Thursday, July 9, 2015

Three 'Insane' Women Dish Out History and Haunts

Meet three women who are changing the horror industry and putting Bartonville, IL on a national map.

Christina Morris, Jackie McDowell, and Salina Porter run Insane Women Productions, an organization that promotes the true history of the old Peoria State Hospital, commonly known as the Bartonville Insane Asylum. They also work for the Haunted Infirmary at Bartonville Insane Asylum, where they host scary movie nights and spooky attractions year-round to preserve the historical integrity of the old hospital.

Jackie McDowell, Salina Porter, & Christina Morris at the Firehouse.
And they have a great mission: to not only save and teach the authentic history of the hospital but also to change horror and haunted attractions for fright enthusiasts. “History will not save the Hilltop. Haunt money will save it,” says Christina Morris, owner at Insane Women Productions. The true history of the old asylum is mostly innocuous—there was no torture of patients, for example. Of course, there were bad people hospitalized there, such as a rapists and all sorts of convicts. Although Insane Women Productions provides historical tours of the old hospital, it’s the haunted attractions that bring in the money to save it. 

“We give the people what they always thought the hospital was. We create something spooky to save what is really good,” Morris says.

Morris, McDowell, and Porter are part of a team that is changing haunted attractions, and they have a contagious passion that will spread—like a zombie plague, perhaps—and inspire fright-lovers nationwide. People have driven from hours away to see their haunts, and some travelers come from all parts of the country. Insane Women hopes to have monthly haunts throughout the year, not just during the month of October, and they’ve got some incredibly unique ideas. They host movie nights at dusk outside of the Pollock Hospital. On a giant blow-up screen, anyone can watch a horror film in an exceptionally eerie atmosphere, but there’s more to it than a movie! They create a special haunted attraction, unique to each film, for the audience to experience. This month, the movie is The Army of Darkness, and then the crowd can enjoy their Horror Vortex, a haunt inspired by Ash and The Evil Dead!

Insane Women Productions rents a building near the hospital for their work. They operate out of the old Firehouse, which is actually the oldest building on the grounds. The Firehouse is one of the 13 original structures out of 63. The first floor of their home is a museum, the second floor is pure insanity, and you don’t want to go in the attic! They use the second floor to create and store all of their horror props, which are all original. They don’t want to purchase products from Wal-Mart that anyone would recognize, and they frown upon universal animatronic props used by chain haunts that take over other horror-themed attractions. Everything they create is original, and each haunt is a story. It’s about an experience, as if the guest were the lead character in a movie living out his or her ultimate fears. (Note: the author got a private tour of the attic, and . . . so many bodies! That’s all he’ll say about that.)

IWP hosts more than haunts. They also have great historical events!

Each has a terrific story about her love of horror. McDowell, partner at Insane Women Productions, has fond memories of watching scary movies with her dad and attending haunted attractions ever since she was a young girl. Porter, Insane Women Productions’ marketing director, grew up watching every horror film one can imagine and devouring Stephen King books. Ironically, Porter never was a fan of haunted attractions as a child because of a frightening experience at Six Flags where an axe got a little too close for comfort, but she got involved here for the movie nights. Now you can find her clutching a baby still attached by his umbilical cord with bite marks on his face as Porter walks the haunted attractions. It’s great fun.

Most people who grew up in central Illinois know of the Bartonville Insane Asylum. As kids, many would explore the dilapidated halls and spine-chilling rooms late at night, even if it was illegal. Morris always had a desire to preserve the building. She’s been studying the hospital’s history for twenty-five years. When she was a little girl, she used to visit it with her grandfather because they had family there. Her grandfather called them “special people,” and Morris thought he must have meant giants because the place is so big. She’s always felt a special energy from the place and a desire to protect it. As a teen, she’d hide in the empty building to scare away other people who were only there to vandalize or harm the facility. And now as an adult, she’s still scaring people who visit!

The three also team up with others, too, for their haunted attractions, including some men and other women, about 30 other staff, and over 200 volunteers! It’s obvious that the other staff and volunteers become a part of a family and, for many volunteers, it can be a place in which they fit and are welcomed. McDowell, Porter, and Morris also like to think of original haunts, not just slashers chasing after someone, but mind games to really mess with participants. If there’s an energy to the Bartonville Asylum, there’s also a terrific passion at the Firehouse where these three ambitious and creative minds spend their days working on everything from historical documentation to painting the most gruesome blood and guts on new dolls. Their ideas are limitless, and it’s exciting for any fan of haunted attractions or macabre tales to follow along. Down the road, central Illinois residents will recognize Insane Women not only for original and terrifying haunts but for helping save one of the most iconic and interesting parts of our community. And the world of haunted attractions and horror is paying attention, too. 

For everything they do, you can follow them on their Facebook page, and for just the horror and haunting information, you can also follow them here.

This Saturday, come check out their movie night and haunted vortex! Keep following along on this blog, as there are plenty more tales to tell and people to interview! They also told me of an upcoming adventure that absolutely NO ONE has. That will be a great story, so be sure to follow along.

Author’s Note: “The horror fan wants to be his or her favorite characters,” Morris said when I talked to her today.  I smiled wide at this comment and told all three that I couldn’t agree more. It’s that concept that inspired my own horror novel, Rabbit in Red, which releases this fall. I’ll be interviewing the men who work at the attractions, too, for other unique perspectives, as well as covering some special events and other news from Insane Women and the Haunted Infirmary. To get all the latest updates, please like my author Facebook page here! You can also subscribe to the blog and visit me at my official author webpage.

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