A spooky mausoleum with a headless lady singer beckoning to little children, a creepy executioner using a swinging blade to sever the heads of his victims, a sparking prisoner strapped to an electric chair, and a morgue complete with body-cutting tools hanging on the wall and a dead body that rises to greet you.
Those are just some of the scary Halloween delights that await visitors to Angie’s List members Marc and Dawn Lorey’s haunted “Castle Lorey” in Terre Haute, Indiana, each year. The Loreys, who are members of the Home Haunters Association, a national registry of more than 500 homeowners in more than 40 states, plus Europe and Canada, say they’ve been setting up their Halloween haunt for more than a decade.
“Castle Lorey is loosely based in medieval times, but you’ll find modern-day sets thrown in, too,” Marc says. “Ideas about individual concepts creep in my head every waking minute. I may see something during the day that I can turn into some sort of scare.”
Dawn says their annual Halloween fun all started with a clearance sale on decorations. “Marc and I had never had a Halloween party before, and our children were getting older, so I figured it was long overdue,” she says. “Little did I know I was creating a monster!”
Each year, Marc starts building Castle Lorey — the main attraction of the Loreys’ haunt — in the driveway. This year, for the first time, Marc says he’s asking friends to come over to help him build most of Castle Lorey in a day. Then he’ll spend about 12 hours a day during the two weeks leading up to Halloween to finish building and decorating it.
Dawn sticks to the backyard and organizes the tamer portion of Castle Lorey. “It’s important to me that we provide a kid-friendly event that doesn’t give them nightmares,” she says. “While he is busy spooking the kids with moving gags or giant spiders, I provide a less intimidating experience as they grab their candy and exit our haunt. I like to think he provides the trick and I provide the treat.”
Dawn says they budget $2,000 a year to construct Castle Lorey. They don’t charge admission, but take candy donations from co-workers and friends to pass out. They also collect nonperishable food for a local food bank, and this year they plan to accept pet food to donate to the Terre Haute Humane Society.
If the idea of constructing a haunt intrigues your ghoulish side, but you don’t know where to start, consider hiring a holiday decorator. Isabelle Kaminsky, owner of highly rated For All Seasons in Lake Forest, California, suggests buying a few essential items.
“Sound effects — a CD or recording of some type, with creepy sounds, such as screaming or meowing,” she says. “Lots of strips of clothes, crepe paper or string to hang down so that as people walk through, it touches them and obscures their vision.” She also suggests including a climatic scare at the end of the haunt. A professional decorator charges $35 to $50 per hour, she says.
For those who may not want to create a fully elaborate haunted wonderland, try starting with basic lighting, says Derek Norwood, owner of highly rated Holiday Creations Pro in Broadview, Illinois. His company offers its own scene, bush and roofline lighting and he sets up, takes down and stores the lights for the homeowner. He says jobs range from $400 to $3,000, depending on the number of lights used.
In Medford, Oregon, Angie’s List member Tina Reuwsaat says she charges a $10 admission fee to her elaborate Darkwing Manor and Morguetorium Museum, but she says half of the proceeds benefit a different children’s charity each year. The haunted tour on 2.5 acres of land includes live actors, puppets, animatronics, video effects and special effects pyrotechnics.
She’s been doing the haunt for more than 30 years, but says her favorite moment occurred early on. “I was lying in a coffin in the front yard. We had fog going. This man walked right by me, and didn’t even see me in the coffin, so I waited. He walked back down [the driveway] and turned around to admire the house. I quietly sat up and he didn’t see me. I gently touched his hand, and he looked down and let out this girly scream!” she says. “That was the highlight of my career.”
Due to the size of the attraction, Reuwsaat says she purchases special event liability insurance each year to cover guests and more than 100 people who volunteer to help with the haunt. However, she says her previous homeowners’ insurance recently dropped her because they didn’t approve of the holiday event.
Despite the cost and setup needed, Dawn Lorey says she and her husband enjoy giving local families something memorable to do together. ”Gone are the days of letting the kids roam the neighborhood alone after dark,” she says. “Our haunt gives the parents something to enjoy, as well. We are seeing more and more families come through, so we must be doing something right.”
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