Historic Schlegelmilch House hosts escape room

The Chippewa Valley Museum and Tactical Escape co-host a Sherlock Holmes-themed mystery experience


Photo by Owyn Peters

The Chippewa Valley Museum is partnering with Tactical Escape for the third year to bring an immersive escape room experience to the historic house on Farwell Street until November 6.

The recent escape room trend is getting a local twist this fall at the Schlegelmilch House in downtown Eau Claire.

The Chippewa Valley Museum is partnering with Tactical Escape for the third year to bring an immersive escape room experience to the historic house on Farwell St. until Nov. 6.

Rice Lake native Justin Fonfara, co-owner of Tactical Escape, said teams of four to 12 people will have up to 60 minutes to solve a murder mystery. 

But here’s the twist — one member of the team will be the murderer.

“You’re attending the funeral of Sir Authur Conan Doyle,” Fonfara said, “and one of you, a participant, is the murderer. And hopefully the remainder have an alibi!” 

Carrie Ronander, executive director at the Chippewa Valley Museum, described the escape room as a mash-up of Clue and Sherlock Holmes. 

“I think this is a wonderful social event for a group of people,” Ronander said. “Especially if you don’t like creepy, scary Halloween things — this is not that. If you like mysteries and hanging out with pals, it’s a really neat way to spend time with each other.” 

While Fonfara described the theme as “death at a funeral,” he said he and his team worked with a historian from the museum and house caretakers to create puzzles and bring in props that honor the history of the Schlegelmilch House.

Ronander said the history of the house itself is part of the escape room’s appeal. 

“The environment of the historic house really provides a unique experience,” Ronander said. “I mean, you’re in an 1871 house. It’s almost 150 years old. When you walk in, you get a sense that you’re in an old place, and that really changes the experience.” 

Fonfara said during Tactical Excape’s first year at the Schlegelmilch House, they only used one room, but they’ve now expanded to include the rest of the house.

Ronander said the house is typically used for events like bridal or baby showers, but the Museum has received a good response from the community the two previous Octobers they’ve transformed the house into an escape room. 

She said she likes to have her own museum team participate in the room as a form of staff bonding.

“It’s a great team-building thing,” Ronander said. “We all have different styles, so learning how to work with each other in a forced way can be a good thing.” 

She estimated they’ve filled a third to half of reservations, and said Tactical Escape anticipates filling more as peoples’ holiday plans develop.

She said this is especially beneficial to the museum as the escape room works as an annual fundraiser. Fonfara said one-third of the proceeds from every ticket go to the Chippewa Valley Museum directly. 

Ronander said she likes partnerships like this, whether public or nonprofit. 

“Alone, we can’t do a lot of these things.” Ronander said, reflecting on the escape room. “But together, as a group, we can provide other opportunities for the community.” 

Group reservations for the Schlegelmilch House Escape Room can be made at tacticalescape101.com (walk-ins are not accepted).

Lopez can be reached at [email protected]