Updated: Feb 15
The Culbertson Mansion's "Literally, A Haunted House" 914 E. Main St. New Albany, IN 47150 http://www.hauntedculbertson.org (note: has not been updated in a while. Look up "Literally, A Haunted House" to find them on Facebook!)
Date of Visit: 10/2/21 Reviewer: Lindsay
Anyone who lives in New Albany- or the surrounding areas- could probably tell you at least a little bit about the Culbertson Mansion. One of the city's most well known historic sites, it was formerly home to the family of William Culbertson, who was once one of the wealthiest men in Indiana. In an effort to educate the public about the mansion's history and raise funds for its preservation, tours of this elaborate Victorian home are offered on select days and times each week, and special events are also hosted throughout the year.
Which brings us to something that's a little less known about the Culbertson... both the mansion, and the carriage house behind it, are said to be genuinely haunted! Both visitors and staff have reported some unusual occurrences on the property, including glimpses of shadowy figures and a woman in an old fashioned dress. One of the events that the mansion's team of volunteers puts on annually happens to be a haunted house, so with this in mind, they've come up with a cleverly chosen name for their seasonal haunt: "Literally, A Haunted House."
Tickets to Literally, A Haunted House are priced at $15. Interested in saving a couple bucks? Follow their Facebook page, as they frequently post coupons for $2 off admission, and those are good for up to four people. There's quite a bit of free street parking around the mansion, but it fills up fast, so be sure to arrive as early as possible to snag a good spot. Upon arriving, go through the mansion's gate and head around back - you will see two tents. The one on the left is where you can purchase tickets and concessions, and the one on the right is the queue. Please be advised prior to visiting that some COVID-19 precautions have been put into effect; everyone must wear a mask in order to go through (one is provided if you forgot yours), and while this haunt is normally light contact, actors will not touch customers this year.
It may not seem like much at first glance, but the atmosphere at the Culbertson is one of my favorite aspects of it. Just walking behind the building after dark feels a little creepy, and even moreso with the wisps of fog trailing out from the graveyard (more on that in a moment). Roaming characters lurk on the grounds and inside the tent; I spotted at least three when I was there, including the devilishly beautiful Lucy Phurr, who was greeting each and every group as they came in. Before you line up, I recommend taking some time to look over everything hanging up on the tent's wall. They proudly keep and display a tally of the "Spooky Oopsies" (customers who have cried, tapped out, peed themselves etc.) they've earned over the years, along with some hilariously helpful tips on how to be a good guest.
Speaking of the line, I had something cute happen on my visit. Lucy and I were discussing whether I would be flying solo this time, or if I'd be partnered with another person. She suddenly looked behind me and smiled. "Oh, I have to pair you up with someone." "Who?" She pointed. "I have to pair you up with that guy." Imagine my delight when I turned around and saw the smiling face of Paul Lanner (Haunters Against Hate)! Paul is someone I love and respect greatly and it was wonderful to run into him - I was more than happy to have him along for the ride.
Literally, A Haunted House chooses a different theme every year. For 2021, the Culbertson team went with something very appropriate to a Victorian mansion: Vintage Horrors! With that said, there are some parts of their experience that remain consistent... remember that graveyard I mentioned earlier? Yep - you're gonna have to pick your way through it in order to reach the carriage house where the haunt is. Led by a grim faced guide, we attempted to tread lightly among the headstones, but it didn't take long for us to catch the ire of the gravekeeper, who ran us off with his shovel for "trespassing on sacred ground"! In our haste to avoid his wrath, we scurried up the stairs of the carriage house, where a spooky looking man in a suit waited to usher us inside.
Like most shows the Culbertson Mansion puts on, Vintage Horrors also comes with its own story. Your group takes on the roles of prospective buyers for the mansion's 160-year old carriage house. Sure, it's certainly seen better days, and you'll be warned that there are some... ah... "squatters" inside. Nothing you can't take care of, right? Well, what he neglects to tell you is that the "squatters" are not quite what one would expect. Turns out the whole place is infested with malevolent Victorian spirits, and you will soon find that they won't easily surrender their home!
Something important to keep in mind with this haunt is that it's built and run by the hands of dedicated volunteers. It is an old school haunted house that's not super heavy on detail, but they definitely got the vintage theme across, with appropriate scenery in the opening parlor room, black and white portraits hanging up in several scenes and transition points, and candles flickering on tables and in sconces. The age of the carriage house itself only enhances the illusion that you're walking through an old, possessed home. But where the Culbertson really shines with the design of their haunt is in some of the tricks and effects they pull off. I can always count on them to hit me with something unexpected every season, and this time was no different. There was one spot where we had to proceed into total darkness while hearing the shrill whine of something mechanical... that only grew louder the further we went (and then stuff was touching our legs and feet!). I was leading our group, and the combination of the loud noise- plus being unable to see- made me reluctant to continue. Another scene had us briefly stuck in a confusing cluster of doors, and at one point, we were shut in a small room - only to have an actor grab and move the entire thing! Those are just a few of the fun surprises they've got in store for their guests; if they don't scare you, you will absolutely be entertained.
A decent number of horrors haunt this house, and it never took us long to run into one (or more) of them. The Culbertson's cast does trend younger in age, and there were many pop-out scares, but the actors were interactive and energetic. One girl led us through a seance, where we were surrounded by whispering voices that grew unsettlingly louder... and we were forewarned that someone in the group was going to die that night. (Spoiler alert: one of us did!) Descending into the carriage house's dark, dank basement, we narrowly escaped a hideous actor-matronic beast lurking in the walls, and were also greeted by a cheerfully disturbed young man who wanted us to meet his "girlfriend". Pity she wasn't the chatty sort - I guess being dismembered will do that to you.
I do have to shout out one of their actors for giving me a really good scare as we were going through. We entered a room and were immediately attacked by a pair of especially aggressive spirits, one of which was a creature all in black with half of its face resembling that of a doll or mannequin. Both of which I hate, and this thing got right in my face as soon as we walked in... I'm pretty sure all of New Albany heard my scream, and it had me pinned and terrified against the nearest wall in a matter of seconds. Nice!
For an event that's 100% a volunteer effort, the Culbertson Mansion team does so much with what they have. The creativity and love put into their show makes Literally, A Haunted House a worthy stop on any haunt fan's itinerary. All proceeds raised go towards the restoration of the mansion, so if you live in or near the city of New Albany, come out to have a fun time with your friends and support a good cause.
ENVIRONMENT: 7/10 - Great mix of fun and spooky, from the grounds and queue outside to the design of the house.
ACTING: 7/10 - Decent cast coverage throughout the haunt. Most actor encounters were brief; those we did interact with were creepy and convincing.
SCARE FACTOR: 6/10 - A little overabundant on pop-out scares this year, but they do have some tricks up their sleeve.
OVERALL: 7/10 - Very unique and enjoyable community haunted house! I never miss my annual visit to the Culbertson Mansion.