Surrounded by a collection of furniture and objects that resemble a creepy curio cabinet, Jeff Borne is calmly describing the world he has created.
“If there is a place that is truly haunted, this is it,” he said, speaking of the former funeral home in Mid-City that operates as The Mortuary, a haunted-house attraction, this time of year.
“Legend has it there was a carriage accident in the 19th century in front of this building before the street was even called Canal. Two children, Daniel and Ellie, lost their lives.”
“More than one attendee has asked how we made the special effect that allowed them to walk through the children,” Borne said.
“I don’t know how to tell them it’s not part of the show.”
If anyone knows where ghosts can be found, it’s Borne. The 49-year-old New Orleans native has been in the haunted attraction business for over 30 years.
A veteran of and driving force behind the popular Chinchuba Haunted House and the Scream Factory, Borne has parlayed a childhood love of jack-in-the-box scares and shadowy chills into a living as an entetainment event planner, organizer and impresario.
But in many ways, the old funeral parlor on Canal Street has become his masterpiece.
Its unique location, mysterious history, and structural permanence has allowed it to become a haunt of national significance.
Open through Nov. 2, its doors open at dusk and continues to be open for ticket purchase until 11 p.m.
Now in its eighth year, The Motuary has become a staple of the local Halloween scene providing one of the most polished combinations of startling jolts and unnerving images.
“We’ve been doing this all over South Louisiana, Thibodaux, Morgan City. I don’t know if there is a better living. It’s fun, entertaining, and a giant adrenaline rush,” he said.
Running a haunted house is more than fog machines, flashing lights and shuffling corpses, Borne said.
“Building a good attraction is about creating a psychology of fear. If your visitors believe the space itself is haunted, their fear elevates the potential for sightings.”
Despite changing themes from year to year (this time the foucs is zombies), The Mortuary’s foundation of fear is built on a few crucial recurring elemets.
Beginning by creating an energy around the space, it limits its travelers to small groups that increase the sense of isolation, and then alternates its shocking moments with extended suspense building silences.
Along with the story of the two children, Borne plays up the history of the mortuary before it was purchased by PJ McMahon and Sons, telling visitors that its original proprietor, a mysterious figure named Ravencroft, was transformed into a vampire after conducting ill-advised experiments.
After waiting in line, attendees are ushered through a winding series of rooms on three levels, among gruesome sights, terrifying turns and bloody twists.
But not all the blood at The Mortuary is bad.
Borne has had a relationship with The Blood Center since opening his haunt, and provides V.I.P. tickets of early entry for all who donate blood at one of The Bloodmobiles in front of the site.
It is an invaluable contribution according to Bridget Landry, The Blood Center’s donor resource surpevisor.
“We start with 30 units a night on the average and by the time we get to Halloween we are getting 100 units with two mobile stations running. The donations are so many that we have to stop even before the haunted house is closed for the night.”
Serving over 40 hospitals including Tulane and Children’s, The Blood Center has worked with The Mortuary giving those in search of Halloween thrills a chance to give something back to the community.
There isn’t a trace of irony in the words of Landry as she sets up for another big season.
“October is an excellent month for blood.”