Looking for something spooky to do this Halloween? A ride in Allison Huntington Chase′s (BFA 2010 Film and Video) trolley should do the trick. Inspired by her father, who owned what was once one of the largest haunted houses in the nation, she continued her family legacy by opening Madame Morbid’s Trolley Tours in Brooklyn. During the 90-minute tour, Madame Morbid’s guests learn about 400 years of haunted Brooklyn history from knowledgeable tour guides, including Chase herself, from the comfort of what she calls a ”pimped-out, mobile Victorian funeral parlor.”
Madame Morbid aptly opened a few weeks before last year’s Halloween. “We thought we’d be cute and open on a Friday the 13th,” Chase says. “I’m not really superstitious, but let’s just say anything that could have possibly gone wrong went wrong that day.”
Regardless of the rocky start, the first year of her business was a dream come true. With the influence of her father, who she says was constantly making tweaks and improvements to his own ghost tour, she now finds herself up during the witching hours brainstorming changes and additions to her tour’s offerings. “Madame Morbid is the first thing in my life I have ever given 100% of myself to,” she says.
The fun doesn’t end when the ghost tour wraps; guests are encouraged to stop by Two Boots Pizza, a New York staple next door to the tour’s pick-up location, where they serve a Madame Morbid pizza, prepared on garlic bread (to ward off vampires) and topped with a pesto pentagram. And though Madame Morbid’s website emphasizes that during the tours there is ”no alcohol, but plenty of spirits,“ Friday attendees can head to the nearby Brooklyn Brewery and skip the line for a free beer. Guests can also celebrate each full moon with a special trolley ride, where they receive free werewolf fangs and moon pies (the next one takes place on Wednesday, October 24). As for philanthropic duties, the Madame Morbid team is also covered—10% of ticket sales go toward feeding New York City’s homeless.
Book your Madame Morbid’s Trolley Tour here, and receive 20% off your ticket with the code RideOrDie20. Keep reading to learn more about how Chase made this dream happen and what she hopes will come next.
How did the idea for Madame Morbid come about? Had you wanted to create something like this for a while?
It was always in the back of my mind, kind of as a last resort. Then one day, I just started telling people I was “going to open up a ghost tour,” which was received with many eye rolls. (To be fair, I had said I was going to open up a bed and breakfast the week before.)
What were you doing before you started Madame Morbid?
I went to SVA for screenplay writing. On the last day of class, my teacher told us, ”Don’t expect to sell anything for at least 10 years!“ I quickly realized I needed a Plan B. I worked as a makeup artist for a few years (which I sucked at) and then in real estate (which I hated). I even tried being a sommelier! I couldn’t find anything that I liked or was also good at.
My grandpa always said, ”There are doers, and there are dreamers.“ And I was sick of dreaming. Madame Morbid is the first thing in my life I have ever given 100% of myself to.
Is this now your full-time job?
Yes! And a few other peoples′, as well!
How has your father’s legacy influenced this practice?
My dad’s ghost tour was the best, and that’s because he made it the best. He did everything with such efficiency, right down to the smallest detail. The quality of his work spoke for itself, and since he was always making tweaks, the tour was continually improving. Seeing the care and effort that he regularly put into bettering his tour definitely influenced me. I now find myself at 3:00am on most nights brainstorming changes that I can add or make to Madame Morbid. It’s also been nice—and convenient—to be able to call my dad 24/7 with any ”ghost tour emergencies.” We’re definitely an odd father/daughter duo.
A portion of your ticket sales go to feed New York’s homeless—can you comment on that?
I was honestly so psyched to even be in a position where I was able to offer it. My dad donated all of his haunted-house proceeds to juvenile diabetes. He also did a Christmas version of this in the wintertime called Winter Wonderland, even though we’re Jewish. Apparently, that was a big inspiration. When my siblings and I had our bar and bat mitzvahs, my parents told us to ask for donations to a charity of our choice in lieu of gifts. My little sister, older brother and father all have type 1 juvenile diabetes, so they chose that, and my older sister picked breast cancer in honor of my mom. I picked a woman and children’s shelter in Hartford, Connecticut, called My Sister’s Place. I have worked with them ever since, but I thought it was more appropriate to give back to the community that Madame Morbid resides in.
I see that you do special events in addition to your tours. Did these come later as Madame Morbid started to become more popular? Do you intend to add more?
Everyone in the Madame Morbid office gets super excited and creative when coming up with new tours! Honestly, we probably started making lists of ideas before we even opened. Someone will say something like, ”I feel like playing with dogs.“ Then, boom! There’s a ”Bring Your Own Dog Tour“ the next day.
Do you think your time at SVA influenced you as you created Madame Morbid?
In a way. My ultimate goal in life is to sell a script. I spent four years studying film at SVA. Madame Morbid may be my business, but SVA reminds me that I still have other goals I’d like to achieve.
What are your hopes for Madame Morbid moving forward?
I want Madame Morbid to have lots of babies and eventually buy timeshares in other cities. Maybe we’ll also come out with a Christmas album, who knows?
This interview has been condensed and edited.
A version of this article appears in the fall 2018 issue of the Visual Arts Journal.