Even in the rather long list of creepy killers and odd happenings to take place in Tulsa, Carolann Smith and her basement stand out.
In 1944, police investigated the strange case. Two young women were living in Smith's basement and had been for seven years. While under a hypnotic spell, they worked and obeyed Smith no matter the cost. They even signed over their paychecks and were subjected to physical abuse.
Smith is also believed to be behind the death of her husband, her father, her maid, an investigator, and many others. She was never prosecuted for murder because of a lack of physical evidence, but was sentenced to one year in prison on fraud charges.
And then she vanished.
From the roots
This Tulsa urban legend is just the tip of the iceberg for the Hex House, a haunted house attraction that also strives to recreate the spookiness associated with Smith's basement.
The truth is that Smith did have two young women living with her for seven years, somehow holding them without restraints as police records indicate. Her possible involvement in the deaths of others never was proven.
When searching through the creepy cases of Tulsa, Hex House owner and designer Rhett Holmes discovered the lost tale. The Hex House crew set out to start something original and local for Tulsa, according to set decorator and visual designer Damian Lund.
"We wanted some local folklore, anything that was specifically localized to this area. We came across a case that was dubbed the hex house, and it was surrounded with other events that took place in the '40s," he said. "Being in Tulsa, we decided to go with it."
The story of Carolann Smith and that era inspired the details, theme, and making of the Hex House.
"We try finding items, decorations, and anything else from the '40s especially," Lund said. Referring to the endless amount of garage sale shopping and work put into the set decoration, "everything is built by ourselves, and everything is put up by us, and all of it is completely 100 percent made by local artists," Lund added.
Creating the haunts
The original Smith house was demolished in 1975, so Holmes made the decision to open up at their E. 71st Street location. It is, however, safe to assume that the corporate building makes it extremely difficult to provide such an intense atmosphere and authentic environment.
As a reporter that has walked through the haunted attraction (with the lights on), I can say that with so much attention to detail and real pieces of Tulsa's '40s, the Hex House feels as though it grew out of the ground.
As looks may deceive, and without giving away too many details, the outside of the building does not add much to the fear and scary creations that reside within its walls.
"We don't want people to be able to predict things, and we definitely aim to make and keep things original," Lund said. "We have to provide people with a scary movie experience, but in your face."
If it were up to Lund himself, everyone would be crawling in spaces smaller than air ducts. Not kidding.
"When I asked Rhett what I couldn't do, he said, 'I want you to scare every adult that comes through that door.'" Lund said. On opening night, "I can attest that we had one person pee their pants."
While walking through each room there are immediate conflicting reactions, and for the crew, this is exactly what they design each room to create: a conflict between running for your life and becoming attracted to the unknown.
"You can see why we get the amount of fanfare that we do just by the details. My history of working in special effects and set dressing for film has really taught me a lot about decorating 360 degrees. That's pretty much what we try to do," Lund said. "It's meant to draw you in. It's meant to be as appealing as it is terrifying. So as you go in, you do see the details, you've forgotten that you're in a haunt; you do know something is in there, but it looks enticing. And something is going to get you."
There is a very fine line between haunting and inviting, and it's very present in every room. The intricate designs and objects make the viewer forget they're in some building off E. 71st Street. This also happens to be the very best moment to scare the crap out of someone while they're distracted (even when the lights are on).
"That's really what we like to do, just create an all-inclusive and psychological experience," Lund said. "So while somebody's too busy watching this, something else can come out."
Famous last words
This Hollywood-come-to-life attraction will leave the cautious ones open to attack. Let this be a warning. Don't bother trying to find something before it finds you. It only makes everything worse in the Hex House.
On a lighter note, the building appears to have attracted an unexpected guest. A paranormal investigator visited and came away with a reading. Of what, no one knows yet, but this reporter believes a spirit has latched itself onto one of the many timeless pieces that fill the Hex House.
The haunted house is open weekends and some weekdays from 7:30-11pm, with later hours planned as Halloween approaches. See tulsahexhouse.com for details. Visit this season, if you dare, but please, do enjoy the details of the scare.
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