Raven’s Grin roadtrip

My friend Adie wanted to take us all to a haunted house. A haunted house that was really haunted and not just full of bad actors in masks. A haunted house that was three and a half hours away. Truth be told, anything that requires a roadtrip is immediately more exciting to me than anything that’s around the corner. So I was in.

The entire drive there to Mount Carroll, IL, felt like The Blair Witch Project set on wheels. We got lost at least four times, drove through endless stretches of pitch-black, and when we pulled over at one point, Kevin said it was so quiet he heard a bug blink. There were two cars full of friends on this trip, and Adie declared at the outset that anytime she’s been in a group that drove two cars to Raven’s Grin, only one makes it back. I was having horrible images of how she’d witnessed her friends’ murders, but she clarified that this mostly involved flat tires and getting hopelessly lost.

Still not comforting.

When we pulled up at last, the house looked lifted straight out of an illustration from a mysterious leather-bound book — covered in vines, with half-wrecked cars out front, falling down, tucked behind trees, with cats roaming around, skeletons dangling from the eaves. You know, the usual. A large group of teenagers was lined up to enter the house ahead of us, so we spent a couple hours at a bar down the street, the kind of bar that hipster dive bars attempt to emulate — tin ceiling, cheap beer, good jukebox, old men with long beards who love this song.

Around 11:30pm we headed back to the house, and our tour began by sitting in a darkened room with an extended video of a clown running around a room and laughing. When the lights went on, the proprietor of the house stood there with a flash light under his face, and the general grammar of Raven’s Grin was made clear: Haunted houses are usually goofy. Let’s make fun of how goofy they are. Let’s create a building crammed full of homemade creepfest objects that are clearly for fun. But this building is hundreds of years old — and while you’re enjoying the meta-goofy of this intricately decorated house, watch out for the parts that are really haunted.

This house tour itself was basically a maze that took us up and down several floors. And “down” = two extremely scream-inducing slides. The proprietor led the tour in Willy Wonka fashion, disappearing and reappearing through trap doors and cracking jokes even as he turned on a sink with blood as running water or lifted a lever attached to a Victorian bed that catapulted you down into the wine cellar.

I left feeling dazed and giddy, awake to the world and dead tired from the adrenaline. Both cars made it back.

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