BRISTOL BITS: Rewind to 1967: The early days of the 'Witch's Dungeon'

Published on Tuesday, 31 October 2017 21:09
Written by Bob Montgomery

With Halloween now over and having had folks visiting the Witch’s Dungeon at the Bristol Historical Society, it marks another year that Cortlandt Hull has had the opportunity to share his work. On Monday, while looking through some Bristol Press archives, I came across a story of the Hull family written 50 years ago this week and it went as follows:

“Anyone having viewed the elaborate Halloween pageant on the front lawn of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hull of Battle Street would readily agree that a congenial sickness has failed to dampen the artistic spirit of their 15-year-old son, Cortlandt, designer of the spectacle. A junior at Bristol Central, he is a housebound tutored student.

“Both the exterior and interior of the Hull home abundantly reveal young Hull’s Halloween creations. Along the house front 18 decorated pumpkins are deployed, about three life size models, all made from paper mache. The trio is made up of ‘Klyde Kempledinker,’ a scarecrow with an oscillating head. He is flanked by two spine-tingly crownies, Wolfman and Dracula, both of whom are attired in their traditional cinema garb. This is just the beginning.

“Inside, the Hull’s living room is filled with orange and black cardboard witches, as well as numerous goblins, towers and ghosts. The room also contains two large wood collages modeled after playing cards.

“From one wall in the boy’s bedroom dangle more than 75 marionettes, while on the opposite wall is a king-size picture of Laurel and Hardy. This room also serves as his workshop and it is strewn with paint jars, brushes and unfinished replicas from frightening movies of the past.

“An avid silent movie fan, Cortlandt has a projector, screen, and seven full length silent features including ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ The movies date from 1900 to 1926.

“Despite the scores of seasonal decorations around and inside the Hull home, they are all overshadowed by a brown chateau-like structure located approximately 40 feet to the left of the house front. Aptly called the ‘Witch’s Dungeon’ its first floor interior is a dimly lit maze along which are stationed six creaking creatures, the last of whom is Zenobia the Witch slyly churning her bubbling cauldron. From a second floor control station Hull operates his museum characters and at the same time he floods the lower chamber with eerie noises. Although Hull’s father assisted in the external construction of the ‘Witch’s Dungeon,’ his son designed the entire intricate arrangement of the interior.

“For the past five years Hull has been making these museum pieces. In order that the replicas in his galaxy be as genuine as possible, he obtains their mask from the motion picture studios. Their costumes come from all over the United States.

“Able to channel his creative talents to fit the corresponding season, Hull has also produced some magnificent Christmas scenes including one of the Nativity and another of Santa’s sleigh with its eight reindeer. Besides designing his own Christmas cards, he fashions toys used in decorating a mammoth Christmas tree on the Hull’s front lawn.

“In explaining her son’s spontaneous creativity, the artist’s mother, Mrs. Dorothy Hull, affirmed that ‘Courtland has always loved to decorate.’ In tracing her own love for arts and crafts, Mrs. Hull credited her grandmother.

“In the future young Hull would like to be either an illustrator or cartoonist. As might be expected, he is in advanced art classes at school. Somehow when he’s not absorbed in shaping a new masterpiece or reading books on ancient art, Hull finds time to be an honor student.

“The Hulls have announced that although the tour of the ‘Witch’s Dungeon’ has ended for this year, the tour will be conducted on Halloween night from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Write to Bob Montgomery, ℅ The Bristol Press, 188 Main St., Bristol, CT 06010. Call 860-973-1808 or email:

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, Forestville, General News on Tuesday, 31 October 2017 21:09. Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2017 21:11.