Let’s start here: As a journalist, I’m a professional skeptic. I don’t believe in ghosts, spirits, vibrations, crystal energies, cursed objects or any of that hokum. It would also be the height of arrogance, however, to claim some omniscient knowledge of the universe’s mysteries. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “There’s more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Basically, I keep my mouth shut a lot when conversation turns to the supernatural … except for the one time I cornered paranormal investigator Zak Bagans at a show opening and demanded that he admit ghosts weren’t real. He would only smile. Blame my rudeness on the spirits (aka free cocktails).
As I stood outside of Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum one sunny September afternoon, I hoped he was the forgiving type. The imposing star of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures was about to lead me on an exclusive tour of his personal masterpiece.
In some ways, it seems wrong to share too many details about the 11,000-square-foot, 30-plus-room mansion. This 1938 property, originally owned by the businessman Cyril S. Wengert, is best discovered bit by bit. Each new area is an unspooling mystery, a fresh delight or unexpected fright. To be clear, the Haunted Museum is not a haunted house. No masked actors lie in wait. It’s much scarier than that, because it’s real. This is not a compendium of fantasy monsters; it’s a collection of artifacts revealing the depths of humanity’s depravity. Circus-style oddities and historical curiosities lighten the mood—if rooms filled with creepy dolls and clowns count as levity.
The question of whether or not you feel things when you walk through this museum is irrelevant. That detracts from the astounding objects that stand before your eyes. I stared bravely at the cursed objects and ventured alone through a secret passageway. And even though I ain’t afraid of no ghost, the place’s cumulative effect wore me down. By the end of the tour, I was thoroughly creeped out. When I re-emerged into the Vegas sunlight, the birds were chirping and the cars were honking, but I just felt weird and disoriented. I drove around Downtown with no particular destination, until I had to pull over and sit in the sunlight, reminding myself that this was real.
Getting the tour from Bagans himself was a special treat—not because he’s famous, but because he clearly loves these weird and unusual artifacts so much. Sure, he might have a popular TV show complete with spin-offs, but something tells me that this museum will be his legacy. It’s a piece of dark art, carefully constructed with no expense spared.
One warning about Bagans and his museum: He’s not afraid to bring viewers to a truly dark place. A lot has been of the Dybbuk Box, a “haunted object” surrounded by salt, encased in glass and hidden in its own room. It inspired the movie The Possession, and guests are basically encouraged not to enter the room. The Dybbuk Box was fascinating to see, but it wasn’t as ghastly to me as the room that housed Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s Volkswagen van, the very one in which the doctor performed assisted suicides. To heighten the effect, the van was set up with signs commemorating the doctor’s late “patients” and a mannequin in the back so that you could see how the procedure worked.
There’s also a ton of serial killer memorabilia. There’s a room painstakingly built to resemble Ed Gein’s Wisconsin barn. “The Butcher of Plainfield” likely used the displayed cauldron to cook down human remains. There’s also a display of clown paintings by “Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Until the events of October 1, I looked at the lore around serial killers with a detached sort of curiosity. Now, it seems too close for my personal comfort. I hope that as time passes, the thought of mass murder will recede back into the safe hypothetical. Bagans honored the victims of Route 91 with a candlelight vigil, and a banner reading “Pray for Vegas” is displayed prominently on his website.
Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum is a truly amazing attraction, real and authentic, quirky and unique to Vegas. While other attractions meet the human desires of pleasure or flavor or sex appeal, this museum appeals to a deeper human need—the need to venture into the dark, look death in the eye and come out on the other side, finding a sunny day and appreciating life anew.
Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum 600 E. Charleston Boulevard, thehauntedmuseum.com. Monday-Saturday, 1-9 p.m., $34.