It was a beautiful afternoon at St. Anthony Main. As the sun, and it’s partial eclipse, were disappearing behind the downtown Minneapolis skyline, I stood in the park and looked out over the river, the last gasps of the fall foliage bathing the sunset in oranges and yellows. Joggers were out enjoying the balmy temperatures of late October and as I strolled along the path, mist from St. Anthony Falls drifted into the air. I was waiting, however, to delve deeper into the dark heart of the neighborhood. St. Anthony is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Minneapolis, particularly along Main Street where some of the cities oldest buildings still cling onto life. The history of the state and the city is more evident here, I think, than almost anywhere else in Minneapolis. Here, by the banks of the Mississippi, logging mills, flour mills, shops, and hotels flourished in the nineteenth century.
One of the historic buildings that has survived the century is the former National Purity Soap Company factory, which has come to be known as the Soap Factory, one of the most interesting art venues and galleries in the Twin Cities, hosting a variety of intriguing and thought provoking art installations from artists local and elsewhere in North America and the world. However, for the past eight years, the organizers of the Soap Factory have put their venue’s creepy, 130-year old basement and considerable artistic talents together to make what is, reputedly, the most frightening “haunted” houses in the state, if not the country. I’ve been to the one out in Shakopee, in the same old quarries where the Renaissance Festival is, a few years ago, but this seems far weirder and far more harrowing. For almost as long as the Haunted Basement has been touted, I’ve been wanting to go in, but something always seems to get in the way; not least, my own nervousness, of course. Ever since childhood, I’ve been, well, a bit of a scaredy-cat. My sister used to torment me in the video stores by tossing me a few choice titles from the horror section; even the slightest bit of comedic blood would be enough to upset me for days.
I’ve gotten better over the last few years. Now I can even watch horror movies without getting up during the scary parts, even, so I deemed it was time to truly challenge myself by exploring the Haunted Basement. This year was the year! I gathered together a few friends who shared the desire to experience fear. We met up at the factory as the sun set and autumn night fell, and lined up to sign the waivers (wait, waivers? yep). The Soap Factory still maintained its industrial past in every stark brick wall and wooden rafter unchanged since all the soap manufacturing machinery was removed. Even without the actors and decor, this is an atmospheric place for creepy events to ensue. We were handed our creepy, face melting masks and waited to see what would happen. One of our group had even been before, and she told stories that began to unnerve me. I scrutinized the chalkboard marking the number of people who had cried out “uncle!” thus signaling that they were too terrified to continue; 48 so far this year! Still, too late to turn back now. Every year, the artists at the Soap Factory choose a different, fresh theme in which to terrify and traumatize the visitors to the event in a completely new and unexpected way. This year, the theme was Unhinged, and I feel that it was, in particular, a great one to start with.
So what was it like, once we were escorted by sinister robed figures down stairs into the dark basement, our little groups separated, our hands grabbed by creepy ghostly people who dragged us deep into some creepy tableau or other and left us there with a handful of other masked, confused, visitors? I’ll say no more, except to say that, this year, it is up to the individual to find their own through the nightmarish chaos of the basement. The actors were experts at projecting menace, and the details were masterfully creepy. That’s all I’ll volunteer, for the adventure must be experienced first hand, and no surprises shall be ruined. Suffice to say, it was harrowing in the beginning, but quickly evolved to delicious, shivery fun. I could not help but cackle with dark joy as various strange situations occurred around me, along with the smells, the sounds. It all came together into one happily frightening whole; to me, the very epitome of a well conceived Halloween event and I will make it a tradition for years to come.
There are still a few tickets left for this Sunday, so grab ‘em while you can and in the meantime, see you next year! At $25 each, it’s an event cheap at any price (though they do offer special $10 “fraidy cat” specials on some days as well).
After the heart pounding adventure, we were all a bit famished, so we walked down 2nd Street SE into Northeast Minneapolis for some beer and brats at the New Bohemia: Wurst+Bierhaus, a nice, casual place for some comfort food; offering a variety of “meat in tube form” as Anthony Bourdain puts it, including some vegan brats for those less inclined to meat, New Bohemia also boasts a nice beer list. It was one of my friends birthday, so we celebrated on the patio, cooled by cool fall breezes, with a Boot of local craft brew, the aromatic, tasy “Shere Khan” from 612Brew. I had a roast duck brat with cilantro, while the birthday guy went a bit more adventurous with a rattlesnake rabbit jalapeno dog, pronouncing it delicious. Truly a great end to a great adventure.
Soap Factory Haunted Basement, 514 2nd St. SE, Minneapolis
New Bohemia Wurst+BierHaus, 233 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis