Attendees enjoy Navy Pier's Garden of Decay, which runs through Halloween. Credit: Jordan Esparza, Heavy But Lite

NEAR NORTH — Chicagoans can talk to wandering spirits or explore a haunted garden with two immersive experiences at cultural institutions this Halloween.

The International Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, and Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens, 600 E. Grand Ave., are transforming into immersive experiences for the season.

At the Haunted Soiree: A Macabre Cocktail Party at the museum, visitors wander the halls and talk to the wandering spirits, each with a life story to tell that connects to the building or each other. It may not be for the faint of the heart — there are stories connected to postpartum depression as well as child death.

People can also experience the show by indulging in cocktails and entertainments, including tabletop magic, a giant Ouija Board, musical performances and dance.

There’s also a macabre escape room that can provide clues to the story at the heart of the haunting.

The experience is led by Meyer2Meyer Entertainment from husband and wife team Justin and Melissa Meyer. It has been creating experiences since 2009 in Los Angeles and has spread to other cities across the United States.

This Haunted Soiree was the first experience set in Chicago.

The surgical science museum “is an impressive space, beautifully crafted and fit our programming aesthetic perfectly,” Justin Meyer said in an email interview. “Haunted Soiree is classy yet creepy, magical yet macabre. That description also fits [the museum] very well.”

Guests chat with a spirit figure at the International Museum of Surgical Science’s Haunted Soiree. Credit: Meyer2Meyer Entertainment.

Performing magician Brendon Ware said the experience has been well-received by visitors who are getting into the spirit of it. He said some people become very engaged in the story, while others just want to wander and drink cocktails. Ware said a couple even got engaged during the event a few weeks ago.

Shows run two hours with time slots at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday and on Halloween. The event is for people 21 and older. Tickets start at $69 and can be bought online.

Just a little further south on Lake Shore Drive, creative producers Maren Rosenberg and Nina Castillo-D’Angier have turned Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens into the Garden of Decay.

Visitors find themselves in a hauntingly beautiful garden, with various forms of plant life, animals and even hybrids. They experience an audio play while wandering through five Chicago artist-made installations.

Then visitors explore and participate in the Garden of reCreation, where they can get their tarot cards read, write letters to the dead, receive bespoke poetry on demand, dance to music and watch performances. There’s even a taxidermy demonstration.

When Rosenberg saw the Crystal Gardens space for the proposed Halloween event, she started coming up with ideas for a comic-book-villain origin story, including a grief-stricken botanist and plant monsters, and decided to bring in Castillo-D’Angier to collaborate.

While the experience includes fun activities and performances, elements of grief and transformation are woven throughout, evoking common Halloween themes about the spirit world and death.

The audio play focuses on the grieving botanist, who decides to take matters of life, death and resurrection into his own hands. The five artist-made installations represent the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The experience is meant to be fun and provide an opening to think about these themes.

For the Garden of reCreation, the producers focused on gathering local Chicago creators, from Nina Salem’s Avondale-based Insect Asylum to Coelti and Lisa Marie Farver’s Typecast Poetry.

Castillo-D’Angier wanted to feature creators who may not typically be associated with Navy Pier.

“How do I get some really cool unique things that tie into our themes of grief and science?” she said. “Where else can you go to see live taxidermy at Halloween?”

Rosenberg and Castillo-D’Angier also wanted to make sure the event was accessible to as many people as possible, including wheelchair access and Spanish-language audio.

The event is open for all ages 6-7 p.m. and for people 18 and older 6 p.m.-midnight. It runs Friday-Tuesday for Halloween. General admission tickets are $42 and can be bought online; a VIP upgrade is also available for $70 per ticket.

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