COLUMN: Twenty eight years of scares


Participants of the 28th Annual Legends of the Dark watch scare actors talk about the many legends on CMU's campus, Friday, Oct. 28, on CMU's campus. (CM-Life | Nico Mendoza)

Halloween is a time for scares, and what better way to get scared than to attend a haunted tour?

I was thrilled to learn we had a haunted tour on campus called "Legends of the Dark," which took place on Oct. 27. It was a brief, 40-minute walking tour telling ghost stories, both real and fake, with scare actors and narrators to enhance the experience. 

The event was something I found myself enjoying the longer it went on.

So, here is my official review of the 2023 Legends of the Dark campus tour.

Storytelling: 5 Stars ★★★★★

The storytelling had to be one of my favorite parts of the tour. From the first chilling tale of a pianist falling out her window near Fabiano Garden to the final tale of a custodian who was killed by a dumbwaiter in Warriner Hall, I was fascinated. 

Some stories I was told were made up for the event, while others were occurrences that really happened, such as the story in Warriner Hall. At some points it was truly hard for me to differentiate whether they were real or fake.

The narrators themselves were also great at their jobs, projecting their voices and enunciating at the right parts. They added a layer to the stories with their costumes, entrances and exits. They made it easy for you to follow along and keep your attention. 

I enjoyed the stories, no matter how dark the subject matter was. Giving the storytelling a high rating was a no-brainer for me

Acting: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

As told to me by one of the staff members,  there were around 60 student volunteers working for "Legends of the Dark." At least 50 of those volunteers were actors, and they did an amazing job.

The actors on this tour truly embodied the eerie energy, especially those playing the ghosts in the stories. You could tell they had gotten familiar with their stories and had practiced their movements many times over. A great example of this was the story of a couple that were suppose to meet at the CMU campus seal and both got strangled to death. 

The only reason I gave the acting four stars is that there were a few occasions in which the actors broke character on purpose, whether to get a laugh out of the audience or out of awkwardness. This personally ruined the immersion for me in those moments, but the other aspects of the acting make up for this. 

Scares: 2 Stars ★★☆☆☆

I went into the tour expecting there to be some interesting scares, but I personally did not get a lot out of it. 

I do not scare very easily, especially from jumpscares; however, the tour did not consist of many jumpscares. Most of the scares were based on the actors screaming, either perfectly in time with the stories being told or screaming at passerbys to make them jump. I personally found this to be repetitive though, and it got stale when you could hear the screams from other parts of campus for the other tours going on. 

I did, however, appreciate some of the more omnious aspects where actors would linger up close or far away. Some great examples of this include the "cultists" at Warriner Pit who walked right up to me and stared, unblinking through their masks. Or the actress playing Ashley's ghost, a girl who had died due to hazing in Sloan Hall, circling a lamppost a few yards away from the tour groups, watching and slowly waving. While not a "scare" in nature, I did like the tension created in these moments

I would not learn until later that the tour was made for all audiences, including children in some of the tour groups, such as my own. This likely explains why the scare factor wasn't as high. That, or my expectations were just too high, and I'm willing to admit that.

Atmosphere: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

In my opinion, the timing and the locations for this tour were just right. I went to the 7:20 p.m. tour, so there was still a bit of light in the sky at the start. As we walked the night grew darker, truly adding to the ambience of it all.

There were times we avoided the well-lit sidewalk, instead cutting through the grass and getting very close to the scare actors waiting there. Other times we were directly under streetlights, yet the actors for the stories were hiding behind bushes or in the darkness. 

The locations themselves helped add to the stories and atmosphere as well. The story of Emily the pianist was told in a small circular side garden sandwiched in between buildings, where scare actors would slip in and out when no one was looking. The last story led us to someone dressed in a black cloak and holding a cane. They resembled an eerie scare actor we had seen previously and put us on edge until we learned they were actually a narrator.

The tour guides, actors and narrators did an incredible job with the ambience and keeping that momentum going as we moved among the darker and lighter areas of the campus.

Staff Interactions: 5 stars ★★★★★

While the tour itself was the main attraction, I couldn't help but be impressed with the staff handling the event from the outside.

Upon arrival I was greeted by Jacey Hutchins, a junior at Central Michigan University who planned the majority of the event. She was checking students in using their global IDs or QR codes they had, and gave out glow stick bracelets for participants to wear. This was her first time working the event, and while it was for her job at Student Activities and Involvement (SAI) she said it was a great experience.

"Seeing the different students' skills with makeup and acting abilities is amazing," Hutchins said. "The student volunteers are what really make the event. We couldn't do it without them."

Additionally, upon my exit I spoke with Elle Hacker, a junior who was in charge of concessions and directing students toward the tour exit. She helped students select what kinds of donuts they wanted and showed them the jugs of hot apple cider they could get drinks from.

Hacker said this was her first year working the event, and while she had been a scare actor at other events prior to CMU she liked seeing it from this perspective, too.

"I think it's super nice," she said. "There's still a scare aspect, but it's appropriate for all ages."

My interactions with the staff were nothing but pleasant, and you could tell they were truly passionate about the event they helped create.

Overall Experience: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed "Legends of the Dark." You could tell there was a lot of labor and love put into the event, especially to make it run smoothly and be the best experience it could be. Walking around in the dark, with the occasional ominous actor hiding around corners and getting to hear chilling tales of truth and fiction was very exciting to me, even if the scares themselves didn't get me. 

All in all, it's an event I recommend everyone participates in during the spooky season if they have the chance.