New attraction converts Eloise psychiatric facility into immersive haunted experience

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

One of Michigan's most prolific maybe-haunted buildings will soon be open for visitors to walk through — not for standard ghost tours, but for an immersive experience that is sure to spook even the most avid visitors of haunted houses.

Several levels of the Kay Beard Building, part of the greater facility known as Eloise, have been converted to the Eloise Asylum, a high-tech experience with scare actors, sets built based on the original building and a storyline designed to frighten.

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The project took about two years of planning and more than $1.2 million spent just on the haunted house, Jay Kays, director of operations, said during a preview Thursday.

"What you get for that is not like a haunted house you have experienced before, though," Kays said. That includes "cold spark" machines, which emit safe bursts of sparks, lots of realistic props and the kind of projection technology typically seen in theme parks and immersive art exhibits. "This is a story, an experience, and we want people to really get into it."

Visitors start on the first floor, where they are treated as patients being admitted to the asylum. They visit several rooms, including many that are original to the building and were meticulously designed to match the existing building.

As visitors work their way deeper into the building and further into the storyline (which is fictional but plays off of elements true to the facility's history), guests continually find new scares and more creepy themes. 

There is also a second attraction in the basement of the building where Kays said visitors see what happens when attempts to make people immune to nuclear attacks go wrong.

Scare actor Joshua Davis seems to enjoy his job too much, while using some electro-shock therapy on a patient during a preview of the Eloise Asylum haunted attraction in Westland on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.

"The story itself is very simple, but using the story like this and all the production that has gone into it is so innovative in our industry," Kays said.

Part of what makes the experience fully immersive is the work of people like Kaity Furdak, who helped with the art direction of the experience. She said she spent dozens of hours looking at historic photos and touring the building to make sure it was next to impossible to tell what was a real, original piece of the building, and what was a set.

"One of my favorite things about doing what I do is hearing people walk through and say, 'Is this real?' or knocking on the wood to see what's real or not," Furdak said. "The goal is to really submerge you."

Scare actor Megan Prieve might be prescribing too many medications during a preview of the Eloise Asylum haunted attraction in Westland on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.

In order to do that, she spent hours matching tiles to what is original to the building and painting faux wood to match the details of wood already in the building.

When that kind of attention is paid to detail, it makes the big details, including a morgue with dozens of feet molded from real people, feel that much more frightening, Furdak said.

The design serves as a maze through the building, which adds another level to the experience. Guests are given previews of future areas so they can expect one thing, just to be frightened by something they never saw coming.

Kays estimated more than 150 employees will work at the attraction, including 65 actors. The commitment to staying local, in everything from lighting teams to wood suppliers, makes a big difference, he said.

To make sure COVID-19 doesn't add an extra level of fear, the tickets to get in are timed to limit the number of people interacting with each other. That timed feature also adds an extra level of scare, Kays said, as it helps limit spoilers for future rooms as guests don't typically hear from a specific room until they're about to enter it. Each visit is between 35 to 40 minutes long.

The "freezer" during a preview of the Eloise Asylum haunted attraction in Westland on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.

The plan is to open the attraction each year around the end of September or the beginning of October. Each year will have new developments and additions, Kays said. When the attraction is not in place, the building will still be accessible for the ghost tours the space has been known for years.

Tickets are $40 a person, which gets a visitor access to both the main and basement experiences. VIP tickets, which grant people the ability to jump to the front of the line, are available for $65. A portion of the money goes to the Samaritas Family Center, an emergency shelter for families next to the grounds.

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