‘We very often have the best conversations of the year at Halloween. The punters always seem more open to possibilities and suggestion. They are a different bunch; I think they arrive less guarded, more on edge, more likely to take a risk. They seem so much more willing to talk and to listen to us. We open the Hall 362 other days of the year, all except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, entry fee £10.00 adults, £5.00 Children and concessions. None of those days are anything like Halloween.
Of course, not all our tour guides are happy to do that sort of tour. The fright night crowd are not always great respecters of the fabric of this historic designated building. Some of the usual guides don’t like that. Others simply disapprove of the event, for religious reasons, or because they think it’s all a bit tacky. It takes special skills to be a great Halloween guide. I like to think I am one of the best. I have been doing it for many years now. For the last few years I have been in charge of recruitment and training. I am rather proud of my current hand-picked team. They’re a good, committed and cohesive bunch.
You have to be sensitive to make Halloween work. Not everyone can sense the mood of a group, or see how to induce the heart-stopping fear they are all seeking. They come in willing droves, pay their, not at all small, sums of money and entrust themselves to us. They want us to tear their nerves to shreds. Of course, given our commitment to customer care, we do our utmost to oblige.
We divide the visitors into groups and work each group as a team . We keep them moving. We startle them often, changing direction suddenly, sometimes startlingly so, often without explanation. We stimulate their senses, with sudden light and dark, groans, moans and screams, soft-feather light strokes and cold icy hands on their skin, smells of sulphur, leather and cordite. Soon they are distracted, disorientated.
We lope alongside, taking turns to lead, to attract their attention or lure them with some yarn of headless horsemen, starving prisoners or leaping lovers. We twist them and turn them until they are lost, confused and beginning to tire.
I’m always on the look out for new recruits and I often find them on the tours. I look for the ones who really ‘get it’, who have the imagination it requires. They are often the ones who weaken first, whose energy wanes and who loses connection with the rest of the tour. I keep my eye out for these stragglers and point him or her out. One of my team separates them from the group. We take them to one side, maybe suggesting a quick way out. We might simply catch and hold the corner of their eye, or whisper behind their ear. Just enough to stop them in their tracks.
Being alone in the total dark within the circle of cold breath, and soft voices is often enough. It doesn’t take that much to stop a human heart. Just their imagination. As I often say on my training days, imagination most important ingredient of a great tour. Especially for Halloween. Of course, a deep understanding, preferably experiential, of the power of fear is invaluable too. We help with that too.
Afterwards, most of them are delighted to join us. I aim to get fresh blood for the team every few years. Continuity is so important in running a successful attraction. Maybe I’ll find someone suitable tonight. I’ll be watching closely …