Published October 20. 2013 4:00AM
Mystic - The ghostly guard of the gangplank at the entrance to the L.A. Dunton - lately renamed the Demeter - beckoned visitors to approach the cursed ship.
"You wish to go aboard, you do?" Johnny Cody hoarsely called to a group of arriving guests.
"Do we get to get back off?" Doreen Hisman of Waterford asked.
"Ah!" the guard replied. "Good question."
Mystic Seaport's annual "Sights and Frights" Halloween event took on a different twist this year, as Seaport museum actors, singers and staff converted the L.A. Dunton into the ship of the Count Dracula legend, and made the shore of the Mystic River its unlucky port.
"Sights & Frights" continues next Friday and Saturday starting at 6 p.m. Admission is $16 per person, $12 for Mystic Seaport members.
The tale unfolded at various locations throughout the museum, each synopsis carrying a tag on whether it was "family friendly," "creepy," "scary" or "very scary." Parents were left to decide which events to attend with small children, many of them dressed in their own ghoulish or fantastical Halloween attire.
Evie Schwartz, 5, proudly stated that she didn't scream during her tour of the Demeter to meet its ghostly inhabitants. Her brother, Steven, 9, did.
The Schwartz family of Windsor, parents Mark and Wendy and older siblings Amanda, 14, and Kylan, 12, arrived at the Seaport by boat to take in the festivities.
"It was good," Evie said of the Demeter tour.
In the whaleboat shed at the Demeter's dock, Sailor Ghost Matthew Porter warned visitors of what they might find aboard the ship where he lost his life. The voyage started fine, the sailor said, until one by one, the crew started to disappear with no trace as they attempted to make their way from their watch to their rest.
Only three remained when it was his turn to go aloft. The sailor sharpened his knife to be ready. When a cold breeze - "one that would make Jamaican rum freeze," he whispered - caught his neck, he whipped out the knife. Suddenly, something grabbed his wrist so hard the bone shattered.
Then came the stabbing pain in his neck. "All warmth drained from my body," he said.
His spirit stayed onboard the vessel with those of his fellow sailors.
All were dead when the Life Saving Service salvaged the damaged vessel from the rocks. Left unclaimed, the evening's activities included a planned auction of the vessel "as is," constable and auctioneer Erik Ingmunson called out to several dozen onlookers.
A mysterious man emerged with great interest and a heavy accent. Baron Vladimir, portrayed by Sean Spencer, had posted the highest bid when Mrs. Winifed Harker screamed objection as her husband, Capt. Jonathan Harker, attempted to raise his hand.
"It will be the death of us all," Mrs. Harker shouted. "It is cursed!"
With that, the auction was postponed, and the audience invited to a concert interlude.
If the Dracula-themed maritime tale seemed a bit far-fetched for some in the audience, Mystic Seaport obliged with a session of nonfiction New England vampire stories, drawing from documented 18th- and 19th-century accounts of fear gripping families and villages as loved ones died of illness that sapped their strength and their life's breath.
In desperation to explain and solve the mystery, they surmised the recently departed must be returning from their graves to feed upon the living.
Event director Denise Cannella, supervisor of museum theater, said a staffer suggested using the Dracula theme for this year's Halloween event, and Cannella liked the connection with the true local history of the vampire scares in New England towns.
So did Joshua Green of Madison. Coming off the Demeter, Green said he liked the New England vampire stories the best of Saturday night's offerings. But when a young girl about to board the ship asked if the tour was scary, Green gave her a big smile.
"Very scary!" he said.