Spooky, not scary
It can be surprisingly hard to give away homemade candy apples to strangers, even strangers waiting in line to see a haunted house a week before Halloween; too many apocryphal stories about razor blades, I guess. In my enthusiasm for the holiday, I had made far too many of the waxy treats and figured I could foist some off on the captive audience in line, but I found few takers.
The haunted house, also known as the Maines Mansion, is at 25th and I streets in Midtown, and this is its sixth year in existence. I’ve lived two blocks away for the last few years, and felt an idle curiosity each October when the globe lights outside were replaced with orange, flickering bulbs and the tall iron gates were coated in fake spider webs. I knew something was going in this giant, turn-of-the-century Victorian, I just didn’t know what. This year, I decided to finally find out, so here I was waiting in line with a group of friends, gripping the toe tag that served as my ticket for admission.
The toe tag is apt, because this year the house has been transformed into the Maines Funeral Parlor; in past years, the themes have included a séance, a Wild West hanging and a spooky wedding. What doesn’t change is that the admission is always free, with donations going to benefit charity. This year the charity recipient is Sunburst Projects, a nonprofit organization that serves children with HIV/AIDS with various support services and functions including hosting a summer camp.
For the tour, groups of 15 at a time are ushered into the mansion. This haunted house is not a grab bag of assorted shocks and gross-outs. Instead, there’s a short play acted out by volunteers. There are three plays going on at any given time in the house to keep the line moving quickly—a fact that’s skillfully hidden from patrons. No spoilers about the plot, but I will say I most enjoyed the old-fashioned trickery of trap doors and objects seeming to float while suspended from fishing lines.
The masterminds behind the project, Matt Rough (whose sister also runs a counseling business out of the house) and Jim Reed, say that they are trying to mimic the feel of the haunted mansion at Disneyland.
“We cater to people who enjoy the spookiness of Halloween but don’t really care for gore,” Reed says.
Indeed, the show is tame enough for most kids.
“The two or three people who couldn’t go through the whole thing last night were adults,” Rough says.
For Rough and Reed and the other volunteers, the transformation of the house pretty much consumes every weekend of the year starting in June through Halloween.
And when do they start planning the next one?