Horror Writers Association Blog

Halloween in the Shadows by Amanda Trujillo

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“My name is Victoria Winters and my journey is beginning…a journey that will take me to a strange, dark house, high atop Widows’ Hill.  A house called Collinwood…”

So begins the first episode of “Dark Shadows” (DS), a popular 1960’s soap opera featuring an otherworldly cast of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches and other spooks germane to the Halloween season.  As each episode opens with a monologue to set the scene, so it opens with a view of “Collinwood,” the sprawling chateau where the show’s action unfolds.

The image of Collinwood, with its tower, dormers, and multiple chimneys, is as iconic as the vampire Barnabas. Although the interiors of the great estate were stage sets, the exterior of the house and the grounds belong to Seaview Terrace, a mansion in Newport, RI, where I have been privileged to spend Halloween in the company of other DS fans.  This Halloween will be our tenth in the house.  Over time, party attendance has grown from two-dozen people to nearly 100.

The present Seaview Terrace is an amalgamation of an older home by the same name and a Washington, D.C. estate called DuPont Circle.  In 1923, the Edson Bradley family had their D.C. residence dismantled and shipped, piece by piece, to Newport, where it was grafted onto the pre-existing house on the site. The result, unveiled in July of 1925, is one of the largest, most eclectic of the Newport mansions; a place where, even after multiple visits, it’s easy to get lost among the twisting hallways connecting the vast wings.

DS Group in 2009

When Seaview reverted to a private residence in 2009 after a long stint as a school dormitory, its owners, the Carey family, who had befriended members of the DS community over the years, generously opened their home to a select group of fans for a Halloween party and overnight stay.  I was thrilled to be offered this opportunity.  I had visited Seaview briefly once before, but never imagined spending the night there. I certainly never expected to make Seaview a Halloween tradition.

Indeed, that first weekend at the mansion has since become a week-long round of Halloween-themed activities, allowing guests to indulge their inner children. A goody bag exchange launches the event. Board game marathons, trivia contests, musical chairs, movie screenings, and a talent showcase follow, supplemented with day trips to creepy locales like Lizzie Borden’s house in Fall River or Salem, MA, and culminating in a themed costume dance party. One of our regular attendees is a professional magician whose show comprising feats of mentalism and occasionally levitation is a highlight of the party.  Another beloved activity is the tour of the ‘haunted basement,’ a fun house stocked with creepy animatronics and other surprises.

The basement really is haunted. So is the rest of the house.

Some of my friends have heard or felt another presence in their rooms.  Others have reported finding toiletries strewn around the floor, or losing small items at departure time that later reappear packed in the suitcase.  Sy-Fy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” investigated Seaview in 2011. They weren’t disappointed.

The Seaview parties also allow us fans to demonstrate our love of DS.  The show’s 50th anniversary was in 2016.  That Halloween Night, to celebrate, we gathered in the ballroom of “Collinwood” to watch the episode that had aired on Halloween, 1966 (in which Vicki tells Burke Devlin about seeing Bill Malloy’s ghost).

DS Group in 2014

Spending Halloween in a house associated with favorite fictional spooks is surreal.  DVDs of DS play in the background of the festivities throughout the weekend.  You can watch the house on TV and pick out the window of the room where you’re sitting, then step outside on the very lawn where a character just walked.  When the haunting DS soundtrack echoes through the halls, one almost expects to see Quentin Collins’s malevolent ghost leering over the balcony.

Quentin and Barnabas are there in spirit.   Fans contributed a replica painting of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas that hangs over the fireplace year-round and a Dorian Gray-esque portrait of Quentin for the attic.

Above all, the parties serve as a reunion of extended fictive family. DS fans are a tight-knit bunch. Over the years, we’ve watched each other grow and reach important milestones. We keep in touch between official gatherings and sometimes even vacation together.  Sadly, we’ve also seen too many dear ones leave us unexpectedly: Judy, Diane, Ben, Leyla.  For the few days that we’re together again under one roof, we can renew our friendship and make memories to last through to the next year.

On a final, more personal note, my trips to Seaview and Newport inspired the setting of my latest novel, which involves a haunted house.  Prompted by readings about the Borley Rectory and Cheltenham hauntings, I initially toyed with the idea of an old English manor house as a home for my characters.  But I’ve never been to England and doubted I could do the location justice.  Newport, with its historic mansions and colorful history, substituted nicely.  And if my haunted house bears the slightest resemblance to Seaview, I hope my DS friends get a kick out of it.

DS Group in 2017

Seaview Terrace and the gatherings there serve many purposes.  The parties are fundraisers for the restoration of the mansion and a means of thanking the Carey family for inviting us into their beautiful house. They also allow DS fans to express appreciation for a TV show that, for many of us, shaped our fascination for horror, history, and storytelling.  Furthermore, the mansion’s eerie ambiance fuels the imagination.  The happy memories accumulated over the years of all the fun we’ve made in the house have developed Seaview into a seat of friendship and joy, the nearest thing to an ancestral estate.

What better place to celebrate the spookiest of holidays than in the house of dark shadows?

Barnabas Portrait Over Fireplace

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BIO:  Amanda Trujillo is a member of the HWA-Los Angeles chapter. She lives in the South Bay. Amanda has contributed to The Physics of Dark Shadows: Time Travel, ESP, and the Laboratory (Cultural Studies Press, 2008) and CEA Greatest Anthology Written (Celenic Earth Publications, 2017)

 

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:  An HWA Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference t-shirt!

13 comments on “Halloween in the Shadows by Amanda Trujillo

  1. A great summary of our wonderful times at the mansion, a place which those of us who have been fortunate to have visited many times now call home.

  2. Loved reading about the mansion. I was a Dark Shadows fan and watched faithfully every episode. I revisit it with the dvds. How fun to celebrate the best holiday there!

  3. Wonderful article, Amanda! You sum it up perfectly! A trip to Seaview Terrace encompasses much more than a tour of the splendid mansion–it’s a visit with friends beyond compare!

  4. Amanda has outdone herself, as usual! She is a gifted writer who has in this essay captured the spirit of Dark Shadows, and fandom in general. I was raised on Dark Shadows, and then moved from there to late-night horror movies with my parents, and the rest is history. In my travels, I have trod on Bram Stoker’s, and Jonathan Harker’s paths, as well the roads traversed by my other favorite literary and historical people. While those were thrilling adventures, they were not nearly the sublime, this-is-what-I-needed-to-do-before-I-die experience of finally gaining admission to Collinwood.

    Dark Shadows is in my blood, and the friends I have made at the Dark Shadows conventions and the Seaview/Collinwood house parties feel the same. The show was a formative experience in my childhood development. I continue to watch it several days a week–I could never let it go. To be in the same house, the same room, see the same waves crashing on the Newport Cliffwalk that I saw after school every day in the opening credits of Dark Shadows, walk on the same lawn as Victoria Winters (!)– I become breathless recalling it. This is what eighteenth-century writers called The Sublime, the experience of something much greater than oneself, larger, grander. This is the world of imagination, of thought, of that which is not prosaic. This is my opportunity to belong to it, to be invited into the house in which my imagination was nurtured. All my life I have continued to dream of houses with hidden doors and passages, grand and gothic, attached to my own house; I am the only one who knows how to enter the secret places.

    Amanda’s forthcoming novel has indeed achieved her goal of recreating the spirit of Collinwood. She is a very talented and original writer, using her personal experiences as a launching pad for a vivid imagination. As in this essay, she can weave fantasy and history together, so that the reader doesn’t know what is true, and what is not, heightening suspense. I feel privileged to know her. I met her at a Seaview Halloween Gathering. It is a gathering of people who have magic in their lives. I look forward to joining her at Stokercon in May 2019.

  5. In this post, Amanda has combined 2 of my favorite things, Halloween at Collinwood, & her writing. I always enjoy reading Amandas’ writings, she has a very appealing style of writing, she’s got a terrific subject to write about, which not only makes this post a winning combination, it’s also an early treat for Halloween.

  6. Amanda, this is such a wonderful piece of writing, and a spiritual look into the some of the influences that fueled a passion in your life. Well done!

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