Old World Wisconsin gives spooky haunt

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Oct. 29, 2014

By Michael Riley

Black Annis is rumored to have a blue face, black scraggly hair and sharp teeth with an appetite that would rival a tiger, said the guide to a family of four as he urged the group further down the forest’s path.

He suddenly stops, slowly turns with his voice barely above a whisper, ‘Her claws dig into your skin, rip out your heart and eat your flesh as you scream into the night.’

The family follows a sharp turn in the path as the guide shrieks in despair, ‘Black Annis is upon us, you must flee as fast as you can.’

The tale of Black Annis’ Bower – an English version of the bogeyman describes the witch with a taste for human flesh, particularly children – is one of 23 events a part of Old World Wisconsin’s Halloween Legends & Lore.  The event features staff, actors and volunteers presenting tales from immigrants brought to the United States.

Omar Sigursveinsson along with his wife, Sara and children, Tristan and Almar said they drove from their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin to experience a different kind of Halloween.

Originally from Iceland, Sigursveinsson said Black Annis’ and the other activities give his family more to think about on Halloween than just costumes and candy.

“We specialize in spooky, not scary,” said Robert Parker, assistant director of Old World Wisconsin.  “There is nobody with a chainsaw; we don’t have aliens running around. This is all old-school story telling, fairy tales and legends.”

Once Sigursveinsson’s family made it past Black Annis, they came upon a red-haired woman who was screaming in a high-pitched moan, hesitantly stepping from each onlooker making piercingly direct eye contact.

The tale of the Banshee describes the spirit of a woman who would appear in the hour of an individual’s death.

The Banshee’s cloak was torn and skin pale, but despite her best efforts, her wails only evoked laughter from the Sigursveinsson children as they ventured off to the rest of the activities.

Parker, who is fondly referred to as the ‘father’ of the event by his fellow employees, describes the nickname as a bold term but said it originates from organizing the event, coming up with the story lines and hiring the acting company, the Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre.

In its second year of production, Legends and Lore has almost doubled the amount of activities based on the turnout from last year with the fireside finale featuring The Legend of Beowulf.

“People leave with a smile on their face, not scared or frightened,” said Rich Karweik, lead train driver. “The crowds have been even bigger than last year and I hope everyone can come enjoy what we have to offer.”

Todd Richmond and his family from Sun Prairie – who attended last October – said his daughter, Grace, liked Old World’s presentation so much that she volunteered to be a soothsayer this year.

The fourth and final date begins on Oct. 31 from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. where adult tickets are $10 and children under 17-years-old are $7.

Parker said although this year’s event is not over, they are already proposing ways to make it even better. They hope to reach out to high school and college theatre program students to bolster their staff and also adjust the start and end times to accommodate for even larger crowds.

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