By CHERIL VERNON
Messenger-News Copy Editor
PALESTINE – Inspired by “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss, the Grinch’s Lair in Palestine offers kids and adults of all ages a chance to have a little “Grinch” fun in Whoville while celebrating the holiday season.
The Grinch welcomes children and adults of all ages to visit him at his home, where he is locked up for stealing Christmas at the historic Texas Jail House venue located near the downtown Palestine area.
Event organizer Jeremy Janz, who plays the Grinch, describes the activity as a live interactive experience for kids and families.
“This will be our fourth year to do this. What we find is that there are not many places where you get to interact with the main character. If you get to visit with Santa, it’s for 30 seconds or a minute. But at the Grinch’s Lair, it’s more like a live interactive theater,” Janz said during an interview with the Messenger-News. “Even if there is someone who is not sure about the Grinch, like small kids, that’s okay. Max the Dog will play a little hunting game with you and before you know it the Grinch is singing a song making them more comfortable, acting silly. Even if they are nervous they end up having fun and laughing.”
The Grinch’s Lair opened on Thanksgiving weekend and will continue to be open on weekends, Fridays through Sundays, through Dec. 23.
Based on the beloved children’s story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the reclusive, bitter and grouchy green, furry creature named the Grinch wants to put an end to Christmas by stealing presents from the nearby town Whoville on Christmas Eve. But meeting an innocent little girl named Cindy Lou Who begins to melt his heart (his heart is two times smaller than the normal heart). After watching the Whoville residents joyously celebrate Christmas even without their gifts that he stole, makes the Grinch realize that maybe there is something more to Christmas than just presents (or commercialism).
“Ultimately, even the Grinch can’t hide from the fact that he got it wrong. Love, sharing and giving changes his heart,” Janz said. “It’s so funny that it takes a Grinch to show everybody else that maybe Christmas isn’t about all those things. It’s about loving each other, spreading joy, visiting with each other.”
The Grinch’s Lair brings the whimsical town of Whoville to life with a myriad of Whoville characters with their signature Whoville-flat noses, but starts with a journey up to the Grinch’s home in the Mount Krumpet Cave.
“You can stop at the Grinch’s home on the second floor or continue up to the third floor to visit with the Whoville Whos and write a letter to Santa,” Janz said. “Usually, the Grinch comes up there to sing songs with you and take pictures. Then you go through another little cave to Max the Dog’s room where he jams on the keyboard and plays.”
From there, it’s back to the second floor to venture through the Grinch’s dwellings, including his sleigh room, his “Cooking with the Grinch” room, his cage, dressing room, garden and more, all with areas that make perfect spots to take a “selfie” with the Grinch.
“We tried to provide a lot of photogenic moments and create spaces and elements where people could pause with the Grinch and take different pictures,” Janz said.
In fact, this is the first year that the third floor has been added to the Grinch’s Lair. Upgrades also were made to the Mount Krumpet cave and to Max the Dog’s room.
“We try to add new things each year,” Janz said. “It always turns into something magical.”
All ages seem to enjoy the Grinch’s Lair, according to Janz.
“The parents have just as much fun as the kids. I have grown men come in and get a laugh when the Grinch tries to smell their armpits, or women who slap at him for being silly,” Janz said. “I had an 80-year-old Grandma come in recently. The Grinch held her arm to make sure she made it up and down the stairs. I asked her have you ever taken a picture with the Grinch? She said “No, but now I have. I can take that off my bucket list.’ The Grinch really connects on so many dynamics. I love the character.”
One of the fun parts for kids is the “Cooking with Grinch” area, where the Grinch uses his homemade cooking “contraption” to fry rotten bell peppers. If you were a fan of the Big Billy Bass™ singing fish, you might want to take a picture with the oversized bass in the cooking room or have the kids stand underneath it so it looks like they caught the biggest catch of the day.
The Grinch also has found a way to incorporate talking to kids about bullying.
“The Grinch was picked on when he was young and that’s what made him isolated and grouchy. I try to relate to them on bullying and tell them that yes, sometimes kids are mean or say mean things. It’s a real issue for children. I give them a hug and tell them I know how it feels,” Janz said. “It took a young girl’s big heart to see past what everyone else saw in the Grinch and that ultimately changed his heart and made it grow. And we see that in how in the end he tries to spread the joy of Christmas.”
Many out-of-towners have found the Grinch’s Lair while visiting the Palestine area for the Texas State Railroad’s Polar Express™ rides.
“It’s the perfect compliment to the Polar Express™, especially in your jammies. We’ve had a lot of people from Dallas and Houston especially,” Janz said. “Due to the Polar Express™, we have had a lot of foreign exchange students visit us. That’s been really cool because they wrote their letter to Santa in their own language. One girl wrote her letter in Chinese.”
The Grinch’s Lair wouldn’t exist without the help of many volunteers who bring the event to life.
“I want to say thank you to all of our volunteers who give of their time to make this be successful. Some of our volunteers do it because they don’t have family in the area and they want to get involved in something at Christmas. Others do it because they enjoy doing theatrical things or sharing history,” Janz said. “It gives them the opportunity to share their passion for the arts or history.”
Some volunteers participate just one weekend a year, for example, while others may participate every time the doors open.
“We have been able to include other families that want to dress up, which has been fun. On an upcoming weekend, we have a family who is going to come dressed up as Whos. The dad is gong to be dressed as the mayor of Whoville. He’s excited because he gets to do this with this kids,” Janz said.
What makes the event even more unique is the venue – the Texas Jail House, built in 1931, was once used as a county jail and juvenile detention center. When Janz purchased the three-story brick building four years ago, he envisioned turning the location into a place where its historic elements such as jail cells and bunks could contribute to the atmosphere of its events.
Throughout the year, Janz and his girlfriend, Sonia Martinez, host a variety of special events at the Texas Jail House, such as a haunted house around Halloween, historical tours, cemetery walks, walking tours and ghost tours.
“The second attraction to the Grinch and the whole Christmas season is that you have this historic building. There is a lot of history around every corner. So many people are curious about it and stop me to answer their questions,” Janz said. “They want to know where the isolation tank is or the booking room. The fallout shelter building signs capture their imagination. It’s a really neat building to explore.”
Admission to the Grinch’s Lair is $10 (ages 2 and under free). Hours are from 4 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays now through Dec. 23. Free hot chocolate also is provided.
Anderson County residents are encouraged to visit the Grinch’s Lair on Sundays for a special 25 percent discount.
The Grinch’s Lair is located at 704 Avenue A in Palestine. For more information about the Grinch’s Lair, call 903-373-8158 or visit www.texasjailhouse.com.