Witch’s Dungeon, a Chippens Hill fall tradition

By TOM DICKAU

BRISTOL HISTORICAL

SOCIETY

The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum, the lifelong passion of Cortlandt Hull, continued to strive as a family affair on his Chippens Hill property for 47 years.

At the Dungeon’s beginning in 1966, there were no Halloween attractions. Halloween was not the major holiday that it is today. People from near and far were delighted to travel to the hillsides of Bristol to journey through the Dungeon’s classic figures and horrors. Guests were greeted by hostess, Zenobia the Gypsy Witch, with actress June Foray providing the voice track for this original Cortlandt Hull creation.

The Witch’s Dungeon had become a favorite fall attraction.  This coupled with Cortlandt Hull’s drive to construct a larger and more elaborate display of classic movie characters necessitated the Dungeon being enlarged several times, in order to accommodate the increasing number of spectators and figures. The museum quickly became a yearly tradition for fans of classic horror.

Visitors often stood in lines for hours in good weather, as well as on cold rainy or snowy evenings, in order to view this attraction.

Visitors were welcomed to the Dungeon by specially recorded greetings from Mark Hamill of “Star Wars” fame, and actor John Agar, best known for his 1950s sci-fi films, such as “The Mole People” and “Revenge of the Creature.” Once through the front entrance, guests would hear the specially recorded dialogue for the tour, with daring words of Vincent Price – “Welcome poor mortals to this Witch’s Dungeon of nightmares.” At the exit Vincent Price’s voice would beckon you again – “Ah! There you are! I see you have survived this maze of monsters and nightmares!”

Cortlandt Hull through his networking on movie sets had been able to garner extensive knowledge and support for his attraction, while also establishing lifelong friendships with such luminaries as Vincent Price, who co-starred with his great-uncle, Henry Hull, in the film, “Master of the World.” Price took a great interest in Cortlandt’s museum, as well as, his artistic abilities. He made several donations of props and costumes and also served on the Board of Directors for the museum.

Other stalwarts would become life-long friends with Cortlandt and his museum. These include Sara Karloff, (Boris Karloff’s daughter), Bela Lugosi Jr. (son of the famous actor known for his role as “Count Dracula”), Ron Chaney, (grandson of Lon Chaney), horror host John Zacherle, (“Zacherley The Cool Ghoul”), Julie Adams (star of “Creature from the Black Lagoon”) and Victoria Price,( daughter of Vincent Price), among others.

One special guest Dick Smith, Oscar and Emmy winning makeup artist, drew visitors from as far away as Illinois, Canada, Florida and even California. Dick had made very few public appearances. Fans of “The Exorcist,” “Dark Shadows” and many other films, kept Dick busy signing posters and photos, from 7 p.m. until 1:30 a.m.

During the long Witch’s Dungeon history there have been busloads of visitors from many colleges and universities, in addition to several foreign countries. One of the original 1966 Batmobile cars also greeted bat-fans at the Dungeon. A newlywed couple even stopped in their wedding attire to have their photo taken in the classic Batmobile.

The wonder and magic of the Dungeon not only delighted visitors during the Halloween season, but also garnered statewide, national and international acclaim throughout the year. The museum has been featured on such television shows as, “Good Morning America,” “To Tell the Truth,” and “Entertainment Tonight”, in addition to being featured on local television broadcasts and shows.

This Bristol based attraction has also been honored in international film magazines, in hundreds of newspaper articles and radio broadcasts. Two years ago it was the only Connecticut cultural destination for the month of October on Mapquest and was also featured in USA Today.

The Witch’s Dungeon has also transitioned into becoming a traveling chamber of horrors.  Cortlandt, along with Zenobia and a changing cast of characters, travel to major film conventions across the country. There are also major Witch’s Dungeon displays for other museums, such as a tribute to Vincent Price, in his own hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum has evolved into a year-long attraction.

The fan base, from near and far, grew significantly and the museum’s displays exceeded the limited resources of its original location. In 2014 the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum transitioned to its present home at the Bristol Historical Society at 98 Summer Street, Bristol,.

A future article will discuss the years since arriving at this location.

SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCES

Saturday, Oct. 1 –Victoria Price, Vincent Price’s daughter –

7 to 10 p.m. – Puppeteer and director, Bill Diamond will be a guest also.

Saturday, Oct. 14 – Scot Haney, WFSB TV personality – host of “Better Connecticut”- 7 to 10 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 21 – Daniel Roebuck – actor in films – “Final Destination” and “River’s Edge”- 7 to 10 p.m.

Monday, Oct. 31 – Sara Karloff, Boris Karloff’s daughter – 7 to 10 p.m. – puppeteer and director, Bill Diamond will be a guest also.

The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum will be open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening in October from 7 to 10 p.m., beginning Sept. 30. Its finale for the season will be on Halloween Monday, Oct. 31. The $6 admissions fee, which benefits both the Dungeon and the Bristol Historical Society, includes a discussion of a significant display of original movie props; a guided tour of the Dungeon and classic reel-to-reel movies shown in the auditorium the entire evening. Light and inexpensive refreshments are available. The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum is located at the Bristol Historical Society at 98 Summer St., Bristol.

Victoria Price with a Witch’s Dungeon figure of her father, Vincent Price, from ‘The House of Wax.’

Victoria Price with a Witch’s Dungeon figure of her father, Vincent Price, from ‘The House of Wax.’