by Erin Tarr
Little toes and costumed legs tiptoe down the segmented stairs into the darkened basement. Unsure if they want to venture forth, the youngsters’ nervous giggles permeate the scared silence. A tour guide meets them at the foot of the stairs, looking nice enough and not at all scary, the small troupe continues on, regaled by the tale of Jonathan Mahomet (the person for whom their neighborhood was named), while eerie music and sound effects surround them like a warm blanket on a cold night. Their journey continues for only three of the four brave souls – as the initial shock of an over sized spider coming to rest on his head sent one youngster screaming for the exit. The others huddle together as they listen to the tale of Jonathan and jump simultaneously at the surprises that await them around each turn until they finally return to the foot of the stairs where their journey began a mere five minutes before.
So, Is Your Neighborhood Haunted?
Prior to October of 2006, Bridget Miller (mom of three) would have said no. But then her husband came up with the brilliant plan to build a Haunted House in their unfinished basement with the help of their two oldest boys who were then 5 and 7 years old. In its sixth year and having grown from 10 “guests” in year one to over 35 last year – this Chambana mom has some tips to share if you are interested in starting this fun Halloween tradition in your neighborhood.
Q: What do you need to get started?
A: The most important component is a theatrical and creative mindset! The first year, we started with no plan whatsoever – we were just doing it for fun and threw everything together at the last minute. As the appointed “tour guide” for the haunted house, I decided that having a story to accompany the tour would make it more fun for our guests. So I literally made up a story off the top of my head as I toured the very first group. Each year the story changes and develops, but always centralized around the main character named our neighborhood.
Q: Outside of the theatrics, what supplies do you need to make the haunted house?
A: For the first year we only had our own costumes, an empty basement with sheets and shower curtains hung from the ceiling to create a maze-like tunnel, a boombox with eerie music and a couple of pulley systems to “fly” scary objects across the path of the guests. In subsequent years we have added multiple stuffed dummies (but you never know if one of them is real), a strobe light and fog machine. The basic set-up has not changed dramatically, but as the boys have gotten older we have enjoyed upping the “scare” factor.
Q: Any logistical advice for someone wanting to host a neighborhood haunted house?
A: Yes! First, be prepared to be exhausted! Our haunted house runs from 8:00 – 9:30/10:00 AFTER trick-or-treating, so it is a long night, and with only four of us coordinating the entire ordeal, it is tiring. Also, we have coded rating system for how scary each tour should be, so if there are small children in the group, we will tone it down to a one, whereas if there is an all adult group we will have a scare factor of three. Additionally, if you don’t know all of the guests/neighbors that will be visiting your haunted house, it may be helpful to have another family member upstairs to answer the door and keep people contained while a group is going through the haunted house. (We only take 4 – 5 people through at a time, so everyone else is waiting to be “toured.”)
Q: Is the planning, prepping and long night worth it?
A: We have so much fun setting up and entertaining our neighbors with the haunted house. Our daughter (now 8 years old) has been reticent to participate in the past, but I think this year she might be ready to join the boys “haunting” in the basement. In spite of the work it takes to pull off, I know we are creating priceless family memories that we will all talk about for years to come. There may be a day when the kids don’t want to do the haunted house anymore – but I hope it isn’t anytime soon…I think my husband would be very disappointed.