Dressed to Thrill

Gregory Shelton’s Poplar Hall brings unique Halloween experience to Rockwood Museum

By Matt Morrissette

We all have a friend, coworker or family member whose anticipation for autumn in general, and more specifically Halloween, borders on the fanatical. 

You know the sort: they can be found in a hoodie and jeans sipping a high-octane pumpkin beer from the prior year around a raging bonfire on the very first evening the temperature dips to ever-so-slightly below 80 degrees in late July. In his circle of associates, it’s safe to say that Gregory Shelton is this very person.

Born in Chesapeake City, Md., Shelton and his family now reside on a property in Newark that is on the National Registry of Historic Places and known as Poplar Hall. The property boasts a beautiful 18th-century home and a functioning farm; it also serves as the namesake for Shelton’s marketing, branding, and event planning company, as well as a primary source of inspiration for his personal and professional passions. 

Being something of a Renaissance man, Shelton has eclectic tastes and interests, and always has many irons in the fire. He is a collector and rider of vintage British motorcycles, a champion gardener, a talented artist and musician, and a passionate cook. He also somehow finds time to host a successful YouTube show called Historic Living Modern World, which highlights his life, interests, and the various strange adventures he finds his way into. 

Shelton is well known regionally for his production of the perennially sold-out David Bowie tribute concerts known as “A Night of Stardust.” These concerts have taken place annually at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer since the death of the glam rock legend. Closer to home, Shelton’s decade-long run of Halloween parties featuring crowds in the hundreds getting their groove and scare on to the sounds of the best Philly DJs (which took place in Poplar Hall’s massive barn) is the stuff of legend.

It was towards the end of this 10-year run of parties that Shelton felt a twinge of boredom and creative restlessness. It led him to create a vision closer in spirit to his idea of Halloween. 

“I yearned to create a true fall/Halloween experience that was original and could be a destination event for people 30 years old and up,” says Shelton. “People that also love the true meaning of Halloween, and a great ghost story, and the chill of the fall air, and the glow of a hand-carved pumpkin — all with a dollop of the Victorian macabre.”  

From this vision, Shelton teamed with writer April Lindsey to create The Revisionists: A Haunted Victorian Walk, a storytelling event and walking tour in which several ghost stories are told from the point of view of guides (revisionists) who have an innate ability to communicate with the dead. The production made its debut to sold-out crowds and rave reviews in Shelton’s hometown of historic Chesapeake City in October of 2020. In 2021, it was greeted with the same enthusiastic response and advance sellouts.

For 2022, Poplar Hall has partnered with New Castle County to bring a fresh version of the mobile theatrical experience to the grounds of Wilmington’s Rockwood Park and Museum. The 90-minute event will take participants on a lamplit tour throughout the historic gardens and walkways of the Shipley mansion property as revisionists relate six handwritten ghost tales.

The move to Rockwood Park has enabled Shelton to realize his vision on a grander scale. 

“I knew the Revisionists concept needed to be amplified at a true Gothic Mansion that would be a future destination for all Halloween lovers alike that yearn for a truly original experience,” he says. “This year’s production will be directed by Lisa Panzer, a professional actor and director that really understands how to bring this effort to life… or death! It will have genius lighting by Robert Cox, and some of the area’s best actors. 

“I’m also very excited to work with new Rockwood director Ryan Grover. Ryan already understands what we’re trying to accomplish, and I believe he’ll make a great partner in this production.”

If one is looking for a more subtle, thinking man’s version of a Halloween experience that’s light on being startled by strangers manically wielding chainsaws (though that also has it’s time and place), Shelton’s ode to the ghost story is not-to-be-missed. And for those looking for a Halloween dress-up opportunity, attendees are encouraged to dress in their favorite Victorian and Gothic-styled attire to match the actors and have a more immersive experience. 

— The Revisionists: A Haunted Victorian Walk takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings (October 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29) at Rockwood Park and Museum, 4651 Washington Street Extension, Wilmington, DE 19809. Reservations are strongly encouraged. For tickets, visit PoplarHall.us