LAS VEGAS — Unbeknownst to many Las Vegas visitors, a few miles off the Las Vegas strip sits a haunted and historical artifact museum run by Zak Bagans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. The mansion housing the museum has supposedly been haunted for years. It was built in 1938 and owned by businessman Cyril S. Wengert, and rumor has it, dark rituals took place in the basement in the 1970s. According to the tour guide stationed outside the front door, the mansion at one point was turned into a law firm, where strange occurrences continued before the place was purchased by Bagans and converted into Zak Bagans’ The Haunted Museum. The guide, after we signed a waiver, warned us of the dangers that awaited inside, with guests reporting oddity after oddity. One guest, he claimed, looked into Bela Lugosi’s haunted mirror, housed inside the museum behind a black curtain, and his eyes began to bleed. At that point, the museum guides allegedly began to light sage. Upon hearing this, I turned to my friends and told them that if my eyes began to bleed, I’d like them to call a doctor before pulling out the sage.
As a whole, the museum is simply one gimmick after another. The journey begins by waiting roughly 45 minutes in line outside, as an employee named “Angry Joe” makes small talk with some of the guests. He’s wearing a top hat, and eerie music plays, making me feel a little bit like I was standing in line for The Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World.
Once the tour starts, the Disney-esque feel of the place doesn’t go away. In the first room, Zak Bagans has set up an animatronic version of himself housed behind a glass case, like the “Zoltar” machines found in many arcades along many boardwalks. Once turned on, the animatronic Bagans’s eyes light up green, and his voice rings out, telling us of the adventure that awaits. The guide that brought us into the room then explains that this is a serious museum, with seriously dangerous spirits and demons inside, and if we wish to opt out of any of the rooms, we can. Thus begins the 33-room adventure.
The gimmicks don’t stop there though. Zak Bagans, it seems, has employed a number of little people throughout the museum, some in masks, and some dressed as clowns, even creating a miniature-sized door for one of them to pop in and out of. The whole thing felt uncomfortable and offensive in many ways — like a callback to the classic “freak show,” in which people’s disabilities are put on display in a kitschy manner for the amusement of visitors.
Every few rooms had a different guide, and for some of the rooms — those deemed the most dangerous — the guides would ask visitors if they’d like to opt out. One such room houses Peggy the doll, who is supposedly possessed by an evil, demonic spirit. Peggy is encased in a glass box, with a speaker in front of it. The guide would ask Peggy some innocuous questions, and a few muffled sounds came out of the speaker. According to the museum guides, looking into Peggy’s eyes could cause you to have a heart attack, as has happened on at least one occasion. Of course, they didn’t consider the multitude of other possibilities that could have led to the heart attack — cardiac arrhythmia, high blood pressure, stress. Peggy, perhaps, had nothing to do with it.
Truly though, the most disturbing aspect of the tour was the Celebrity Deaths room. Bagans, as he claims, has collected a number of artifacts from dead celebrities, such as the chair Michael Jackson died in, along with an old passport belonging to Patrick Swayze. Also in that room was a Polaroid picture acquired from one of the police officers who was present at the site of actor Chris Farley’s death. Farley died of a cocaine and morphine overdose, and the photograph, in extremely poor taste, features his dead body. The image was sickening, shocking, and horrifying, which I’m sure was exactly the effect Bagans was going for. But it also shows an utter lack of respect and empathy for the actor, who surely did not want his dead body on display for visitors in a gimmicky haunted artifact museum. All in all, I was completely disgusted by Bagans’s tactless choice to include the image.
Before visiting the museum, I had no idea who Zak Bagans was, and the friend who brought me mentioned that he sometimes popped in to give a tour. Upon arriving, a museum guide said he likely wouldn’t be there that day, but to our surprise, in the second to last room before the end, Bagans stood before us in a pair of thick-framed Ray Ban eyeglasses and a black, velvet, flat-brimmed baseball cap. My friend had shown me his photo before our visit, and if not for the signature glasses and flat-brimmed cap, I would not have recognized him. Oddly enough, Bagans-as-guide was the most lackluster part of the tour. He detailed the history of the haunted artifacts quickly in an almost monotone voice, at one point forgetting the word “cremated” and asking, “What’s it called — incinerating the body?” My friend then had to correct him with the proper terminology. He left quickly, and a few minutes later, while exploring the gift shop, we could hear the loud rev of an engine outside, and someone in our tour group later said, “You just missed Zak leaving in his Lamborghini.” I wonder if Bagans himself felt the presence of the supernatural that day — which he claims resides within the rooms we’d just ventured through — because he fled the site as though making an escape, leaving groups of tourists perplexed and, in my case, dissatisfied.