BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — I’ll admit it. I’m impressed. I stood in a museum and I was impressed and it had nothing to do with Jackson Pollock or Andy Warhol, was simple and was clear, and I really just enjoyed it.
I’m speaking of Cortlandt Hull’s Witch’s Dungeon Classic Horror Museum, open briefly this month in honor of Halloween. Never mind the Pollocks, this is art.
I’ve been guilty, in my time, of turning my nose up at mainstream attractions in the name of a true and deeper artistic appreciation. I’m not proud of it, I confess. However, I realize the error of my ways and I have to tell you that what’s true and pure about art is exemplified better by Hull and his monsters than anything anyone can do with a blank canvas and royal blue paint between his toes.
Hull is something that we scarcely see these days, something that I wish that we’d see more. He is simply genuine.
I’ll admit it, I went to the museum, reporter’s pad in hand, looking for the “real story.” All right, I thought, there’s something nasty and twisted and impure about all this, or else it’s just a small shack that goes over well with children.
What I found was a man dedicated to his craft, dedicated to illusion, to, as he was instructed by Vincent Price, “making the unreal real.”
He charges 50 cents for children, a dollar toward admission for adults. The incentive isn’t cash, and it isn’t recognition.
The man has spent a large portion of his life, and most of his money, I would imagine, procuring rare classic horror memorabilia….you have to wonder why.
He does it, it’s clear to me, because it’s something innocent and fun, something not imposing or corrupted. Children squeal with delight, gloriously frozen with terror before Frankenstein’s Monster or Count Dracula. It’s clean and without complication, moral points mapped out, highlighted, and who can’t hate that?
We fail to see, I think, in this sort of childhood fantasy, the skill of the true artists at work, suspending disbelief.
I’ve seen the sort of work that Hull puts into recreating these things, and it’s really no child’s picnic. This is grueling stuff, and this takes the sort of talent most of us can only dream about, but often just don’t see.
The art is no less valid, no less fantastic because the work is horror. That sort of misconception and careless generalization is just dangerous.
Hull has done magnificent things with his Dungeon, and, given the space and the funding, could begin something very unique and worthwhile.
The trouble, it seems, is getting people like me, people wondering about the real story and without an appreciation for his efforts because of their genre, to see the merit there. The potential is there, potential for something like nothing else, and in Bristol.
It’s potential for tourism, it’s potential for the sharing of film appreciation, and it’s up to us at this point to recognize that potential.
Cortlandt Hull realizes that Bristol is a small town, that this sort of project would probably go over better elsewhere, in some college town.
He wants to keep it in Bristol, in his hometown, wants to be true to that. That’s genuine. He needs space, he needs money, and he’s having difficulty getting either.
He’s done all he can for his cause. From here, I think it’s simply up to us.
Joe Wilbur is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.