Most kids will tell you that their favorite holiday is Christmas or Hanukkah, or their birthday. Really, any holiday that involves presents. Not Jon Libbesmeier.
“I won a second grade contest for scariest costume and, after that, I was all in for Halloween,” says Libbesmeier, the man behind Northern Virginia’s very first Halloween-themed selfie museum.
The Alexandria resident grew up in rural Minnesota, where he spent his childhood tricking out his home as a must-see haunted house every October for local kids.
As an adult, he kept up with his Halloween hobby—even as he was stationed in Germany as an Army dentist—creating scary scenes for his fellow soldiers and their families on overseas bases. When he got stationed at the Pentagon in 2011, his props came with him, and he staged haunted houses in DC and Fort Belvoir.
This year, his haunted houses are getting a modern update. Libbesmeier—along with his creative partners Ryan McGrath and Garland Travis (fun fact: Travis also staged a haunted house when he was stationed in Afghanistan)—debuted American Scream at the Tysons Corner Mall in September. Visitors can interact with 31 Halloween-themed scenes, with rooms featuring everything from a Game of Thrones-inspired iron throne to a giant clown’s mouth to an Egyptian tomb complete with mummy.
“It’s different [from a traditional haunted house] because it’s a unique, immersive experience,” says Libbesmeier. “You get to hold the props. Take photos with your friends. Most haunted houses have a ‘no videos, no pictures rule,’ whereas here, you’re encouraged to be the star of your own horror movie.”
Selfie museums have taken off in recent years, most notably with the delightful Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco and the wild art installation, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, which made a tour stop at the Hirshhorn in 2016. Libbesmeier says the Halloween industry is picking up on the trend, which is one of the reasons he’s added the element to this year’s haunted house.
In a nod to today’s selfie culture, participants start their experience by walking down a red carpet. Upon entry, visitors can snap away and fill their Instagram feeds. For those who love selfies more than being scared, there are signs indicating which rooms are extra creepy (like, a gruesome morgue and classic horror film-inspired rooms). And, not to worry, there are no scare actors, so you can pose for selfies without looking over your shoulder.
For Libbesmeier, he still loves Halloween more than selfies, and says in the future he may offer both a selfie museum and a classic haunted house, but, this year, he’s hoping scary selfies will trend. // Located inside Tysons Corner Mall (lower level near Lord & Taylor): 1961 Chain Bridge Road, McLean; open on select dates through Nov. 3; tickets $18 general admission, $15 students, military, first responders