By Teresa Nguyen
In the dim lighting, strands of a spider’s web brush against your skin. You pull away quickly, only to hear a distant scream in the darkened house. Your heart beats faster, but your feet keep going, as you make your way down a long, pitch-black passageway. Your peripheral vision catches a cloaked figure, you catch your breath, but when you turn to look in the entry way, he’s gone.
You begin to sweat, but continue because you realize don’t know your way out, and you are totally at the mercy of your guide. You start to wonder if she will lead you toward your doom. Her light catches the corners of a creaking staircase that carries you farther, upward, deeper into the shadowy mystery of this sinister lair. There are strange whispers seemingly emanating from inside the old, dusty walls.
You want to close your eyes, but don’t dare allow yourself to become a vulnerable victim. Thoughts swirl through your mind,” What possessed me to do this?” You feel even closer an instinctive fight or flight reaction and wonder if you’ll ever make it out.
Welcome to “Spirits in the Night”! This year’s brand-new Lincoln-Tallman House haunted tours will cause your heart to race, palms to sweat and tingles will creep along your spine as you explore the dark mansion and a mysterious story unlike any other. As a volunteer guide, I might have the twisted pleasure of leading you through this unknown realm. Yes, there may be encounters with spider webs, screams, or possibly blood…
When she was very young, my oldest sister had a real fear of blood, or hemophobia. One day, as an adventurous baby, I climbed the back of my daddy’s big recliner and toppled fast over the edge, hitting the wooden corner of a shelf. The gouge in my forehead was deep enough to leave a visible scar, though not as cool as Harry Potter’s. As my mother ran to the phone to call the doctor, she placed me in my 5-year old sister’s lap and instructed her to hold me. She took one look at the gushing blood on my face and immediately dropped me to the floor!
Fear is our most powerful emotion, even stronger than love. It is generated in a primitive area of our brain. It is what has kept our species alive through the ages and triggers that involuntary fight or flight response. Most of us have fears, whether minor or intense. Some are fairly rational, while most are simply imagined hypotheticality and irrational emotion.
As the Rock County Historical Society’s History Teller, it has been my privilege to mingle with a wide variety of excited visitors in the Spookeasy, a kind of lounge in our newly remodeled Carriage House. Visitors have truly enjoyed its cozy atmosphere where they can purchase a refreshing beverage, perhaps one or two that calm the nerves before or after a “Spirits in the Night” tour. The place is warm and inviting, with two beautiful floors, several cushy chairs and couches and festive Halloween décor. Strings of purple lights adorn the gorgeous, wood ceiling and a friendly staff will greet you at the door or at the bar. It’s a fun place to visit and a comfy place to relax after your adrenaline rush on the tour.
It is my mission to collect interesting stories from the community, and to connect our experiences from the past to the present by sharing them. Through my work, I do my part to help preserve our area’s history through storytelling. Some stories are in-depth interviews and others are shorter, like a survey of sorts. Quite appropriately, this month’s theme is fear. It’s been fascinating to collect stories of numerous phobias, and you can see these short stories hanging along the staircase and around the upper level haven of the Spookeasy.
In my unscientific survey, I have found that the most common fear reported is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. Fear of slithering snakes, ophidiophobia, is next. Of course, nyctophobia, the fear of the dark is also high on the list. Some shared fears that were more profound, like the fear of failure, while others more unusual, like being stranded on a bridge. There is actually a name for that – gephyrophobia. One person feared being burned in a fire, pyrophobia. Some stem from our traumatic experiences. For example, one young man told me the story of being in a few car crashes as a child and he has a fear of driving. Every time he touches the steering wheel, the memories flood back.
Your fear reaction is controlled by the amygdala in the brain. However, scientific research shows that the amygdala cannot act on its own – it is also dependent on connections, circuits and other brain regions. Interestingly, there were two adults and one brave child who told me they were afraid of nothing. Nothing? Absolutely nothing! Could it be that their amazing courage is simply a scientific difference in the wiring of their brains?
The reactions are rather amusing to those who are not afraid. Our tickets volunteer decided to keep a tally. So far, we have had some pee their pants, one fell to her knees and crawled out of the house. Two others paid for their tickets, but after the introduction to the story, couldn’t bear to go in the house! They waited in the Spookeasy for the rest of their family. The other night, while giving tours, I turned around to scan the group I was leading and caught a glimpse of a woman making the sign of the cross. I wanted to reassure her, but I couldn’t because, well…I can’t tell you.
As intelligent, educated beings, we know that most of our fears are unfounded. With this realization, we can summon the courage to be guided through a maze of uncertainty in the spooky depths of the Lincoln-Tallman House, even if we’re aware that “mysterious things” have happened. I hope you will consider going on this exciting “Spirits in the Night” tour. Are you afraid? Don’t be. Each scare you encounter is another step closer to the way out…IF you can find your way.
A final, positive note; many people actually overcome their deepest fears. My sister conquered her hemophobia, and became a nurse in a maternity ward.