- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The crimes of H.H. Holmes are the stuff of horror movies: A handsome young doctor lures young women to his hotel with promises of work or love, but the hotel is a warren of death, filled with gas chambers, trap doors and chutes that led to subterranean dissection table and crematorium. All this is set against the dramatic backdrop of the “White City” constructed for the 1895 Chicago World’s Fair.

In all, Holmes - born Herman Webster Mudgett - is believed to have murdered as many as 200 people from 1886 until his capture in 1894. The exact number is unknown. And while he is best known for his so-called “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Holmes left his mark on Indianapolis.

When authorities got wise to Holmes, he fled, staying briefly in Irvington, then a quiet suburb of Indianapolis that then was home to Butler University. The neighborhood has played host to several grisly events and takes a certain pride in its spooky history. The home built on the site where Holmes murdered Howard Pitezel, the young son of a co-conspirator, is featured on ghost walks and books about supposed neighborhood hauntings.

Hotel Holmes is a new haunted house, organized by the Bindy Agency and brought to life by Imagination Emporium, University of Indianapolis’ experience design student agency. It imagines if Holmes also created a killer hotel in Irvington. That scenario is not so far-fetched as it may sound: Holmes began, though never completed, a second hotel in Fort Worth, Texas. And in 1894, the university offered proximity to young women, who were so often Holmes’ prey.

“There are a lot of unknowns about what he was exactly doing in (the house he rented in Irvington), because we don’t really know. What if he had been constructing another secondary location?” said Piper Voge, co-owner of the Bindy Agency.

The haunted house is presented as part of the Historic Irvington Halloween Festival, the largest Halloween fest in the U.S. “We wanted to do something that felt true to the feel of Irvington,” Voge said. “Irvington is very proud of their history and lore, and we wanted to do something that fit into that.”

While Holmes has gained prominence in recent years with the best-selling book “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson, soon to be a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you don’t have to be an expert in 19th-century serial killers to attend the haunt. In the queue, a documentary will outline the true crimes of the doctor, as well as setting up the fictional premise of the house.

“There will be some fun reaching out to people who know the history, but we also want it to be accessible for people who don’t,” Voge said.

The walk-through style haunt will be held at Playground Productions, a recording and rehearsal space in Irvington. But visitors will feel like they’re stepping into the lobby of a period hotel - and into the deadly rooms within.

A great deal of research went into the design of the house, much of it conducted by Voge herself. It started with a good old-fashioned Google search, but soon evolved into peeking in the archives of The Indianapolis News and Chicago newspapers from the time. That revealed a treasure trove of information, including a sketch of the hotel that was home to so many deaths.

Visitors will find themselves in a hall of doors that open to nowhere, just like the dead-end corridors where Holmes would brick up his still-living victims. They will wander through a laboratory, where the physician and pharmacist conducted experiments, and peek into a study filled with mementos of his victims.

Voge describes the house as “more ‘American Horror Story” and less “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’” In fact, if you’ve seen “American Horror Story: Hotel,” some elements of Holmes’ story might look familiar. The character of James March, played by Evan Peters, was directly inspired by Holmes. Expect much more psychological horror, and fewer people jumping out and yelling, “boo!”

The house acknowledges the real-life horrors committed by Holmes in Irvington. In a now-demolished house in the 5800 block of Julian Avenue, Holmes murdered Howard, the young son of his accomplice. The child’s body was burned in the stove and his remains were buried in the yard.

You won’t see a depiction of that murder in the house, but Howard will be remembered in a way we won’t spoil. “We do deal with the fact that there’s this child crime and this sense of fear, but we steer away from doing anything tasteless or offensive visually,” said Raphael Hendrix, co-owner of the Bindy Agency.

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Source: The Indianapolis Star, https://indy.st/2eC8H2I

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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