At first glance, the Wengert House is an unassuming Tudor revival cottage, with a peaked roof and multipaned windows that read more Disneyland than Sin City. But a closer look reveals a sprawling 30-plus rooms, each one transformed into the optimum display for its particular collection of oddities: a parlor full of antique mechanical dolls clacking and blinking away, a hallway lined with skulls in glass cases, a human mummy tucked into a niche at the top of a staircase.
“I can’t say where I got the mummy,” Zak Bagans says. The host of television’s Ghost Adventures and Deadly Possessions has spent the last year and a half transforming the historic home into the Haunted Museum, a repository for the many cursed and creepy items he has collected over his years of chasing the paranormal. “The objects that I bring in here, they have a lot of things attached to them,” he says. “It’s just a concentrated nuclear reactor of objects and energy.”
The Wengert House was built in 1938 by Cyril Wengert, whose family lived here until the 1970s. After being used as law offices and the offices of the State Bar of Nevada, Bagans’ company, Hellfire Media, purchased the house. “I’ve been trying for a long time to run a historic property for tours. And I wanted it to be haunted. Vegas is a hard place to find that.”
Bagans dashes through the house, pointing out Bela Lugosi’s cursed mirror and a bullet-holed Nazi helmet with all the enthusiasm of an 8-year-old showing off his new toys on the afternoon of the Best. Christmas. Ever. No white-walled galleries here, each room is set up as its own creepy vignette with lighting and sound. One room is fluorescent-lit with iron bars and white tile—the better to show off “murderbilia” such as Charles Manson’s bloody handprint and the high-school-detention-style artwork of Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez. A mock doctor’s office with anatomical posters and brains floating in jars leads to the minibus Jack Kevorkian used to carry out his assisted suicides, complete with a creepy mannequin lying under a faded blanket. A room centered on grave-robbing cannibal Ed Gein’s cauldron and shovel has the ceiling opened to the rafters like a barn, with a thunderstorm soundtrack playing in the background. It’s a little like walking through an episode of American Horror Story or a particularly gonzo Hammer film.
“In every room I want you to experience different energy, different emotions. … Between the sounds, the energy from the objects and the way things look, the moods will change,” Bagans explains. “I’m sensitive, I can feel stuff from the object—I want people to kind of feel what I feel. It’s kind of like an object and its energy in its natural habitat. I want them to feel a whole experience.”
When Bagans first saw the Wengert House, he thought, “It looks like the Winchester Mystery House,” and the home has evolved into something similar, as tunnels, secret doors and sliding panels have been added to the mazelike interior. “I love this place. I don’t like being away from it when I’m filming,” he says. “It was meant for me to have this place. I’m feeling like Sarah Winchester a little bit—I’ll never stop building and adding little things.” There are even a few pieces of that famed haunted mansion here: a wooden case containing a dozen lifesize wax heads and a spiderweb window.
The majority of the objects in the house aren’t technically haunted; they’re just … strange. There’s an array of carnival and circus paraphernalia, including a vast display of a tiny, intricate amusement park featuring everything from merry-go-round to lion tamer to hot dog booth, all hand-carved by a single artist in the ’40s. “Can you find the little kid whose arm was torn off by a tiger?” Bagans asks excitedly before pointing out a tiny figure at the back. “Little kid lying on the ground with blood coming out of his arm and a tiger just mauling on him. I made that; I just had to put my own dark flair on it.”
Which of the many things in the Haunted Museum does Bagans find the most disturbing? “I think the demon house dirt and the objects and the staircase in there. That’s the most feared, and people can’t really go into that room.” Of course you can—although Bagans says people will be given a warning about “what can happen” before entering, like giving a heart patient a heads-up before getting on a roller coaster. Even if the tales of demon voices and little boys walking backward up walls don’t disturb you, the staircase to nowhere, pile of dirt and makeshift altar is unsettling in itself.
However, one part of the house is completely off-limits: the basement. “I do not allow people to go down there. And I won’t.” Bagans says that several construction workers walked off the job after going to the basement and he himself has only gone a few times. “There’s a lot of dark, evil shit down there,” he says. “We found out that in the 1970s, they used to do Satanic rituals in the basement.”
Bagans expects that the Haunted Museum will be open in a few weeks and hopes it will join the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum as one of Downtown Las Vegas’ unique cultural offerings. “The stories attached to the items—that’s what’s important to me,” he says. “I don’t want it to be a hokey experience—come in and watch out for the haunted big bad wolf!”
“I haven’t really shared my collection too much,” he continues, “but I feel things and so will a lot of people. I hope a lot of skeptics come in and they’re just open to it.” Even if you’re not a believer in the paranormal, the Haunted Museum is a fascinating trip through the eerie side of Americana.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez