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Snakes, Shadows And Skeletons: Berkshire Museum Exhibit Looks At Phobias And Fears

You may have noticed the Halloween candy and decorations already creeping onto store shelves. Now, some rather spooky items have found their way out of the Berkshire Museum’s storage areas and into its exhibit halls.“I’m not really a fan of the snakes and we have the snake video,” said museum communications director Lesley Beck. “It’s a little unsettling.”

Yes, don’t worry, it’s just a video of snakes….a bunch of them. So for Beck — and us — it’s a good thing we got that phobia out of the way, because we have plenty more to get to.

Jason Verchot manages the exhibitions at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. The latest project is called “Something Scary” and it examines just that, things that scare people. First up, visitors enter a room filled with shadows.

“What we’re really trying to do is show why people are afraid of shadows, what makes them scary and the exaggerations of the shadow,” Verchot said. “How you have an object, which is just a small sculpture, but you can exaggerate this massive shadow. Then you can go around the wall and see what it actually looks like.”

Next up are Victorian era photographs of children all looking at you with straight faces…creepy enough, right? Look again.

“The live children were posed with the deceased child because that’s the only time the family was going to get that photograph,” Verchot explained. “It’s kind of sad, but it was a fact of life for that time period and I think they looked at it a little bit differently than we do.”

That leads us into the next room, called “All Eyes on You.”

“It explores the concept that photographs often times and portraits seem like they’re looking at you as you move,” he said. “It’s because as you look at them at any angle you go at it’s always staring dead ahead and it’s not three dimensional. It’s kind of an illusion that all of those flat portraits have. But, you can also see it with the dolls. These dolls are kind of creepy and they’re staring at you.”

My mom has a doll cabinet and you can ask my childhood friends what they thought about the faces gazing out at them. One wall of the exhibit features a mix of 17th century items like a grandfather clock, old furniture and paintings. Verchot says they’re pieces of the museum’s collection, totaling at least 35,000 items, that really wouldn’t make it out of storage except for an exhibition like this one.

“They really form this backdrop of that spooky, haunted house sort of feel,” Verchot said. “Kind of Scooby Doo-ish. You got the portraits with the eye holes that are cut out so that someone can be peering at you from behind a wall. Which is fun.”

Oh, it does get fun. Museum staff put a ball pit and a bunch of rubber snakes right under the television screen showing all the real snakes slithering around. Turn the corner and you’re in the fun house with two mirrors facing each other, creating the illusion of an endless hallway. And, some skeletons and medieval weapons are hanging around for good measure.

“Massive, eight-foot tall or taller halberds to some swords as well as that really creepy looking club, this massive spiked mace that’s called a ‘holy water sprinkler,’” Verchot said. “That’s its name. Very strange.”

But in reality, the museum is trying to make the exhibition fun by examining the fringes of reality. People can use a Ouija board, review the essentials of werewolf and vampire survival kits and drop ping-pong eyeballs into bins to figure out the most popular phobias. And for those who aren’t freaked out enough by walking through the exhibit during the day, Beck’s got a potion for that.

“Flashlight scavenger hunts that are going to be real family-friendly opportunities to have a spooky, kooky afterhours adventure in the museum,” said Beck.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 31.

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