spirit photography.
Halloween & Mourning: Conclusion
Unfortunately, the Halloween and Mourning Tours operate for only one weekend, so you will have to wait until next year for your chance to experience this recreation of the somber side the Victorian Era. Meanwhile, the Heritage Square Museum will present Safe Haven Trick or Treating from 4:00pm to 7:30pm on Halloween evening (October 31). Parents are invited to bring their costumed children to the safe confines of the museum grounds, where they will receive sweet treats from costumed interpreters stationed at each building. Admission price is $5 for Adults and $2 for children 6 to 12. Children under 6 are free .
Heritage Square Museum Halloween & Mourning Tour 2010 Rating
1 – Avoid
2 – Some redeeming qualities
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Although Halloween is only a small part of what is on display, this event offers a fascinating change of pace from the usual haunted houses, hayrides, and costumes parties. As a piece of living history, and an opportunity to explore structures with a reputation for authentic haunting, it bests the tour at the Comedy Store’s new Haunted Midnights show (although that event has other virtues, the actual tour needs work).
Heritage Square Museum is located 3800 Homer Street, Los Angeles, CA 90031. Get more info at their website.