I pulled into the parking lot outside the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company at 6:59 p.m. and my friend Kevin and I hurried inside the building to meet our 7:00 reservation.
We were greeted by a series of volunteers who directed us to the taproom. Our tour would begin at exactly 7:18 p.m.
Kevin and I each ordered a beer and took our seat in the cavernous taproom. We quickly realized we were the only college-aged students in the crowd.
We looked at the tour timer on the wall and realized we were about to be late for our tour. We gulped down our beers and hurried to get in line.
One of the volunteers explained the rules to us, “You are about to experience five macabre vignettes, true stories that happened right here in Over-the-Rhine’s breweries.”
Actually, only four are true. Our task, along with the 18 others in our group, was to figure out which one was false by solving a puzzle in each room.
“Be careful,” he continued. “This is a working brewery. Do not stray off the path. We don’t want you to become one of the stories.”
With that, he opened the door and led us into the brewery. We passed pallets of beer along the way.
“I wouldn’t mind getting trapped in here,” one man said to his friend. “You and I would do just fine.”
We stopped walking when we reached a desk, randomly placed amongst the equipment. Our guide was no longer with us.
We looked around in confusion until we noticed a stranger had joined our group.
A chill ran down my spine as the stranger in a suit began to speak. He looked straight ahead as if he could see right through us. He told the story of a young man who ran a brewery in 1919.
“Even though prohibition was looming its ugly head over every Cincinnati brewery, he seemed to be in good spirits. At some point, he retreated to his office.”
The man walked to the desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a gun.
“The secretary said he didn’t even have a gun in the office. He never owned a gun, but at some point, something overtook him. A decision was made.”
The man had shot himself in the chest and revealed a blood-stained undershirt.
“Is this story true or false? That puzzle might help,” he said, pointing behind the group to dripping red letters on the wall. “Don’t die alone like I did. Work as a team. When the elevator opens, your time is up.”
Our task was to find a letter in the paragraph that appeared only one time. “The question is the answer,” the last line read.
People shouted out letters at random before someone finally noticed there was only one ‘y.’ And then we realized, why. The question is the answer.
The gate to the service elevator opened and we filed inside. When they opened again, a young woman greeted us in German.
“Guten abend! Wie geht’s?”
She continued speaking in German, signaling us to follow her further into the brewery.
“Wartet!” she shouted. Wait.
The woman left us on a balcony and appeared on the other side of the room. She gestured to the man next to her and a wheel started spinning. All of a sudden, the man was sucked into the wheel and his head flew over the side of the balcony, hung by chains.
“The button!” she screamed over the whirring of the machine. “Push the button!”
We frantically searched for a button. A woman in our group found one on the wall and pressed it, stopping the machine.
In English, the woman told us to pull up the chains hanging from our balcony.
Each chain had a body part at the bottom. We pulled up arms, legs, brains and heads — random words were written on each one: jay, gee, eye, aye and etcetera.
We were told to find a letter that was not within the words.
What does that even mean?
We pulled up at least 20 body parts before it hit us. There is no I in eye.
In the next room, rows and rows of red and white bones hung above our heads. Our guide at this station led us to a hot tub-like tank. He told us he needed to go check something out. Stay back, he warned.
“Oh, someone left a stick in there. I’ll just grab that real quick,” he said.
NO! Our group screamed collectively, playing along.
He fell into the scalding hot tank and was presumably burned alive.
His bones were our next puzzle. Tablets hung from the ropes above with patterns of bones. We had to find the tablet that matched the bones above our head. The correct tablet would have the next letter we needed.
We quickly agreed the tablet containing the letter ‘L’ seemed like the best match. As we left that station, we passed through plastic-lined rooms, splattered with blood. A trail of crumpled-up papers led us to a woman at a typewriter.
“Better pick all those up. Could be a clue,” someone said.
I noticed a woman in a colonial dress, signaling us to come her way. Kevin and I went ahead of the group to meet her.
“They always pick up the paper,” the woman said to us out of character. “We’re running out! There’s no clue on there.”
I ran back to the group and told them to follow the woman and ignore the ill-thought-out red-herrings.
“Well, thank you for finally showing up. I’ve been waiting on you all night,” the woman said, back in character. “And despite the fact that you’re egregiously late, I’m going to allow you to judge me like the rest of them. Follow me.”
“Oh yay, I’m really good at judging people,” a woman in our group said.
The woman led us down a ramp and into a small room where a blonde girl sat brushing her hair, staring into a mirror.
The word crematorium was painted on the wall. No thanks, I thought to myself.
The colonial woman told the haunting story of her daughter, Lydia.
“Two years ago, in 1894, Mister Moerlein bought the Cincinnati crematorium company. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s where they burn the dead bodies.”
Far better than what he was doing, she continued — storing dead bodies in the basement of his brewery.
“Wait,” I whispered to Kevin. “Four of these are real. This could have happened. Yikes.”
Lydia fancied Mister Moerlein, much to the dismay of her mother.
“She’s no better than a painted whore,” the mother said. “Oh, Lydia, could you come help mother in the furnace room?”
The young woman stood up, left the room and never returned.
“She’s right here,” the mother said, dumping ashes onto the floor. “Stick your hands in my furnace to find your next clue.”
We all turned to the wall and noticed rectangular holes. I stuck my hand in one and felt the letter ‘A’ engraved in a wooden block. We all traded notes and recorded our findings. GHNIARESTM or NIGHTMARES. The space on our sheets where the ‘A’ belonged was circled. That was our next letter.
The last room had a series of items scattered across the room. If we went to each item in the correct order, we would find a shape, matching the one on our sheet, shaded in. All of the shaded-in shapes would resemble a letter at the end.
I was confused.
“It’s Lydia,” Kevin said.
“Who else would it be? We have L, I, Y and A. This must be D.”
Realizing Kevin was correct, we left the room and headed back up the stairs and into the crowded taproom.
“You survived!” said a woman, handing us our prized ticket.
We took a photo with our group in celebration and went in to claim our prize.
“Maybe it’s a free beer!” I hopefully suggested to Kevin, wiping my eyes as they adjusted to the light.