The Haunting Life: Explore the Chilling, Thrilling 38 Year Career of Haunt Actor, Lucian Tomes Jr.!

From the original Jaycees WAKY Haunted House to the Baxter Avenue Morgue and beyond, Louisville’s own Lucian Tomes Jr. has seen every horrifying thing the haunt industry has to offer!

Born and raised in Louisville, KY, Lucian Tomes parents told him that if he were born only one month earlier, he would have been born in Eppertshausen, Germany, just a stones’ throw from the Castle Frankenstein ruins where in the late 17th century an alchemist named Johann Conrad Dippel was born and engaged in strange experiments of both alchemy and anatomy. Dippel studied soul transference with cadavers and created Dippel’s Oil, which he claimed to be both the “Elixir of Life” and a tonic that could exorcise demons. Marry Shelley’s infamous 1818 novel is claimed to have been based on the Frankenstein Castle ruins and Dippel’s notorious experiments.

It’s clear that Tomes was conceived in a place of strange and ancient history, and that he has apparently brought much of that dark magic back with him to Louisville, KY.

He isn’t the only one. Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH are the two cities recognized as the birthplace of the modern haunted attraction. The first verifiable charity haunted house, recognized by the Jaycees national office, was the WSAI Haunted House in Cincinnati which operated from Oct. 24-31 in 1970. Shortly thereafter, the Louisville Jaycees created both the WAKY Haunted House and the first Ghost Run, an annual driving game unique to the city of Louisville which would eventually become Danger Run as we know it today.

Louisville has quite a ghastly gaggle of haunt actors that love the scare biz so much that they have dedicated over twenty years of their lives to the cause. Todd Schmidt, for example, started his career as the “chainsaw guy” at the Haunted Hotel in 1991 and worked his way up through Industrial Nightmare and Nightmare Forest. He has gone on to design and build haunts like the Dome of Doom in California and the Paddock of Perils in Pennsylvania. Chainsaw Pete, featured in the Louisville haunt documentary, “Monsters Wanted,” practiced his aggressive chainsaw act for years before landing at the Asylum Haunted Scream Park.

Entering the thirty-eighth year of his career as a haunt actor, Lucian Tomes Jr. is certainly one of the most experienced “lifers” in the Louisville haunted attraction industry. You have likely seen his face on billboards and bus stop ads all across the city as Warren Vanderdark, funeral director at the Baxter Avenue Morgue.

“My first memory of really being scared and becoming fascinated with the feeling is when I saw the Abominable Snow Monster in ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” confesses Tomes. “I grew up in the Tyler Parkway area of the Highlands, and I remember the houses along Windsor Place as my favorite trick-or-treat night adventures.”

“I was 14, going on 15 years old,” says Tomes on his beginnings in the haunt industry, “heavily into monsters, “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine and WDRB-41’sFright Night” horror movie program when my dad told me about the Louisville Jaycees and a haunt they were putting on that Halloween.”

“I had already been putting on my own home haunt every Halloween in our front yard and on the porch,” he continues. “I had a Dracula scene and a Frankenstein’s laboratory scene, etc.”

“When I heard about the Jaycees WAKY Haunted House, I went down there to the pre 1976 location at 4th Street and St. Catherine and volunteered my services. For several years I was the Wolf Man at the WAKY Haunted House. I wore an old werewolf mask, a bulky army jacket to make myself look bigger and some furry gloves. I started out as a ‘line actor,’ scaring and entertaining people waiting in line to go in.”

“In those days,” Tomes admits, “haunts were pretty unsophisticated. They were all basically ‘black wall’ haunts. You’d go in and paint all the walls and surfaces black, and your only special effects were strobe lights and maybe a couple of laser lights.”

“The budgets were very, very low,” he continues. “Here’s a funny story: The Louisville Jaycees couldn’t afford a fog machine in those days. Today you can go to Walmart and buy a fog machine, but back then fog machines were things you had to order from the West Coast and they cost about as much as a small car!”

“Anyway, somebody got creative and decided to use a bee keeper smoker as a fog machine. This lasted one night, and everybody working the haunt got sick from the smoker fumes.”

“I saw a lot of strange things at the WAKY Haunted House at the 4th Street and St. Catherine location,” he relates. “One night I was working across the hall from the Phantom of the Opera right next to a stairway that went up a few steps and then back down to the first floor. We heard a ruckus coming down the hallway towards us and we both backed away as this heavy set woman came barreling past us and completely overshot the staircase, plummeting all the way to the bottom. We had to call EMS to come in and get her out.”

“Years later, when the WAKY Haunted House moved to the Spring Street and Story Avenue location,” Tomes responds when I ask him what the weirdest thing he ever saw when working those houses in the early days of the local haunt industry. “I was playing the Wolf Man, as usual, one night when I sprang on a guy who did a complete Lou Costello by turning around, slamming into the wall and knocking himself out cold.”

“There was a story that became legendary involving the guy playing Dracula,” Tomes continues. “This guy went all out. He had a very elaborate make-up, costume and dental fangs. A frightened woman saw him and passed out on the spot. He was a volunteer firefighter, so he picked her up to take her out of the haunt, and took a short cut down a dark stairwell lit only by a red light bulb. Unfortunately, she woke up only to find herself being carried down a creepy stairwell bathed in red light by Count Dracula. She screamed and passed out again!”

Tomes began his career as Warren Vanderdark at the Baxter Avenue Morgue in 2000, performing the introduction scene to the haunt for over a decade, where he also witnessed many strange, maybe even paranormal events. “The Syfy reality show, ‘Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files,’ came out and did an investigation of the Baxter Avenue Morgue building, ultimately declaring it haunted,” says Tomes.

“One night I was working the front parlor next to the yellow room with the coffin, and I peeked into the yellow room where I saw a figure with no face wearing a long, white monk’s robe. It drifted from right to left in front of the coffin and then disappeared into a small dot of light like an old tube TV turning off,” says Tomes. “I wasn’t the only one who saw it. Several others saw the exact same figure during the same night in different parts of the Morgue.”

With over a decade of notoriety at the Morgue, his face adorning billboards across the city, I wondered if he was often recognized in public at the supermarket or in restaurants. “Oh yes,” he admits, “once I was working a part time job at Blockbuster Video when this girl approached me, visibly shivering.”

It’s you!” she exclaimed.

“I was bagging her rental videos,” Tomes continues, chuckling, “and I just couldn’t resist. I handed her the bag and said, ‘Have a Good Evening, and do be careful when heading home in the darkness.’”

“She ran at full speed out of the store.”

So what does the future hold for Lucian Tomes Jr. as a haunt actor? In a Louisville Halloween exclusive, Tomes has informed us that he has decided to part ways with the Baxter Avenue Morgue and will be playing a new character, a sinister carnival barker, at the 7th Street Haunt for the 2014 Halloween season. He’s also playing the narrator in a new film by director Keith Stoddard (known in horror circles the Don of the Dead) called “Horror Host: The Movie.”

Stay tuned to the Louisville Halloween website, haunt fans, for much more news and reviews coming soon. I’ll be reviewing “The Purge: Anarchy” which opens in theaters this weekend, and in August we’ll be touring some of Louisville’s best haunts to tease new scenes and scares for 2014 haunt season.

The Phantom of The Ville

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