Artists Book House (ABH) opened its third Halloween show, “A House, Haunted,” at Harley Clarke’s mansion on October 1. Note that it is not called “A Haunted House”. That’s because this isn’t your typical haunted house experience, with sounds of chainsaws, screams, and people jumping up and down to scare you.
This haunted house is meant to be “cheerful, fun, and engaging all season long.” it’s a halloween destination, like Zoo Lights and the Botanical Gardens,” said Jamie Thome, an Evanston-based artist and writer and ABH board member. October 1 was the “soft launch”, with other “A haunted house” live events on the ABH website at the same time.
Halloween is fast becoming Americans’ favorite holiday for decorations, second only to Christmas, according to national surveys. It’s a not-too-serious holiday, giving kids, and even adults, a chance to dress up in imaginative costumes, engage in silly games, and practice mischievous behavior. A tradition and an opportunity to tell spooky stories.
The house at 2603 Sheridan Road will be open from 11 am to 4 pm every Saturday and Sunday in October. There is no entrance fee, although donations are welcome. Visitors can tour the designated areas (excluding the basement) for a self-guided tour of the facilities and vignettes throughout the house. There may be projections and soft sound effects in some rooms.
A pop-up gift shop is now open, with books by founder Audrey Niffenegger and other funky offerings. The windows will be decorated by artists and backlit, making for a fun evening stroll.
Spiritualism was very popular in the 19th century: the belief that the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, especially through a human medium in a session. In the house this Halloween is an interactive “Spirit Cabinet,” complete with spirit “trumpets” by artist Margot McMahon and artist/writer Ken Gerleve.
Gerleve, who is ABH’s board treasurer, has created another interactive installation, “The Wheel of Misfortune,” with artist Linda Scholly. It’s based on a story he wrote, available on the ABH website.
Evanston artists Jamie Thome and Vanessa Filly are doing a “secret” closet installation together. Vignettes are seen throughout the mansion, especially on the second and third floors. Melissa Jay Craig has a whole room. There’s even an animated wallpaper.
In addition to self-guided tours on weekends, during the month of October guided tours are offered, by appointment, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There is no fee, but donations are welcome. Walk-ins are not accepted; Appointments must be scheduled a minimum of 12 hours in advance using the calendar on the ABH website.
For a special tour request, for example an overnight tour, please email a request to [email protected] make arrangements. The minimum donation expected for a special tour is $100.
On Halloween, according to the city’s published trick-or-treating hours, there will be treats for children at the heavily carved front door, if they are brave enough to climb the steps and ring the bell.
“Costume revelry is encouraged…and candy will be passed out until it’s gone,” Gerleve said.
The COVID-19 pandemic made fundraising meetings impossible, but ABH learned the power of online collaboration between artists and writers. Thome, now ABH’s president of programming, said free collaborative workshops are available at the Evanston Public Library this October.
Megan Stielstra, a writer from Evanston, will host “Writing in the Face of Fear” on October 20 at 6 p.m. She is the author of three collections, including The wrong way to save your life, Honored with the 2017 Chicago Review of Books Award for Best Creative Nonfiction.
Novelist Toya Wolfe will direct “Write What Scares You: Begin Your Novel” at 6 pm on October 24. Wolfe is the author of Last summer on State Street, his debut novel about growing up in Robert Taylor Homes and their latest takedown. “His book of his is really about families and community,” Gerleve said.
Writing workshops are in the main library; Check in via the EPL website.
Other free seasonal ABH workshops are “Fun and Spooky Halloween Pop-up Cards” as well as “Treewhispers – Paper Making”, “Paper Mask Making” and “Book Making”. Check the PLA website for details, dates and times, and to register if necessary. (No registration is required for “Treewhispers,” which is a walk-in show.)
ABH is completely volunteer and doesn’t yet have staff, but Thome said ABH always pays artists for their artwork in and around the house and for programs they put on for the organization. “It’s very important,” she said. “Artists should not be expected to do their work for free!”
The mansion’s dining room and living room are available for small private events and docent-led small group tours are always allowed, but under its lease with the City of Evanston, ABH cannot hold its classes in the house or open the mansion to large groups. There is still no elevator and the three story fire escape needs to be replaced.
“When we open, we want the house to be safe, welcoming and easily accessible,” Thome said.
ABH recently petitioned the Evanston City Council modifications to your lease. The ongoing effects of the pandemic have slowed fundraising and caused “difficulty meeting fundraising benchmarks and construction phases outlined in the original lease,” said Dave Stonebeck, deputy administrator of the city, in a summary for the City Council. The request will be put to a vote at the council meeting on October 10.
The estimated cost of the mansion renovations, required for the public opening of the mansion, was raised from $8.5 million to $10 million. The promised public opening is now projected for 2027.
Donations to the Casa del Libro de Artistas are more than welcome, whether for tours, visits, or just out of love. Last month, on a beautiful fall Saturday, a very successful used book sale was held. ABH also recently received a $2,000 donation from the Jackie Mack Commission Mission 2022, an Evanston real estate group that doles out $10,000 to various nonprofits each year. The winners were chosen by online voting.
Along with a contribution from the Evanston Arts Council, ABH’s month-long “A House, Haunted” event is sponsored by a donation from Alison Aldrich and John Varones of Highland Park.
It appears that ABH is already drawing interest from outside the immediate area. Its predecessor, the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts (Chicago), was internationally recognized, and ABH hopes to do the same.