ANSTED (AP) — The charm of the Mystery Hole has remained mysterious throughout the decades.
Current owners Sandy and Will Morrison intend to keep it that way as the unique tourist attraction celebrates its 40th anniversary. The couple want it to be just as it was when it first opened.
“Why did we buy it?” Will says as he echoes a question. “Just look at this place.”
The Mystery Hole is located in a bend of U.S. 60 near Hawk’s Nest and has a Volkswagen jammed into the side of it. The metal portion of the structure is a Quonset hut, and the main entrance is wood. Aside from the VW Bug, a gorilla and a clown atop the building also attract attention.
There is a souvenir and gift shop through the main door with an interesting array of items, from tie-dyed T-shirts, fly swatters and Frisbees to coffee mugs, key rings and coal figurines. However, the most popular item is the Mystery Hole bumper sticker.
Those brave enough to take the underground tour may have flashbacks of Halloween haunted houses.
A sign warns, “People with high blood pressure or heart ailment, please do not enter.”
It’s a bit difficult to describe what happens along the tour, and Will makes sure no electronic devices are allowed inside that could record the happenings. A video showing up online could hurt business, he said.
However, it’s hard to believe there could be any substitute for being there in such a charming atmosphere.
Those brave enough to enter the gate of wood and chains are in for a fun, if not startling, experience. Visitors meet characters such as Miss Mystery Hole, Miss Hawk’s Nest and Miss New River Gorgeous, frozen in time throughout the decades. Inside the “He-She Room” is the head nut who is sure to make visitors jumpy. Other tour highlights include a room that throws one’s equilibrium into a whirl, a ball that rolls uphill and water that does the same, and the hillbilly chair that can be used on the floor or the wall.
The tour ends in the souvenir shop where assorted merchandise is available for commemorating the experience.
The Morrisons are from Michigan and never saw the Mystery Hole until they visited the establishment with a Realtor and bought the whole shebang.
It had been closed for a while due to the death of the original owner, and they had some refurbishing work to do before reopening it. Will, who has family living in the area, said he passed the building many times growing up but never went inside as a kid.
“We saw it Thanksgiving 1998 for the first time, purchased it Feb. 20, 1999, and opened Memorial Day weekend,” Will said.
Will, 53, and Sandy, 51, have homes in Erie, Mich., and near Ansted. His other business was building storage buildings, and she has worked in retail. Their focus now is mainly on the Mystery Hole, where the season runs from April through October.
The Mystery Hole was designed and built by Donald R. Wilson. In a 1985 interview with the Daily Mail, Wilson said people from several states had asked him to design a Mystery Hole for them but he declined.
He said he did not have the time and was not interested in making a lot of money. He said he was there just to have a good time.
He said he began work on it in 1970. However, the Morrisons believe it took him a few years to complete and say their research shows it opened in 1973, making this year the 40th anniversary.
“It was closed in 1997 and 1998 when Mr. Wilson was ill with cancer,” Will said.
According to newspaper accounts, Wilson died Feb. 21, 1998, after a battle with prostate cancer at the age of 80.
The Morrisons regret that they never had a chance to meet him.
To keep the Mystery Hole just as Wilson had it, they have studied videos of his tour spiel and talked to visitors who enjoyed it over the years.
“We wanted to leave it just the way Mr. Wilson had it,” Will said. “It’s what he created. People enjoyed it then and are still coming back to see it.”
Olivia Brogan, 16, who works the cash register and cleans, says she has the best job ever.
“I get to see a lot of different people,” Olivia said. “Sandy and Will are nice. We always have good days. You are never bored.”
Will notes that visitors come from several states and then return with friends. A teenager loves it so much that she comes twice a year and has taken the tour 30 times, he said. There are customers who visited the Mystery Hole as kids and now bring their children and grandchildren.
There are people who have been coming here 40 years and are still coming back,” he said.
Cost of the 15-minute tour is $6.50 for ages 12 and up, or $5.50 for those under 12. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
For more information or the tour schedule, go to mysteryhole.com or call 304-658-9101.