Interview with a Vampire: a closer look into USS Nightmare

NKU student Julia Brockman has found a family that scares together and stays together.

Brittany Smart

“On the boat, we consider ourselves a family,” Brockman said. “Last year I was new so it was kind of awkward but this year I’ve made so many more friends. It’s kind of solidified that whole family feel.”

This is Brockman’s second year working as a cast member for ‘America’s Premier Haunted Steamboat,’ the USS Nightmare, and she loves it.

“It’s kind of therapeutic to get paid to scream at people every single day; it’s really good for my mental health,” junior English major Julia Brockman said laughing. “It’s a very good stress reliever.”

According to Brockman, her friend, NKU graduate Devin Habig, was largely responsible for her interest in working at USS Nightmare.

“We met during freshman orientation and we’ve been like best friends since,” Brockman said. “I grew up in Louisville and he’s from NKY so every single year he used to go up to the Nightmare.”

Last year, Habig told her about job opportunities offered at the steamboat and asked if she’d like to sign up with him.

“I was like ‘sure, why not?’ So I did and it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” she said.


Norse Involvement

Brockman also works with NKU student and Nightmare cast member Cassidy Hill, a senior Spanish and German double major.

“Well, I came here when I was younger and I loved it right away and I wanted to be a part of it,” Hill said.

Hill said that the horror make up is “awesome.”

“Our actors are awesome too. Everything just keeps getting better and better every day,” Hill said. “I like the friends that I’ve made, I love being whatever character I am and I have fun being creative.”

NKU graduate Candi Oakley started working on the ship in 2001 as a cast member and has since moved up the chain of command into a management position.

“I’m pretty sure I’m under penalty of death to never stop,” Oakley said laughing. “There would be riots and revolts on board.”

Now she manages all sorts of things such as accident reports, costumes, wardrobe, set design and keeping the actors “in line.”

“I’m kind of the ‘jack of all trades’ which is a theater term for it,” Oakley said. “My cellphone goes off nonstop for various things.”

Oakley has been with employees for the birth of babies and made runs to the emergency room both for drop offs and pick ups.

“Even though we might be out of season,” she said, “I’m still on the job all year round.”


A Dark History

According to the official USS Nightmare website, the William S. Mitchell dredge ship was built in the 1930’s by Marietta Manufacturing Company in Point Pleasant, West Virginia for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Nicknamed the “Death Dredge” for her many mysterious deaths and accidents, the ship is said to be haunted with hordes of angry ghosts.

More than 100 crewmembers died on this vessel due to freak accidents during construction and a bridge collision called the Mitchell Massacre before the ship was turned into the haunted riverboat she is today.

Glenna Rizzo, along with her husband Allen, has run the boat for about 22 years.

As a teenager, Rizzo enjoyed going to haunted houses such as the WSAI Haunted House, one of the first haunted houses in the nation.

Rizzo described her experiences there as “very intense.”

As far as her time with managing the USS Nightmare goes, Rizzo said about three years ago there was a group of actors that worked particularly well together and as a result, it was one of their best years.

Rizzo said this year has been a lot like that year.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to put the actors anywhere in the ship and they work so well together,” Rizzo added.


Costumes and Makeup

According to Brockman, actors show up to work in all black and are then assigned a specific scene based on their gender, or a gender neutral role if they would like.

Brockman said the scenes that she’s in most often include the kitchen scene, the vampire scene, the infirmary, and the lab.

Brockman said her favorite character to play is the vampire, because it’s the only scene that allows her to be “sexy scary.”

She said the other scenes are fun too still, they’re more of just “scary scary.”

Brockman said the makeup process takes a lot longer for some characters than others.

For example, it can take 15 to 20 minutes for characters like her infirmary nurse, but for others like the blue demon that use heavy prosthetics, it can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.


Experience on the Vessel

Brockman said the best feeling is when she comes out after her shift and people tell her how scary she was, and how much fun they had.

“It’s just wonderful to get that kind of feedback from people and to know that I could do that,” Brockman said.

On the other hand, she said there are some difficulties that come with the “gig.”

Brockman said it’s hard to scare people when they come in with a straight face on.

“They’ll try to talk back and be like, ‘I see you there!’” Brockman added. “You can tell they’re scared but they’re trying not to look scared.”

Brockman said the trick is to focus on the people who are scared, so that you can frighten them while entertaining those who aren’t afraid.

“It’s really easy if you get a group of like five or less because then you can concentrate on the group as a whole,” Brockman said.

However, she said, sometimes they have groups of 30 or more, called “snake lines,” coming in through a scene all at once.

“It’s just kind of about picking and choosing,” Brockman said. “Just take it as they come.”

The most difficult part, Brockman said, is keeping her health and energy up because she works such late nights and she is screaming the entire time.

“Plus you’re around a lot of people and germs spread around easy,” Brockman added.

Brockman said she does plan on coming back next year if they will have her, but that she is mainly concerned with getting her degree and a “real world job.”

“There are some people who work on the boat who are teachers, nurses, mechanics and engineers that have full time jobs and then come to the boat at night to dress up like ghosts,” Brockman said. “That’s just what they do. So I could see myself working here in the future definitely.”