Lock Museum Opens Adventure Room

Escape rooms have been growing in popularity over the last few years. Groups of people visit a location and are locked inside a room. Knowing nothing ahead of time, they must find clues scattered around the room to figure out how to unlock the door and escape.

What better place to set up an escape room than a museum dedicated the history of locks and keys?

However, the Lock Museum of America in the Terryville section of Plymouth doesn't call its newest attraction an escape room. It's called an adventure room.

"You're not locked in a room. You have the whole run of the second floor," says Jerry Milne of Plymouth, who co-created the room's series of puzzles with his wife, Cathy. "The point isn't to escape. It's to find the prize."

The Lock Museum of America exhibits 20,000 items related to the history of security mechanisms: locks, keys, deadbolts, safes, hinges, strongboxes, night deposit doors, handcuffs, many made in Connecticut factories such as Eagle, Sargent and Corbin Russwin. There are gold-plated doorknobs, Wedgewood knobs, elegant door hardware from the Waldorf-Astoria, a lock shaped like a werewolf, a 26-pound padlock from a British castle, keys as long as a child's arm, a 16th-century trunk from the Spanish Armada with a delightfully complex locking apparatus, a barred door used in the Plymouth town jail, even a 4,000-year-old wooden tumbler door lock from Egypt.

"This is a real museum with authentic artifacts," Milne says. "We have everything here, locks, keys. We have the atmosphere."

That ancient Egyptian lock is the jumping-off point for visitors to the adventure room. Milne tells visitors a story a story about Abigail Atwater, a fictional matriarch who trespassed on a tomb, returned to Terryville, then vanished without a trace. She left a final note: "Ramses has come at last. I have hidden the treasure in the museum. Perhaps someone now will retrieve it and free it of its curse," Milne reads.

Then he sets the adventurers free to roam the five upstairs rooms — totaling about 2,000 square feet — and find six clues that will open a chest. All kinds of locks are used: key locks, combination locks, barrel locks. What form the clues take, and what happens after that chest is opened, will have to remain a mystery.

The time limit is one hour. During a recent "beta-test" run, a group of four enthusiastic adults, only one of whom had been to an escape room before, took exactly one hour to find the treasure.

Milne says many escape rooms use visual and sound effects and spooky music to enhance the mysterious atmosphere, but the Lock Museum doesn't. "This is geared toward family," he says.

Corporations often use escape rooms for team-building exercises. The four beta-testers illustrated why. They each started out in separate rooms but later, by necessity, had to work together to finish the adventure.

Mike Pasick of Stratford, the beta tester who had been to an escape room previously, says the puzzle in the Lock Museum was frustrating but satisfying.

"If it wasn't frustrating, it'd be too easy," he says. "I thought it was fantastic. I didn't know there was all these different kinds of locks."

Laura Walsh, who joined the group with her husband John, says the adventure room is a good introduction to the museum.

"We've lived in Terryville for 10 years and we've never been to this museum before," she says. "That's unfortunate. This was fun."

Tom Hennessy Sr., who worked at Corbin, opened the museum in 1972. His son, Tom Hennessy Jr., is now curator. He said he sees the adventure room as a promotion not just of the museum but also the village of Terryville, where Eagle was once the world's largest manufacturer of trunk and cabinet locks. In that civic spirit, Hennessy let students in the digital technology class at Terryville's Eli Terry Jr. Middle School design the adventure room's website.

The museum is open until Columbus Day, and the adventure room can be visited until the museum closes this season. If it is successful and the museum can get enough volunteers to help run it, it will become a permanent attraction.

LOCK MUSEUM OF AMERICA is at 230 Main St. in the Terryville section of Plymouth. Admission to the adventure room is $23 per person, $15 for ages 12 to 18 with a paying adult. The adventure room is not designed for children younger than 12. Groups can up to eight members each. For details on the adventure room and to make reservations, visit lockmuseumadventure.org.

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