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Zak Bagans in The Haunted Museum (all images courtesy Zak Bagans’ The Haunted Museum except where otherwise noted)

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.

The Haunted Museum entrance

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.

Puppet room

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.

Funeral room, with miniature door in the corner

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.

Gargoyle entrance

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.

Zak Bagans (image via Wikimedia Commons)

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.

The Haunted Museum, West side

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.

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Deena ElGenaidi

Deena ElGenaidi is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University-Camden in 2016, and her work has appeared in Longreads, Electric Literature,...

11 replies on “The Trickery and Silly Kitsch of a Supposedly Haunted Museum in Las Vegas”

  1. It’s a Vegas tourist trap having a marginal relationship to art.

    You were expecting the Louvre?

    I was expecting a better article.

    Guess we’re both disappointed.

      1. Some articles on this website are informative and insightful.

        This was not one of them.

        The only saving grace was that, if I am ever in the vicinity of this museum, I will take the tour, because by curiosity has been piqued by the author’s visceral negative reaction.

        Since this museum is not an art museum, I’m not sure why this article was published here, except to express the offense of the author.

        If you feel that is not a constructive comment, there’s nothing I can add.

        1. Now this is constructive, thanks. We write about museums of all sorts and types. We engage with the culture of museums, not just the fine art ones, since they are only a fraction of most museums in the country. We are proud to review them in a serious (and sometimes playful) way since we love all types but some fall short. I’m fine with you disagreeing but your constructive comments suggested to me you were open to listening.

          1. Perhaps the author intended a more playful tone than I perceived.

            thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify my position.

  2. I agree 100%. I had the exact same reaction to the Chris Farley image and tried to reach out to them to remove it…. no response-

  3. Next you should do a review of Ripley’s Believe it or Not in Times Square. I hear they also claim that ghosts are real and similarly trick unsuspecting people into attending what otherwise would appear to be a serious cultural institution.

  4. Interview after interview, those “poor Freaks” involved in “Freak Shows” expressed their ire at the social warriors who through their zeal to protect them, in fact took away their sole means to make a very good living; where otherwise they would be shunned by society. It’s also obvious the author is not a believer in the paranormal, on the vast weight of because “mommy told me there were no such things as ghosts”… well, over the last decade, for those paying attention, a virtual library of paranormal evidence has proven otherwise and a growing segment of the population approaching 50% now believes otherwise; but thankfully we have you and your 20, 30, 40 years of life experience, and your army of academics everywhere, to tell us that civilizations all over the world past and present, have all gotten it wrong. You might want to look outside your box my friend… as the only constant thing about Science is… it’s constantly rewritten.

  5. Thank you for writing this piece on Zac Bagans’ “Haunted Museum.” Now, I have to hand it to Mr. Bagans, for he knows how to use his celebrity status + human psychology! For anyone that has been to a ‘haunted house’ around Halloween (I mean the ones that are built for scares, not something like the Whaley House), this place is the same thing (including making people sign a waiver before entering). Are there some interesting artifacts inside? Yes. Having original works from serial killers, interesting but highly distasteful in that none of the proceeds of the “museum” go towards funds for their victims. And before anyone poo-poos that; it is not legal for the killers themselves to make money off their arts due to it going to them and not the victims.

    The freak show is an addition that adds to the kitsch of the place. These people are regular people that choose this as their profession. The person that commented about how they could not get jobs otherwise is living in the last century. These people are professionals… still strange to put a sideshow attraction in a “haunted house.”

    Now, for anyone that has a background in the paranormal, the kitch factor moves to insult. None of the items there are haunted. The history of the house itself is suspect, with no actual proof of any ritual or satanic activities ever having occurred inside of it. People forget that Zac Bagans is not considered a true ghost hunter, and that his group of people all have film backgrounds. And the “museum” is marketed to people that see something on TV, or read a post somewhere on social media, and take it as gospel. All the strange to paranormal occurances by the public can be easily attributed to cognitive bias.

  6. I was there 2 weeks ago and had the same visceral reaction to the exploitation and complete disregard for human suffering. The photos of torture victims taken by the actual torturer sent me over the edge – these were people, actual living beings, whose unspeakably horrific final hours were documented, enlarged and put on display to gawkers for a $45 fee. Bagans is a money-grubbing charlatan, self obsessed and totally lacking compassion. I’m trusting that Karma will prevail…

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