This Is What Evermore Is Like
“Execute anyone recently?” I casually ask the man sitting across from me at the tavern. Dressed in tattered red and black robes with a mask leaving only his eyes exposed, the stranger sitting across from me is the definition of foreboding.
“No, but are ‘ye makin’ me an offer?” he asks. His name is Seftus and just as I suspected, he’s the town executioner. I manage to squeak out a nervous “no” as he throws back whatever was left in his copper stein before turning to look at me head-on. “That’s a neat bow you’ve got there. How much for it?” Taken aback by his inquiry, I make an offer of a mere 50 pounds.
He lets out an exasperated grumble and begins fishing around in the deep pockets of his robes. Suddenly, he drops a black pouch on the table with an audible thunk. “Pounds, eh? I don’t have any ’o those. But wha’ about this?” He asks with a devilish smile, offering me a heavy gold coin with an ‘E’ branded onto the surface.
“You’ve got a deal,” I respond, extending my hand forward to shake his, the universal sign for a completed transaction. I hand him my bow, sling my (now useless) quiver over my shoulder and head out the door, greeted by a man with a mini horse walking down the cobblestone street surrounded by quaint European cottages. There’s a band singing cheerfully around the corner.
I look around in an attempt to take in my surroundings and that’s when it hits me: I’m certainly not in Salt Lake City anymore. I’m smack-dab in the middle of Evermore, a tiny, magical town only accessible via ancient portal. And within these walls, I’m no longer an editor for Utah Business, instead, I am a huntress who just traded away her bow to the town swindle.
Away From It All
Evermore is an “experience park” just off Interstate-15 in Pleasant Grove. Think “West World” but without the robots. Adventurers come into the park completely in costume and can interact with “residents” (cast members) of the park who are following that evening’s Evermore storyline. Guests can go on quests for a completely immersive, game-like experience, or they can sit back and take it all in.
“We mold the story [of Evermore] every night based on the guests that come into the park,” spills Joshua Shipley, the park’s chief creative officer and a former Disney Imagineer. “We have a general theme that we are following right now, but there are things that [happen every night] that are going to push the story in a different direction,” he says.
According to Mr. Shipley, there’s never a dull moment at Evermore and just about anything goes. Which is exactly what founder and CEO, Ken Bretschneider had in mind when he began dreaming up the concept six years ago. As a child, a neighbor built attractions in his garage for Halloween and Christmas. “I grew up in a very abusive home,” says the serial entrepreneur. “It was a fun place to go to escape a really crappy life with an abusive father.”
“Everybody needs an escape,” he continues. “So I started doing that at my house in Lindon. I did a ghost pirate adventure, and then a Victorian graveyard at my house. And it got bigger and bigger every year.”
Then, in 2013, Mr. Bretschneider had 11,000 people visit a Halloween attraction he built on his property. The unexpected success of his project inspired him to expand the idea even further. He filed on the Evermore trademark later that same year.
Though Evermore officially opened it’s “portal” to the public in September of 2018, it is very much still a work in progress, with construction stretching across all corners of the 11-acre space. The landscaping is still growing in just about everywhere you look and buildings under construction are covered in scaffolding, separated from the park via chain link fence.
When I ask about the construction, Mr. Bretschneider tells me of plans to build a manor house, church, a massive fountain (which doubles as an ice skating rink), a witch’s lair, and a clocktower. They even have plans to put in a train―designed to help visitors easily get from one end of the park to the other. According to Mr. Bretschneider, all of these park additions are only expected to add to the incredible experience at Evermore.
Despite copious construction around the park, my experience at Evermore was still magical and completely authentic. Nestled amongst man-made (though, after the completion of the landscaping, they certainly won’t look it) “rolling hills” all of Evermore’s buildings and attractions are fashioned from real stone and other materials, there’s nothing fake (or made from foam!) here.
As Mr. Bretschneider walked with me around the park, he showed me several statues, doorways and their frames, pieces of stained glass, an incredible Bishop’s chair (with the original upholstery), and countless other antiques that came to the park straight out of historical collections in Europe.
“We brought [over 1000 pieces back] from places like North France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Wales, all to make the park authentic,” says Mr. Bretschneider, pointing out one of his favorite pieces in the park, a statue of Apollonia, the saint of dentistry. The statue is one of two left in the world and like every other artifact in the park, she has a fascinating history.
Intrigued, I inquire about the gravestones dotting the quaint Victorian graveyard outside of the Crypt, “there’s no way those are real, right?” He grins, assuring me that those too, are 100 percent real antiques. They were acquired completely legally and his wife, he tells me, is even distantly related to one of the names on a gravestone.
The antiques make the experience a little like walking through a living history museum―albeit one that you could interact with. However, I couldn’t help but wonder how much money went into creating the elaborate facade of the park. When I ask, Mr. Bretschneider tells me that he invested a whopping $32 million of his own fortune into Evermore.
“I think it’s more important than just money,” says Mr. Bretschneider. “I’ve seen [Evermore] change people, I’ve seen some incredible things.” He mentions a mother who brought her terminally ill daughter to the park because visiting the park was one of her dreams. “She literally only had two months left with her daughter before she was going to be gone, and she brought her daughter here. She said it was the best night of their lives.”
Almost A Fairytale
But it’s not all fairytales and magic at Evermore. Despite massive plans for growth, securing funding has been a struggle. “I can go through 100 potential investors,” Mr. Bretschenider says, and they’ll go, ‘it’s really cool, but I don’t get it. I don’t get how it’s going to make money.’ And I say, ‘well I’ll make money in lots of different ways but they’ll take time. But look at what it also does for the community.’”
Evermore plans to host concerts around the pavilion in the center of the park, throw adult-only parties with wine and beer, sell specialized products on Amazon and in their custom wares shop, and even launch a book series based on Evermore. But according to Mr. Bretschneider, building the Evermore brand is their first priority.
And they’re well on their way. This year, Evermore has attracted more out-of-state visitors than in-state ones. “I think that [those in] Utah just need to realize what’s here and embrace it,” says Crysta Sapp, the vice president of operations. She hopes that one day, the park will be Utah’s Disneyland. “[Evermore] is literally nothing like you’d find anywhere else,” she says.
I agree. Where else can you freely walk amongst thousands of ancient artifacts, embark on epic quests, or trade your beloved bow away to a stranger in a tavern? My presumptions of Seftus as the town swindle are confirmed, by the way. Turns out he barters with anyone naive enough to let him―though I am comforted to learn that the gold coin he traded me is considered a rare item in Evermore.
As my time in Evermore came to a close, I try to get my bow back, but Seftus is nowhere to be found and I wouldn’t know where to begin looking for him. So I head to Evermore’s center square instead. Well, I thought, since I lost my bow, might as well learn to throw an axe.