THE WITCH'S DUNGEON - SINCE 1966
THE LONGEST RUNNING HALLOWEEN ATTRACTION IN THE COUNTRY
The original “WITCH’S DUNGEON CLASSIC MOVIE MUSEUM”® opened in Bristol, Connecticut in 1966, a tribute to the actors & effects artists who have given us a legacy of classic fantasy films. The Witch’s Dungeon features highly accurate life size figures based on the classic films of Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price and others from the golden age of horror & sci-fi cinema. The museum is considered the longest running exhibit of its kind in the country (stated by “Entertainment Tonight” in 1996 during our 30th anniversary).
It began with a 13 year old, CORTLANDT HULL. Being ill during most of childhood, he occupied some of his time by building the Aurora monster model kits, inspired by the vivid color artwork of JAMES BAMA on the box covers. Cortlandt was fascinated with the art of movie makeup, and how an actor could be transformed into a fearsome creature. After visiting several wax museums, as a kid, he was disappointed by their “Chamber Of Horrors” lacking the classic movie monsters. At that point, Hull’s 8” monster models were not enough! He began creating his own life-size character, “ZENOBIA THE GYPSY WITCH”® as a hostess for his own “Horror Museum”.
So, in 1966, Cortlandt’s dad, ROBERT HULL helped him build a swiss chalet-style building to house Cortlandt’s full size versions of his favorite classic creatures, which became “The Witch’s Dungeon”. Being a painter and decorating contractor, Hull’s dad helped him build all the background sets. Hull’s mom, DOROTHEA HULL, was a costume designer, she re-created many of the elaborate costumes & capes. Hull’s uncle, LOUIS GAGNON, became the electrical engineer, and with Cortlandt designed & wired unusual laboratory gadgets for the sets. Being only thirteen, Cortlandt’s early sculptures were a bit crude - but it was a start, and a unique concept. At the time, there were no Halloween attractions, except for neighborhood costume parties. Other early supporters of the museum were mask maker, DON POST SR. VERNE LANGDON, & “Famous Monsters” magazine editor, FORREST J. ACKERMAN.
As Hull’s artistic abilities developed through college, and his career in art, so did his accuracy in re-creating life size figures for “The Witch’s DungeonClassic Movie Museum”. Thanks to Oscar winning makeup artists: JOHN CHAMBERS (“The Planet Of The Apes”) and DICK SMITH (“The Exorcist”), Cortlandt learned some of their techniques, and due to their generosity, acquired life casts of the actors to work from.
By the 1970’s, into the 1980’s the small museum had doubled it’s size. It was beginning to achieve national attention, due to articles in “THE NEW YORK TIMES”, ‘NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC”, ‘RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT!” even “PLAYBOY”! Network TV shows - “TO TELL THE TRUTH”, “KIDS ARE PEOPLE TOO”, “ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT”, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA” and others, featured the museum. Actors VINCENT PRICE, JOHN AGAR & MARK HAMILL provided special recordings for the “Dungeon” tour. Leading voice actress for many Warner Bros. & Disney cartoons, JUNE FORAY became the voice of “ZENOBIA THE GYPSY WITCH”® - the official hostess for the museum.
Visitors to “The Witch’s Dungeon”, beginning in the 1990’s were greeted by very special hosts, such as SARA KARLOFF (daughter of actor Boris Karloff), BELA G. LUGOSI (son of actor Bela Lugosi), RON CHANEY (grandson of Lon Chaney Jr.), Oscar & Emmy award winning makeup artist DICK SMITH and several others from the film community, who donated their time to support the exhibit. As Cortlandt’s dad, Robert said, “Who would believe, when you were a boy, and we began the “Witch’s Dungeon” - 30 years later, we would have the actor’s families here to host it, with people visiting from all over the country!” Cortlandt’s dad passed away shortly after the museum’s 30th anniversary in 1996.
In the years that followed, the museum became involved with the U.S. Postal Service - promoting their “Classic Movie Monster Stamps”, featuring portraits of Karloff, Chaney & Lugosi in 1997. The museum figures were displayed at several post offices in the New England area. Plus a special screening of Lon Chaney Sr’s “Phantom Of The Opera” with a live orchestra performing the original 1925 music score, hosted by RON CHANEY, co-sponsored by “The Witch’s Dungeon” and the U.S. Postal Service.
The life-size monsters began to travel - as many major film conventions requested displays of our classic chillers and original movie props at shows in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, even California! Locally, the renown “HARTFORD STAGE COMPANY” requested a major lobby display in connection with their stage production of “The Mystery Of Irma Vep”. Plus each year, the Connecticut State Tourism has asked “The Witch’s Dungeon” to have a major display in the Connecticut Building at “THE BIG E” in West Springfield, MA. in September.
Due to the success of the “Dungeon” and the accuracy of the figures, UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA commissioned Cortlandt to create a figure of Lon Chaney Jr. as “The Wolf Man” for their “Classic Monsters Cafe” in Orlando. The project was a combined effort, involving two of Hull’s talented collegues PAUL DAY CLEMENS and DANTE RENTA.
Shortly after Cortlandt’s mom, Dorothea, passed away in 2004, it was decided we should honor everyone involved with the museum, including the actors & makeup artists which had inspired it’s creation. Plus in 2006 we were approaching the 40th anniversary. A very visual two hour documentary was produced by the museum and it’s talented volunteers - “The Witch’s Dungeon 40 Years Of Chills”. Not merely about the creation of the museum, but a history of classic horror, told directly by those that were involved in creating these films with exclusive interviews. This film has been acclaimed by critics and fans alike, shown theatrically in the U.S. Canada, England and Australia. Our special thanks to all involved that volunteered their work and talents. This started a series of documentaries called “THE WITCH’S DUNGEON LEGENDS OF FILM & FANTASY” with the support of Bill Diamond Productions.
Hull always had respect for the movie making arts, which was the inspiration for creating the museum. Many people he knew in the film industry had given him original props or makeup appliances, from various films, which he has preserved. These pieces are not only part of movie history, but are fine art, and American icons. Like film itself, it is important to preserve them in a new museum for future generations. The not-for-profit expansion of “The Witch’s Dungeon” would include “The Silver Screen Movie Museum and Archive”, plus a theater to screen film classics. We hope sponsorship will make this a reality soon.
written by John Elton Floyd
IT ALL BEGAN
WITH A WITCH NAMED - ZENOBIA
For years, there has been a bit of controversy over the origin of the name, "ZENOBIA THE GYPSY WITCH"®, our hostess of "THE WITCH'S DUNGEON"®. Our old "crystal ball gazer" thought it was time this was cleared up! She was designed & sculpted by Cortlandt, at just 12 years old, in 1965, only a year before the museum first opened. The dear girl looked a bit crude in her early years, as did some of the other figures. But as Cortlandt's artistic ability improved through his college years, and due to his association with Oscar and Emmy winning makeup artists, JOHN CHAMBERS & DICK SMITH, "Zenobia" and the other figures greatly improved.
She was named "Zenobia The Gypsy Witch"® from the very beginning , this is documented by a "Bristol Press" article in the mid 1960's. The name had originated from a former obnoxious classmate of Cortlandt's mom, as she felt the name "Zenobia"fit for a witch! The controversy has come from fans of the classic film by Ray Harryhausen, "Sinbad & The Eye Of The Tiger" (1977), which involved a witch named "Zenobia". Since this film was released 12 years after the creation of our "Zenobia". It had no relation to our witch. Her voice was originally to be done by MAE QUESTEL, best known as the voice of "Betty Boop", she was also the voice of the "Sea Hag" in the "Popeye" cartoons. But Mae believed her friend, JUNE FORAY did a far better "witch voice", as June had done it for Disney, Warner Bros. and other cartoon studios. June has been highly supportive of the museum ever since, and a great friend. "Zenobia" also appears on the 50th anniversary commemorative "Witch's Dungeon" medallion.
The name, "THE WITCH'S DUNGEON"® has also been a victim of rumors, as to it's origin. Like "Zenobia" herself, the title of the museum began with it's creation in 1966 by Cortlandt Hull. This is documented by several newspapers of the time, as well as "Famous Monsters Of Filmland" magazine. Many years later, in the 1980's Salem, Massachusetts opened a museum based on the Salem witch trials and called it "The Witch Dungeon". This attraction has no relation to our original "Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum".
"The Witch's Dungeon"® is a registered trade mark, and originated in 1966. For the first few years it was free, in the 1970's it was 25 cents, then in the 1980's - 50 cents, and from the mid 1990's it has been $1.00 until 2010. The intention was never a money-making venture, but to create a loving tribute to the classic fantasy films, the makeup artists and actors. The admission donation now jointly benefits both the "Dungeon" and "The Bristol Historical Society" at our new location on 98 Summer Street in Bristol, CT.
In 1992 with the support of Vincent Price & Mark Hamill, we were granted the rights from Universal Studios, which owns most all the classic movie monsters, to keep "The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum" open. The families of the actors Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and Vincent Price are all very supportive of the museum. Cortlandt helps fund both the museum and the documentaries. We hope to attain support from corporate sponsors to keep the museum open all year round. Our thanks to all our volunteers that assist, and conduct tours of "The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum".
Hull always had respect for the movie making arts, which was the inspiration for creating the museum. Many people he knew in the film industry had given him original props or makeup appliances, from various films, which he has preserved. These pieces are not only part of movie history, but are fine art, and American icons. Like film itself, it is important to preserve them in a new museum for future generations. The not-for-profit expansion of “The Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum” we plan to open all year round and include a theater to screen film classics. We hope sponsorship will make this a reality soon..
Written by Bill Diamond
president of the museum board of directors.
CORTLANDT HULL - 1966
AURORA ARTIST, JAMES BAMA, WITH OUR FRANKENSTEIN FIGURE
ZENOBIA, THE GYSPY WITCH
ROBERT HULL, CORTLANDT'S DAD
MASK MAKER, DON POST SR, WITH CORTLANDT
BELA LUGOSI JR WITH OUR "DRACULA" FIGURE
ACTOR, MARK HAMILL, WITH CORTLANDT
OUR "RED DEATH" FIGURE
MAKE UP ARTIST, DICK SMITH, WITH CORTLANDT
OUR "CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON" FIGURE
MAKE UP ARTIST, JOHN CHAMBERS, WITH CORTLANDT
RON CHANEY WITH OUR "WOLF MAN" FIGURE
VICTORIA PRICE WITH OUR "DR PHIBES" FIGURE
FORREST J ACKERMAN WITH CORTLANDT
ELVIRA WITH OUR "WEREWOLF OF LONDON" FIGURE