The USS Nightmare, a boat which I respect enough to avoid willingly boarding due to a staggering lack of bravery, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
The attraction has returned year after year due to its signature cocktail of terror: claustrophobic, dimly-lit halls, detailed props, well-produced set pieces, startlingly loud bangs and snaps, and enthusiastic actors obscured by costumes. People who love haunted houses adore the USS Nightmare, often citing it as their favorite venue in the city for Halloween entertainment.
To celebrate Cincy's spookiest river vessel, let's take a look back at its story thus far.
TWO BOATS, ONE LEGACY
On October 15, 1993, the first USS Nightmare docked on the river in Covington. Also known as the Wake Robin, the ship's show clocked in around 12 minutes and employed about 20 people. It was open for only 17 nights and saw 37,000 visitors its first year.
After five seasons, the Wake Robin retired, and a historical dredge ship called the William S. Mitchell was brought on to host the haunted attraction. Dwarfing its predecessor, it doubled the length and size of the show as well as the number of crew needed to run it.
Today, the William S. Mitchell is still used. It has docked in Newport every year since '98, and the story preceding its double life as the USS Nightmare is an interesting one.
DREDGE TO DREAD
Built in 1934, the William S. Mitchell initially served as a dredge ship on the Missouri River. By the 1980s, the ship was retired and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was scheduled for conversion into a dredge ship museum.
One day, the ship broke loose of its moorings and smashed into several bridges along the Missouri River in Kansas City. The damage was severe. The museum idea was scrapped and the Mitchell appeared destined for the junkyard. Headlines dubbed the event "The Mitchell Massacre."
Cincinnati-based BB Riverboats then swooped in and purchased the dead ship. It sat in limbo for years until the Wake Robin proved too small to grow the USS Nightmare brand…
That's when the Mitchell made its debut as the scariest boat on the Ohio River.
THE "BOO" BUSINESS
Captain Allen Rizzo is the Nightmare's General Manager and mastermind behind its inception in '93. He says meeting the parents who bring their kids to the boat (because it was a fond part of their own childhoods) is among his favorite things about the last 25 seasons.
When asked about what the future holds for the Nightmare, Rizzo is optimistic that the team can maintain the 83-year-old ship for many more seasons while providing a fresh and scary product each year.
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The USS Nightmare is currently docked at 101 Riverboat Row in Newport, KY.