Wednesday 17 – Saturday 20 May 2017

Museums at Night

11-14 May 2016 / 27-29 Oct 2016

So many Museums at Night October events are taking advantage of the darkness and the time of year – the festival coincides not just with half term week, but also with Halloween and the Day of the Dead!

If your museum or gallery is interested in running a spooky event, here are some ideas to consider.

Tone of voice – who is the audience?

Are you aiming to attract parents with younger children, family groups keen to do activities together, teens, groups of friends who want a night out with cocktails, history buffs, believers in the paranormal keen to encounter a ghost? Our resource on creating not-too-scary ghost tours for families may be helpful.

A group of zombies dressed as medics

Quarantine Zombie Fright Night (c) Thackray Museum Leeds

Understanding people’s motivations for visiting your event will help you craft the copy for your listing to appeal to them: if it’s several hours long, can they also eat dinner in your cafe? Will it be a high-adrenalin hour-long zombie chase, an intimate candlelit evening taking them back in time, or a fun costume and craft extravaganza for little witches and wizards?

Two women dressed as witches at school

Friendly witches welcoming visitors to Wizard School at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse in Norfolk

Historical research

Are there any local ghosts, folk tales or legends that you could research and present in a fresh way, perhaps through drama, storytelling, rapping or dance? Successful stories museums have retold in the past involve local highwaymen, pirates, crime and punishment, unsolved murders, the Black Shuck and more.

Food and drink

Offering food and drink is a great way to generate income with your event, particularly if it’s free to attend. Home-made cake is always popular, and people at sleepovers love a midnight feast, so be sure to mention in your event publicity whether people will be able to eat and drink when they come along. If it’s aimed at adults, why not get a liquor licence and offer local ales, themed cocktails or hot punch?

There are all sorts of recipes online for spooky-themed food, from frozen banana ghosts to garlic eyeballs: here are a selection of Halloween recipes from BBC Good Food.

If you want to carve pumpkins, here are some carving tips and suggestions for recipes you can make from the pumpkin flesh and seeds.

Children outside with carved pumpkins

Children with carved pumpkins (c) Red House Museum & Gardens, Dorset

Animal magic

Creatures associated with Halloween include bats, cats, rats, spiders, and owls. If you don’t have access to any of these, try reaching out to a local organisation that does, and suggesting a partnership! Many environment centres run minibeast handling sessions, while Bexley Heritage Trust regularly brings in owls to events at Hall Place and Gardens, which are popular with visitors of all ages.

A boy wearing a raptor handling glove with a live owl

A young visitor meets an owl (c) Bexley Heritage Trust

Atmospheric lighting

Could you illuminate your space differently – or perhaps dim the lights and invite visitors to guide themselves around using torches?

Several historic houses give the impression of going back in time by closing the curtains and lighting their spaces with flameless candles, which use LED lights so avoid the fire risk of wax ones.

a candlelit historic dining room

The candlelit dining table at Powis Castle (c) National Trust

If you have floodlights that highlight the architectural details of your building, why not lead a guided walk or offer pop-up talks? Having a laser pointer may be helpful to highlight particularly interesting features or sinister gargoyles.

The supernatural and paranormal

There are a wide range of paranormal societies around the UK, many of whom are keen to discuss their work with interested members of the public, and investigate supernatural phenomena using equipment such as dowsing rods and motion sensors. After-hours events like these don’t usually last all night, unlike sleepovers, but often run until after midnight.

If your venue is genuinely haunted, you may like to follow the guidelines from one haunted castle, who welcome paranormal investigators to make contact with their ghosts, but view them as benign presences and insist on a signed contract stating that visitors will not try to exorcise them.

Preston Manor in Brighton is planning an evening that not only explains how a Victorian seance worked, but which also features guest mediums and tarot card readers – which they hope will bring a new audience into the historic house.

an image with a ghostly figure and old books

The White Lady at Preston Manor (c) Brighton Museums

Costumed capers 

Will your team portray costumed characters? Will you invite visitors to come in costume, or give them the chance to create or add to their own costumes at a craft station?

Do you have any staff or volunteers with face-painting skills? Could this activity tie in with the theme of your event? One museum combined a screening of Twilight with the option of make-up, so that visitors could transform themselves into sparkly vampires for the occasion.

The Museum of Oxford are working with Hidden Track Theatre Company to create an immersive performance experience, and create a map of spooky happenings in their city – here’s the animated video they made to promote the event:

Sound effects

Although whispering wind, hooting owls, creaking doors, wind-up musical boxes, approaching footsteps, banshee screams and unexplained thumping noises are terrific for creating a disturbing ambience, if your event is family-friendly you may prefer not to be too sinister. At ss Great Britain, when visitors try a particular toilet door handle, the sound effect of an irritated Victorian passenger saying “Do you mind?!” makes people jump and giggle.

Unusual locations

If you can’t actually open your physical venue, but would still like to hold an event as part of Museums at Night, is there another local venue that you could explore – an ancient site, a battlefield, a World War II airfield, a historic graveyard (Arnos Vale Cemetery has a packed programme of events all year round), or perhaps a Churches Conservation Trust building which is normally closed to the public, such as St John the Baptist Church in Bristol?

A black and white photo of a medieval church crypt

St John the Baptist medieval church Bristol (c) Churches Conservation Trust

If you’re located in a historic part of town, could you work together with your local Civic Society, Blue Badge Guides or local ghost walk company to give groups of visitors a historical overview, or a tour through supposedly haunted locations?

If you’re off-site on a cold night, it’s always a good idea to round off the outdoor experience with a warming hot chocolate, and possibly a debrief, in a visitor centre, cafe or pub. We’ve found that this encourages visitors to score your events more highly than when they’re just left to disperse to their cars.

Historic horror films

Here is a long list of classic horror movies that are now in the public domain, ranging from the silent films of George Méliès to the 1962 classic The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Would any of these add an interesting extra dimension to your event plans?

Need more inspiration?

Check out our Big List of Museums at Night event ideas from previous years.


More resources:

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Wednesday 17 – Saturday 20 May 2017