by Tim Froberg

The Halloween season is a fun time of year, featuring imagined haunted events designed to scare the socks off customers.

The Hearthstone Historic House Museum has its own spooky fundraiser. What is unique about “Haunted Hearthstone: Sequential Killers of the Victorian Age” is that its material is factual — not fictitious. 

There are no tricks involved with Hearthstone’s annual Halloween treat. The characters portrayed were real people and diabolical killers who indeed committed grisly murders.

Hearthstone is offering its fourth installment of Sequential Killers on Fridays and Saturdays during October. Nine performances are planned nightly for each of the 10 dates for a total of 90 overall.

Hearthstone’s Sequential Killers is not a haunted house where costumed actors jump out at you. But it does involve volunteer actors, the theme is very Halloween-like, and the reality-based facts might send chills up your spine.

In Sequential Killers’ hour-long tour, police detectives lead guests through the museum, which is decorated for Victorian mourning. Black crepe fabric adorns the windows, mirrors are turned over, clocks are stopped, and photos of the deceased — which was common during that time period — can be seen.

Along the way, guests are told of various sequential (serial) killers of the Victorian era and grisly details of the murders they committed. Eventually, the guests get to encounter murder victims and their killers, portrayed by actors, who might give first-person account of the slayings. The productions are based upon newspaper articles from the days of the crimes and written by Hearthstone executive director George Schroeder, who serves as one of the guides. Ann Larson, the museum’s curator, works to create the eerie surroundings.

“The thing that makes it scary is that all of it was real,” said Tom Weiland, Marketing and Development Director at Hearthstone. “In haunted houses, ghouls will jump out at you. Well, we all know that ghouls aren’t real. But these were real people that existed and real murders.”

There is no violence or gore involved and the actors won’t touch guests. The productions are for people of all ages, but Weiland said the material may not be suitable for those under the age of 13.

Among the nefarious killers featured is Jack the Ripper.

“He makes an appearance, and you get to meet his victims,” Weiland said. “It’s a bit creepy, but people really enjoy it. We have some really dedicated volunteers that play these roles and they’re very good at it. We use detectives because that era was really the beginning of modern detective work in solving murders.”

Another Victorian era killer portrayed is Herman (H.H.) Holmes, who confessed to 27 murders in the Chicago area during a three-year stretch from 1891-1894. Holmes had a connection with Hearthstone, which was built in 1882 and was the first U.S. residence powered by a hydroelectric station using the Edison system. Henry James Rogers, a paper company executive and entrepreneur, built and owned the original Hearthstone building which was converted into a museum in 1988. 

Rogers eventually moved to Chicago where he had business dealing with Holmes, who was convicted and sentenced to death for only one of the murders.

The Sequential Killers’ theme has been a Halloween hit at Hearthstone since its creation three years ago. The groups taken though the house are limited to 12 and tickets should be pre-purchased. To do so, go to hearthstonemuseum.org and click on events and the Haunted Hearthstone link for available dates and times. Tickets are $18.

Weiland said that Hearthstone will do everything possible to encourage social distancing and will follow mask mandates if necessary. Heading into September, Hearthstone was encouraging masks for the performances, but not requiring them.