Behind The Scenes of Howl O Scream: Ripper Row

On the heels of wrapping up Sideshow Square’s story, I raise to you Ripper Row.

Again, between this attraction and others I have been in, there will be things I’ll have to omit on the basis of confidentiality (backstage, trade secrets, etc). But all that’s to be stated of onstage in the guest’s eye, I’ll try to keep alive down below in this archive ode to the attraction.

For this one, we’re heading down the cobblestone streets of East End to arguably the most iconic Howl O Scream attraction England has seen. A world of headless mourners, intoxicated inspectors, undead harlots, and–as rumor has it–Jack the Ripper himself. An original Terror-Tory and the longest running: Ripper Row.

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Lady of the Night Elizabeth

Ripper Row: The Story

Lifted from the original promo of the then new terror-tories in 2013:

“Tendrils of fog curl lazily around those who walk the dark streets and cling to tattered bits of black parasols, forlorn reminders that the denizens of this forsaken place are in mourning. The wailing keens of those who’ve lost someone dear punctuate the air of a city shrouded in darkness and despair. Shadows lurk everywhere. Everyone is a stranger and no one can be trusted.

The yellowed newspapers plastered on sides of buildings shout the dire news in bold headlines: patrons of the Ten Bells Pub are disappearing. Whispers permeate every shadow filled corner and foreboding alleyway, rumors of a dark figure stalking the streets and plucking unsuspecting souls who fall victim to his nefarious whims.

Bobbies rush in and out of Scotland Yard, their brows furrowed with anxiety as their eyes averted from the citizens they are helpless to protect. Their efforts to warn away potential victims has all been in vain as more and more people seem to flood the streets each day.

The locals are starting to call it the Autumn of Terror and no one knows when the horrors will stop and England will be safe once more. How do you save people from a villain with no known identity?

For weeks he has been taunting the police by mailing them grisly notes detailing his murderous crimes, all signed with the same shudder-inducing name: Jack the Ripper. One thing is clear, this is his city now and the suffering is far from over for those who visit Ripper Row…”

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Jack the Ripper | Photo: Rob Kodi

Another brief from the attraction’s page:

“Things are looking a bit unsettling in England with a murderer on the loose plucking unsuspecting victims from the city streets to satisfy his grizzly curiosity. No one knows what Jack the Ripper looks like or who he will strike next. Authorities hunt furiously among the crowds in search of the killer nabbing anyone who looks at all suspicious. Keep your head down and your wits about you or you might not make it out alive.”

Dreadful Tragedy of the Leather Apron

Ripper Row was first unveiled during the 2013 season of Howl O Scream. It was one of four new concepts called a Terror-Tory.

An abbreviated background as to what a Terror-Tory is supposed to be is an immersive hybrid between a theater show and a scare zone. These attractions originally featured elaborate facades built into the hamlets they resided and saw the actors engaging in ongoing improv between both the cast and guests in between scaring the guests as well.

Ripper Row has always been the textbook picture of what a Terror-Tory was meant to be (aside from the facades being omitted in later years).

In 2013, Ripper Row saw a rich overlay of England from thick fog and dim lighting to full scale facades of buildings like the Scotland Yard and Brothel. Vintage posters and black crows lined the rooftops while plagued rats and severed limbs dotted the grounds below.

A soundtrack of Nox Arcana, scattered screams, and horse trots filled the air. And, a dedicated cast of butchers, barbers, bobbies, inspectors, headless mourners, ladies of the night, and the Ripper filled the streets.

This was my last season as a guest before I started working the event, and Ripper Row was a hauntingly brilliant attraction that stood as my favorite HoS attraction until my circus bias kicked in.

It was the first attraction of its nature at Busch, so myself and a many other haunt fans had a field day with the seamless blend of story, show, and scares.

On these streets of England, you could get a photo with a headless woman, have a harlot balk over the ‘promiscuous’ concept of shorts, get interrogated by a bobby, and then chased by Jack the Ripper. And then in turn, get startled by the same harlot screaming as she ran from Jack the Ripper with the bobby hot on his heels and the mourner shaking their nonexistent head.

Ripper Row pretty much instantaneously became a beloved Howl O Scream staple.

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2013 Ripper Row Cast | Photo: Rob Kodi

Ghastly Murder in East End

Come 2014, the dark characters within Ripper Row became more ghostly and ghoulish. Natural hair was swapped for white locks, smudged lipstick and running eyeliner became skeletal complexions, and the Ripper was bruised and bloody rather than dirty and gritty.

From what I can recall and source in photos, I think 2014 was also the last year the large facades were built into England. Since I became a vampire that season, I’m not as immediately familiar as when I was able to frequently visit it in 2013 and later in 2018.

2014 also brought about a stage show in the Globe Theater themed to Ripper Row and another Howl O Scream classic, Monster Stomp. It still runs in present Howl O Scream seasons, aptly named Monster Stomp On Ripper Row.

Sometime around 2015, give or take a year, the ghostly wigs were reverted back to natural locks although the skeletal makeup look remained.

Another fun mention, the actors in the first year, had real batons and knives. Operation was under the guide of ‘be safe about it,’ but as you could imagine, the knives were traded out for fauxs pretty quickly.

The batons were removed altogether in later seasons even though they were only used on striking plates. Amongst practical safety reasons, the number of metal trash can tops that befittingly died from being the home of these striking plates was a factor of the batons removal. The years on these prop changes are blurry for me.

Another prop tidbit, the fans the ladies of the night used to be metal before being traded in for less painful wooden fans. These later were traded for plastic ones halfway through the 2018 season.

Now off to 2018!

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2017 Ripper Row Cast | Photo: Rob Kodi

On Ripper Row

In 2018, I hit an unexpected yet pleasant full circle in that I found myself working the streets of Whitechapel in the midst of the Ripper himself.

And, it was the loveliest season of Howl O Scream I’ve done. We dealt with far less chaos from guests during the nights than we did every season in the circus. And, I’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful cast mates. Ripper was no different.

That year, there was a bit of an overhaul across all the park’s Terror-tories. New characters were introduced in old attractions and large facades were long gone. New aesthetics and costumings were set for each attraction.

For example, Sideshow went more old-world circus versus eccentric charm and a clown-based cast rather than the original wide variety of oddities.

Ripper Row received a new wardrobe that was more historically accurate and very dramatically gothic. They were hot–as in we were in up to 12 layers of costuming–and heavy, but we loved how beautiful they were. So, it was worth it.

Up until this season, the old costumes for the Ladies of the Night comprised of what Victorian looking dresses, skirts, and corsets or blouses fit a sultry harlot kind of vibe. The skirts and dresses were either short or had high slits in them. Blouses were low cut and corsets were busty.

The new costumes were bustles, petticoats, skirts, mesh blouses, and corset vests. Skirts swooped to our ankles and our blouses were either high-neck or turtle-neck. They were scarcely colorful like the old costumes and were instead all black with either crimson or lilac accents.

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2018’s New Costumes | Photo: Rob Kodi

Considering ankles were scandalous in the 19th century, it was evident our new look was supposed to be more historically accurate. And, they were also much more dramatic and gothic noir in style–fitting of the brooding ravens and Nox Arcana soundtrack. We loved them!

The makeup look in 2018 remained skeletal in shades of white, purple, and grey. The guys had blood marks across their faces to resemble the harlots fighting back against them.

Our lineup consisted of Jack the Ripper, the Butcher, the Barber, the Bobby, the Inspector, two Mourners (Minnie and Meg), and four Ladies of the Night (Victoria, Elizabeth, Mary, and Jane). We had a bit of an extended cast in our Cobblestone Ale & Spirits bar where two Ladies of the Night and a Bobby served drinks in character. 2018 was the last year of culin-tainment for Howl O Scream.

During the nights, we ran two set skits with one at opening and one at closing.

The opening skit had the Butcher and Barber enter first, crowing on about how a murderer was on the loose and someone was going to die that night. Then entered the Ladies who’d end up bantering with the Butcher before he singled one out, saying that one was going to die. Jack would then emerge from behind and kill that harlot before making off with the Bobby and Inspector in towe.

The closing skit was our final chase of the night. We’d start at the fountain in the front of the park, the Ladies gathering around, chattering and such. Jack would give chase with all the girls screaming the whole way down England to our exit gate. The Bobby would be chasing behind Jack while blowing on the whistle.

Throughout the nights, we would do random chase or kill scenes.

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Opening Kill Scene | Photo: Rob Kodi

One was by a crate out front of the Globe. Anytime a Lady went and lounged on the crate, Jack would scale the wall behind them and surprise them. The Lady would run forward across the path, Jack would swing his knife at the Lady while she ducked underneath. And, then she’d run off for one of the alleyways alongside the Globe Theater.

There were sometimes the Butcher would kill a Lady of the Night and throw her over his shoulder before disappearing down an alley. There were other times that Jack would kill one or several Ladies somewhere around England at random. Another spur of moment gag was a rogue chase between Jack and a Lady.

Those were impromptu occurrences that would happen sporadically throughout the night.

Being an improv attraction, we did a number of gags and skits that were spontaneous and off the wall nonsensical.

There were a series of times the Ladies would schmooze knives from the Murderers and kill Jack, the Bobby, or even each other. The Mourners would do the same with the Ladies.

One night, instead of Jack chasing the Ladies at closing time, the Ladies chased Jack backstage.

Anytime we’d kill Jack, we always mugged him for his knife and top hat. I felt like the Mad Hatter wandering down the arbors in a top hat and bustle, wielding a knife and a fan.

We hosted jousting matches between the Mourners with their parasails. Snagging knives from the guys again, we also led a knife fight between them too.

It was always a wild time on the streets of East End.

While we managed to maintain the dark, moody atmosphere of the attraction 95% of the time, it wasn’t without its comical moments only befitting of undead harlots, crooked cops, and the woefully poor murderers who had to put up with the aforementioned undead harlots for all eternity.

And, sometimes that comedy came of itself and played out just like a cartoon.

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Jack & The Ladies | Photo: Rob Kodi

There was a night we were doing our exit run. Ladies were screaming the whole length of England, the Bobbies whistle carried on nonstop, Jack was in pursuit… The gate we go behind, there was an ECV just behind it blocking the path backstage… and we all dogpiled on top of each other like a scene from Tom & Jerry.

The first Lady doubled over the seat of the ECV with the next stacking up on top of her, so forth and so on. It was so abrupt and unexpected, we didn’t have time to realize or stop. The first few Ladies, myself included, were just behind the gate out of guest sight. Everyone else piled up on stage, in full view of the guests right next to Big Ben.

So, we went from screaming full theatrics to managing a brief, “Oh!” before sandwiching together and then bursting out into mildly confused laughter. And, that was the sight guests got at the end of that night. Several Ladies of the Night, Jack the Ripper, and the Bobby piling up on top of each other like a cartoon.

Most of the time, we could hide our laughs in alleyways or behind our fans. That incident was not one of those times.

On the last night, we did a finale for the season’s end.

It began with the Butcher rounding up the Ladies and Mourners under Big Ben. One Lady of the Night, Jane, was nowhere to be found during the plot but the Butcher and the Barber offed the Mourners as Jack approached the scene.

The Barber began to panic with the growing crowds watching the scheme, fearing getting caught, and preemptively kills one of the Ladies, Mary. Annoyed by the Barber blundering, Jack had the Butcher kill the Barber.

The other two Ladies of the Night, Victoria and Elizabeth, are distraught on the ground as the Bobby appears with Jane. He’s revealed to have been working with Jack all along and found Jane hiding in an alleyway, trying to avoid the slaughter.

Jack then initiated a game with the audience in having them choose which Lady of the Night to kill next. Jane was chosen first, then Victoria, and finally Elizabeth. Jack and the Butcher then turned on the Bobby as despite the latter being corrupt, he was still law enforcement nonetheless.

After the Bobby’s execution, the Butcher kneeled and offered himself as a sacrifice to Jack as there could be “no witnesses” to the whole ordeal except Jack. Bittersweetly, Jack executed the Butcher as well and all denizens of Ripper Row were killed except for the namesake, Jack the Ripper.

Jack then broke the 4th wall, so to speak, to present the cast and thank fans for the season before queueing the final chase backstage for the year.

A similar finale following this plot concludes the event each season.

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Finale Scene | Photo: Rob Kodi

The Best Safety Lies In Fear

2019 onwards, I was back at the circus and then queen of the cannibals so I’m not as knowledgeable on specific details again as I am with 2018. But, Ripper Row still evolved throughout the years up to the present date.

2019 was the last year for the Headless Mourners. Their design made them vulnerable, so other Ripper characters had to rotate escorting them around. This pulled those characters from the regular beat of acting and scaring, so the Mourners were relocated to France with designated hosts in later seasons of Howl O Scream.

Culin-tainment also ended in 2019, so the Bobby and Ladies of the Night behind the Cobblestone Bar ended up working the streets of Whitechapel too. Thusly, there were more characters during the 2019 season.

Then 2020 saw Howl O Scream return in the form of a limited event, Halloween Harvest. Various HoS characters were grouped together in Festa Italia for a mini-Halloween event despite the pandemic. Jack the Ripper, a Lady of the Night, and a Bobby were present for the event.

In 2021, Ripper Row received a new lighting package with a red color scheme although it was swapped back to the original purple theme in 2022.

Also in 2022, new types of characters were introduced to Ripper Row like the Coffin Seller and the Madame.

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Jack & The Inspector | Photo: Rob Kodi

Wanted: Jack the Ripper

As of 2023, it’s too early in the year to say what’s in store for the shadows of East End.

Ripper Row has run for 9 seasons of Howl O Scream, being the oldest Terror-Tory in the event and one of the longest running attractions in the event’s history.

It is a well-beloved haunt attraction that has definitely made its mark on Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s England and Howl O Scream overall.

So, to Ripper Row I raise a glass of bourbon from Cobblestone Spirits in toast. May its legacy continue to haunt Busch Gardens for years to come.

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In memory of Ripper Row’s biggest fan and beloved photographer: Rob Kodi, who perfectly captured the spirit of the Terror-tory since the beginning. We’ll miss seeing you on the streets of East End every night and season, cowboy. Thank you for the memories. It’s not the same without you.


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