The Haunt is On!

Side of red ship with banner that reads haunted ship

It’s been a long while since Duluth’s Haunted Ship darkened the slip outside of the DECC. The S.S. William A. Irvin hasn’t been decked out in its creepy finery since 2017. After that season, the ship was moved into drydock for repairs while the slip’s sea wall was reinforced. After the Irvin returned, tours were shut down for the 2020 pandemic.

But this year, Haunted Ship is back!

“We’re excited to bring back the tradition of The Haunt since it hasn’t — people travel all over the midwest just to come through the Haunt for the evening,” says Steve Rankila the DECC’s director of internal operations.

“The Haunt” is the production’s internal nickname used by those who bring it to life.

Making the most of downtime

Two male DECC employees in haunted ship
John Clark and Dan Patterson, shrounded in mystery, have been scaring people in the Twin Ports since 2009

During the years of respite, the creative crew has been mulling over ideas gleaned from past haunters conventions (yes, those are a thing) and hours of YouTube watching. Walking into the workshop located in the belly of the ship, Dan Patterson is hunched over a huge mechanical spider reminiscent of something from the Harry Potter movies. Tinkering with pneumatic parts, he’s trying to get his air-powered prop to leap out at just the right heart-stopping moment. And then…success. The furry creature is alive, lunging, and rearing. Even in the bright lights of the workshop, it is disturbing.





Steve comments over my shoulder, “Dan grew up on a farm, so he can pretty much figure anything out.”

Man on ladder adjusts chain attached to rubber head
John adjusts props for maximum spookiness

John Clark is another valuable design team member. Together, Dan and John have been bringing nightmares to life on the ship since 2009. The pair fit motors to small tires that turn disorienting tunnels. Rigging bodies to lurch from behind doors and making sure the lighting casts just the right shadow on all the homemade spider webs is just another day at work at the DECC. But it’s truly a creative art.

Sneak Peek

They take me on a tour through narrow hallways, where we brush through a doorway with a fleshy skin curtain. John explains, “The skin is made by starting with a garbage bag and layering on dozens of coats of epoxy.”  The effort is involved, but the results are impressive. Once the suggestion of skin is made, it’s difficult to see it any other way.

At haunter conventions, the pair gather inspiration and then make it their own. “Like the teddy bear,” said John. As I walk down a narrow hallway a mechanical child’s toy appears in a box with a red light. Before I have a chance to think much of it, the toy pulls off its own face, leaving only its mechanical skull laughing at me. I gasp.


What’s inside your stuffed animal?“It was a $15 child’s toy and then it underwent some surgery.”

It’s not just the props that get the attention. There are four actor trainings called “Scare School” specifically to teach the costumed crew up how to frighten people safely. This extends to the outside when guests are waiting in line. “We call that Twilight. We send some actors outside to start the experience for people in line.”

While the Haunt takes place in the fall, the team works on it all year. “We start monthly meetings in November and work through how can we scare people differently,” says Steve. “What are people really afraid of — snakes? the dark?  But also things like how can we stage the lines to be better, recruit more people and just change things up.”


An actor dressed as a zombie



It’s an on-going process. “The people who work on this have a real passion for what they do here,” says Steve.

Is the Irvin really haunted?

If there are real ghosts that walk the ship depends on whom you ask. Some former tour guides talk about locking up for the evening and hearing a child singing nursery rhymes in the belly of the boat. Others have spent time looking for that one person they’re sure they saw in the corner of their eye- only to turn up empty.

2021 Schedule

You can check it out for yourself every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in October, and also Wednesday, October 20, and Sunday, October 31 –

Complete schedule here and ticket information here.