Farmgirl Roadtrip: “The Witch’s Dungeon”

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Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. Last October, my family and I visited a place in Connecticut that appeals to all ages, with visitors that come from all over the world. The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum is a real treat!

The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum, located in Bristol, Connecticut first opened in 1966, when its founder and curator, Cortlandt Hull, was only thirteen years old! Part wax museum, it houses life-sized figures of movie greats such as Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price, actual movie props from legendary movies like ET, and exhibits and display cases of classic movie memorabilia. Two different classic movies are played via reel-to-reel nightly. Currently opened Friday through Sunday during the month of October, The Witch’s Dungeon offers something for everyone, a spooky but non-gory way to celebrate Halloween. In the 53 years since the museum opened its doors, they have had countless visitors from over 40 states and from 28 countries.

It is believed that this E.T. From the exterior bike riding sequence in the film is the only E.T. That still exists- as the articulated versions were made from a soft latex foam that has disintegrated over time.

It is believed that this “E.T.” , from the exterior bike riding sequence in the film, is the only “E.T.” still in existence, as the articulated versions were made from a soft latex foam that disintegrated over time.

As a child, Cortlandt Hull loved visiting wax museums, but always found it disappointing that any Halloween-themed Chambers of Horror were filled with torture devices, and classic movie monsters were missing from the exhibits. Young Cortlandt also loved to build Aurora model kits, popular during the 1960’s- similar to model car kits but of classic movie monsters like the Wolf Man and Dracula. Cortlandt wanted to build life-size movie characters, and the idea for the museum was born. He spent much of his childhood ill, so his parents wanted to encourage his interest and creative talent. His first creation, designed when Cortlandt was only twelve, was “Zenobia the Gypsy Witch”, who still greets visitors at the door of the main part of the museum! Family friend Mae Questel (who voiced Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, and later played “Aunt Bethany” in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) introduced Cortlandt to the great voice actress June Foray. Award-winning June Foray, the voice for classic characters like “Rocky the Squirrel” and “Cindy Lou Who”, is the voice of “Zenobia”.

Young Cortlandt’s  mother helped him design Zenobia,. The Gypsy Witch was named after an “irritating” classmate of his mother’s. His mother, a professional broadway costume designer, designed all of the costumes for the museum until her death in 2004.

Young Cortlandt’s mother helped him design Zenobia. “Zenobia The Gypsy Witch“ was named after an “irritating” grade school classmate of his mother’s. His mother, a professional broadway costume designer, designed all of the costumes for the museum until her death in 2004.

After Cortlandt Hull’s mother passed away,  costumes, like this elegant “Beast” from the 1946 French “La Belle et la Bete”, have been designed by professional costume designer Audrey Wellner. (Photo courtesy of and used with permission by Cortlandt Hull)

After Cortlandt Hull’s mother passed away, the costumes, like this elegant “Beast” from the 1946 French “La Belle et la Bete”, have been designed by professional costume designer Audrey Wellner. (Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

The wax museum portion of the exhibit is jaw-dropping with realistic detail and life-sized figures of classic movie greats, made from casts of the actors themselves. With no blood or gore, Mr. Hull feels the characters in classic films have more substance than modern-day horror. “They are over-blown fairy tales”, he adds.

Lon Chaney as “Erik” and “Red Death” from the 1925 silent “Phantom of the Opera”. It is said Erik’s eyes, made of glass, follow you. (Photo courtesy Cortlandt Hull)

Lon Chaney as “Erik” and “Red Death” from the 1925 silent “Phantom of the Opera”. It is said Erik’s eyes, made of glass, follow you.
(Photo courtesy Cortlandt Hull)

Cortlandt Hull’s family has roots steeped in classic Hollywood. Mr. Hull’s great-uncle, the actor Henry Hull, was the first “Werewolf in London” in the 1935 film. His mother, Dorthea Hull, was a professional Broadway costume designer. She designed all of the costumes for the museum until her death in 2004. His father, Robert Hull, was a painting and decorating contractor and helped a young Cortlandt build a Swiss-chalet building to house the collection when the museum first opened (the expanded museum is now housed in the 1890 Bristol Historical Society building).

Cortlandt Hull with his great uncle, actor Henry Hull, as “The Werewolf of London”. Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull

Cortlandt Hull with his great uncle, actor Henry Hull, as “The Werewolf of London”. (Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

Mr. Hull, who holds Bachelors and Masters degrees, has taught film at the college level. He was commissioned by Universal Studios Florida to create a figure of Lon Chaney, Jr. for their exhibit, and has been a writer and director. He learned much from movie greats and Oscar-winning makeup artists like John Chambers who worked on The Planet of the Apes and Dick Smith from The Exorcist.

(Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

(Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

Cortlandt Hull with Vincent Price when he did the voice track for the museum in 1985 (Photo courtesy of and used with permission of Cortlandt Hull)

Cortlandt Hull with Vincent Price when he did the voice track for the museum in 1985
(Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

Cortlandt Hull’s great-uncle Henry Hull also worked with Vincent Price in the 1961 movie Master of the World. Vincent Price was supportive of Cortlandt’s dream, taking an interest in his art ability. Vincent Price, who became like family, was also a fine art collector. He was a friend for over twenty years and visited often. His voice plays on tracks in the museum, and the acting legend even went so far as to find the original suit he wore in House of Wax for his likeness in The Witch’s Dungeon Museum.

Photo Courtesy of Cortlandt Hull

(Photo Courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

The museum celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2016, and remains a true original. The subject of many articles in publications such as National Geographic, the museum is the only one that has been featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not twice. Through the vision of a young boy, when Halloween was not the huge holiday it is today, the exhibit proves that we can do anything we put our minds to with hard work and dedication. The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum remains a truly magical place.

“The Creature of the Black Lagoon”, cast from original parts of the costume from the film, with tour guides “Camilla” (Jodi Dickson and “Farnsworth” (Rob Lansley). (Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

“The Creature of the Black Lagoon”, cast from original parts of the costume from the film, with tour guides “Camilla” (Jodi Dickson) and “Farnsworth” (Rob Lansley).
(Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

On our visit last year, the classic film Dracula was playing. Mr. Hull answered a question I have wondered about every time I’ve seen the film. Do you know why in the scene with Bela Lugosi as Dracula, when he is greeting his visitors in Dracula’s castle, there are armadillos scurrying about? It is because Bela Lugosi hated rats with a passion, so they substituted armadillos for the rodents!

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula (Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
(Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

For more information on this wonderful Halloween destination, check out The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum official website at www.preservehollywood.org. Appealing to all ages, the admission is only $6.00, with half of the fee going to the Bristol Historical Society. Popcorn and candy are only $1.00. The non-profit museum is staffed by all volunteers, who are all very knowledgeable and friendly. We loved every minute of our visit, and can’t wait to return. Thank you, Mr. Hull, for preserving classic Halloween.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein (Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein
(Photo courtesy of Cortlandt Hull)

Wishing you all a Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoyed our visit to The Witch’s Dungeon. It is truly a must-see destination! Remember to leave me a comment below so I know that you stopped by! Stop back in when the next Suburban Farmgirl Blog goes live on December 3rd!

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

Leave a comment 16 Comments

  1. Marlene Capelle says:

    facinating.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Marlene, It is a fascinating place! Such detail in everything there. I love seeing the actual movie props, too. Happy Halloween! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. Natalie Chapman says:

    These exhibits are wonderful!! Vincent Price is my forever favorite plus anything Count Dracula! All the figures look soooooooooooooooo real! Thank you for sharing your trip with us! Happy Halloween!!!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Natalie, thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed the post. I think Vincent Price was super cool, too. The pics are just a sample of what we saw, and when you are up close, they are so amazing. I love wax museums, but this one is just so unique. Happy Halloween! Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Kappy Eschrich says:

    Wish I could post picture of myself in hat

  4. Marilyn says:

    Interesting post.
    HAPPY HALLOWEEN
    Marilyn

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Marilyn, thank you! Hope you had a Happy Halloween, as well. Ours was stormy and spooky, but spent with great friends. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Maureen says:

    What a great place. I am going to put it on my bucket list as a must see!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Maureen, Thanks for reading. The Witch’s Dungeon is bucket-list-worthy, for sure! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Beverly Battaglia says:

    I grew up watching these classic movies and they were very scary. much more than today’s monsters. I love this blog, pictures are great and I wish I could visit someday.
    Love,
    Mother

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Mama, I remember watching the movies as a kid with you, too. Love that I grew up on Classic Halloween. Love you! Nicole

  7. Mary Ann Clifford says:

    Great post, I just watched the 1925 Phantom of the Opera last night on Halloween. Would love to go there, my husband would love it.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thanks, MaryAnn! If you like the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, you will LOVE the exhibit at The Witch’s Dungeon! Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Deb Bosworth says:

    What a neat place to visit for Halloween. Thanks for putting this on our Radar, Nicole!
    hugs,
    Deb

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