Monday, October 30, 2023

Monsters Bash

I imagine I'm one of three people reading this who spent the weekend setting up and running a haunted house on an aircraft carrier. Anyone else? Show of hands?

Saturday night, the USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum, where my daughter Laura is COO, hosted an annual Halloween dinner-dance called "Monsters Bash," which includes a tour of the Hornet's historic and reputedly haunted sickbay. In past years, the frights have included dangling spiders and volunteers jumping up and yelling "Boo!" The Hornet wanted to improve their haunted house game this year; Laura said, "I know a guy." Me.

On Halloween night, my front yard becomes a G-rated phantasmagoria of swirling spectres, projected faces, Pepper's ghosts, and any other ideas I could lift from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. It's fun, but there's only so much I can do with the available space and lighting. Would I like to be turned loose on an aircraft carrier? Oh yes, please and thank you!

In past Bashes, the Hornet's haunted sickbay displayed a random assortment of store-bought props. My main contributions were helping develop a storyline to pull it together, setting up some commercial projections that the Hornet had bought, and adding some sound and lighting effects. The story: unexplained power surges aboard the ship have drawn spirits into our world. Lots of flickering lights and mournful moans. I also got to do some improvisational acting as a surgeon whose operation isn't going so well.

Prepping for the Monsters Bash on the Hornet's hangar deck. How many dinner-dances have you been to that are decorated with fighter jets, a boilerplate Mercury space capsule, and Apollo 14's mobile quarantine unit? Photo courtesy of Russell from the USS Hornet.

Reverse angle on the hangar deck, looking toward the dance floor and bandstand. Amazing how some lighting and decor can transform a gray steel military-industrial space. Our haunted sickbay was one deck directly below. This photo also nicked from Russell/USS Hornet.

Laura, her sister Robin, and I spent the afternoon setting up (following earlier visits to plan and dry-run), then manned sickbay from about 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. More than 600 happy, dancing, costumed people came to the Bash and we figure between 100 and 200 of them toured sickbay. Some came more than once, which we took as a good review. 

Most people seemed to have a terrific time: lots of screams and laughs. I was surprised by how terrified some people were of what seemed to me a very tame and low-key haunted house. One of our big set pieces was a room of bunks filled with blankets stuffed to look like bodies--not very sophisticated! Still, a few folks only got a couple of turns past the start before they "Noped" right back out the front door. 

I confess to a couple of jumps myself. First, when we were setting up in the afternoon, and I was alone in the dark twisting corridors of sickbay, I felt some claustrophobic shivers. All by itself, being below deck in low light is inherently spooky. Second, when I was playing a surgeon, I turned around just as a flash of light illuminated a plastic head on a meat hook behind me. It had been there ALL DAY, but in that hundredth of a second it gave me a real start. I got myself!

My operating room was one of the first things visitors saw when then entered sickbay. I had fun bantering with folks. Tying into our electrical surge story, I asked them if they were the electricians I'd sent for. "Because this operation is frankly not going very well. Sure, I graduated last in my class, but I still have an M.D. after my name, and I refuse to operate under these conditions! This started as a simple root canal, and NOW look at him! Honestly, it's not my best work." That's the meat hook head that scared me on the left.

Because we finished up so late, Laura, Robin and I spent the night aboard the Hornet in Laura's stateroom, which back in the day would have belonged to a senior officer. Very fun! In the morning I took a little walk around the ship before it opened to the public, then we had breakfast and went home.

Just in time to get ready for Halloween..... 

The skyline of San Francisco around midnight, seen from the fantail of the USS Hornet. Downtown is to the left, with the Bay Bridge spanning off to the right.

Early morning, before any visitors came, I had the flight deck all to myself, with San Francisco beckoning across the Bay. A lovely end to a fun weekend.

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