September 13, 2017 - 11:02 am
Here, at no cost to you, are three unofficial tips for visiting Zak Bagans’ soon-to-open Haunted Museum on Charleston Boulevard.
Respect the artifacts. Respect the spirits. And if Bagans should ask you to open a door, think twice.
The first two tips deal with the artifacts, curios and curiosities from Bagans’ extensive collection that are housed at the museum. Many of them, Bagans says, carry mystical energy — they are, for lack of a better word, haunted — and the spiritual entities with which they’re associated may react when people view them.
And that last tip? That’s more about Bagans’ delight at sharing his collection with guests and watching what the more skittish of them will do when confronted with, say, a retro clown mannequin that suddenly appears out of nowhere.
Bagans hosts the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” series, in which he and his team investigate the paranormal. For the past several years, he’s been working on his latest project: The Haunted Museum, opening Oct. 2, where aficionados of the otherwordly can see his extensive collection of bizarre, macabre and haunted objects.
Bagans, 40, moved to Las Vegas in 1995 from Detroit, where he went to film school. But, ever since he was a kid, he’s been collecting curios and antiques with haunted provenances, figuring that while he couldn’t travel back in history to learn their stories, he could at least “communicate with spirits … and own their possessions.”
Think, Bagans explains, of objects — dolls, books, utensils, just about anything — as sponges that can soak up the energy and emotions of people around them. “Those emotions are absorbed into these objects, and sometimes a spirit will attach itself to those objects,” he says.
Museum visitors will explore his collection via hour-long guided tours. Bagans doesn’t guarantee that people will have spiritual encounters, but says people who’ve been inside have reported everything from hearing strange voices and seeing apparitions to experiencing physical reactions including temporary paralysis of an arm and scratch marks on the skin.
“The whole experience for people to come in here, it’s about mystery, it’s about the thrill of wondering whether or not you’re going to have an experience with something supernatural,” he says.
Bagans has amassed his collection over decades through auctions, tips from fans of the show, and potential sellers who know what he likes.
The mansion brings its own supernatural history to the party. The 11,000-square-foot, 30-room building was constructed in 1938 and originally owned by area banker and businessman Cyril Wengert. Supernatural experiences have been associated with the property, and Bagans has interviewed a local woman who recalls breaking into the unoccupied house as a teenager and finding evidence of dark rituals in the basement.
“The really weird thing is, I had been looking for a historic haunted place in Las Vegas for eight years, and never had luck of finding something,” Bagans says. He bought the mansion in 2015 and has converted its rooms into exhibit spaces — or, as he puts it, “habitats” — for his treasures.
For example, a saloon vibe accentuates a room that holds both Wyatt Earp’s Bible and a rocking chair reserved for the Old West icon if he should happen to stop by.
“You have to let him know he can come and sit in his rocking chair,” Bagans says. “You have to let him know ‘This is home, you can come here.’ So whether or not you believe his spirit is here, I don’t care, because I do.”
There’s a funeral parlor room with hand-painted stained glass windows from the 1800s, and a puppet theater room populated with creepy dolls that sure seem haunted even if they aren’t. Bagans is particularly fond of macabre dolls, and another room holds an extreme example of the genre: “Peggy,” which, he says, has caused heart attacks among some who have looked upon her.
“Some of these objects are cursed,” Bagans says. “There have been people who have had serious physicalinteractions with spirits.”
During the Haunted Museum’s construction, two workers who were painting a room “ran down the hallway and out back into the parking lot and quit,” Bagans says, while other workers reported feeling like their “life was being sucked out, and their demeanor and personality began changing.”
At the same time, Bagans adds, “this experience is not about forcing you to see a ghost or faking anything. This is about whether or not the spirits that are here, the energies that are here, want to make contact with you.”
Among the items on display are paintings done by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, artifacts once owned by Charles Manson and Richard Ramirez, and a cauldron and items owned by notorious murderer Ed Gein, the inspiration for such fictional works as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”
But even skeptics will be fascinated by Bagans’ less threatening but seriously cool collectibles — for example, a detailed miniature layout of a circus from 1945 with figures that move, spin and light up. Bagans himself, in the guise of a carnival fortune-telling machine, welcomes visitors in a circusy vein, describing the museum as “a hostel for the afterlife” that features “my collection of curiosities and mystical artifacts that were so attached to the living, they still claim ownership of them in death.”
Visitors must sign waivers before touring the museum, and before leading visitors into a room containing the Dybbuk Box, which is said to hold a malevolent spirit, Bagans asks for additional verbal assent that they understand the unpredictable risks.
“Every room has its own vibe, its own atmosphere,” he says. “Some rooms you feel comfortable in. Other rooms you’re terrified.”
He hopes the museum experience will prompt visitors to ask questions about what they believe, and says the collection’s own history indicates that at least some guests will discover a sixth sense within themselves.
And, of course, Bagans hopes guests simply enjoy their otherworldly experience. He laughs.
“It’s kind of like a sick, twisted, ‘It’s a Small World’ at Disneyland,” he jokes.
Contact John Przybys at reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.