A Halloween Tradition
By Kayleen J. Reusser
For 25 years, Troop 2's Haunted Castle in Fort Wayne, Ind., has provided scarybut safefun for families while also funding the unit's annual program and equipment expenses.
Ask the Scouts of Troop 2 of the Anthony Wayne Area Council in Fort Wayne, Ind., what they'll be doing in October, and they'll say, "Working in a haunted castle."
The Haunted Castle is a popular Halloween season attraction that Troop 2, chartered to St. Vincent's Catholic Church, has conducted for 25 years. Earnings provide enough money to pay for most of the troop's annual program activities and equipment. Scouts, leaders, and adult volunteers carry out various tasksincluding performing as costumed characters.
Since 1980, the Haunted Castle has been set up in the more than 100-year-old building that once served as the parish church. (The growing parish has used newer facilities across the street since the 1970's.)
For four nights a week from late September (and every night during Halloween week), Scouts in scary costumes startle visitors as they make their way through narrow passages and up and down 10 flights of stairs and three 50-foot-long super slides.
In recent years, the troop has created two additional attractions. The Black Forest, opened in 1997, is a path through a wooded area behind the Haunted Castle where costumed characters lurk behind trees and bushes.
Pharaoh's Revenge, built in 2001, is an extensive maze made with wood and canvas. Visitors wind through a myriad of twists and turns, most of which end in a central room where "Pharaoh" (played by a Scout) is seated on a golden throne.
To convince intruders to leave his private domain, Pharaoh gives them "gold coins" and points to the correct exit. Outside, visitors redeem their coins at concession stands, where Cub Scouts and parents sell refreshments.
An illusion of 'scariness'
Safety rules designed to protect both visitors and performers ensure that the haunts remain family friendly. The Black Forest creatures, as well as volunteers in the other haunts, are not allowed to touch a visitor or even come within a foot of one.
Visitors are also alerted that surveillance video cameras record all events and any "rowdy behavior" will result in immediate expulsion from the site.
Younger children must be accompanied by an adult. Very young children, persons afraid of the dark, and those who are claustrophobic or have heart problems are discouraged from taking a tour.
"We strive to give the illusion of scariness, but without blood and gruesomeness," says Troop 2 Scoutmaster Randy W. Young.
The Super Vortexa cylinder 12 feet in diameter and 30 feet long made of steel frame with cloth coveringis a special treat for those venturing through the forest. Painted patterns on the slowly turning tunnel wall cause a sense of disorientation for most who pass through it.
Each attraction takes up to an hour to go through. In 2004, an estimated 50,000 visitors attended the three attractions during September and October.
Earnings from the Haunted Castle enable the troop to finance a full program of activities that include high adventure trips to locations like Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and a month long camping trip to the West Coast.
The troop also takes eight ski trips a year, traveling in its 40-foot bus to sites in Vermont, New York, Michigan, and Colorado.
Creating different surprises for the three events is a yearlong effort, says Young. "We decide on designs by March and begin construction in July."
Dozens of volunteers spend hundreds of hours sawing, hammering, and painting in the months leading up to opening weekend. Weeks before opening, each Scout family is asked to sign up to work one or more shifts.
Other troops are invited to participate on a unit basis, with a minimum of one adult leader for every five youth. Also volunteering are members of St. Vincent's Venturing Crew 2802. And although they are not old enough to play any role in the three haunts, many Cub Scouts and parents from the church's Pack 3009 sell refreshments at the "food village."
The attractions usually open the last weekend of September. By then, nearly 200 volunteers have signed up to work each nighttaking tickets, running the "Goblin Shoppe" souvenir stand, and helping with traffic flow.
For every hour that a Scout, Venturer, leader, or parent works, $4 is credited to that individual's troop or crew. Scouts in Troop 2 have their earnings deposited in a personal troop account to be used for Scouting purposes.
Financial rewards, however, aren't the only benefits for Scouts who work on the Haunted Castle. Scoutmaster Young believes they learn teamwork, as well.
"Some kids come here withdrawn and not accepted by the other kids," he says. "Once they begin working together, they're accepted by the rest of the group."
"It's a real opportunity for kids to grow and develop," observes Eagle Scout Pat McAlister, 16. He is captain of St. Vincent's 25-member Varsity Scout Team 6402 (for boys 14 to 17 years old), most of whom are also registered as members of Troop 2.
McAlister says working on the Haunted Castle has helped him learn teamwork, as well as leadership skills.
"We have to move a lot of stuff, like paneling and plywood. It takes a coordinated effort to put them up and take them down."
Dr. Lynn Martin is a local veterinarian who has served 25 years as an adult leader with the troop. His son and four grandchildren are also involved with the troop and Venturing crew. Dr. Martin says he is proud of what the troop has accomplished.
"People both young and old in the community have been helped by the Haunted Castle," he says.
"Scouts from Troop 2 have used their earnings to provide Christmas meals for residents of a local health care facility. They've also given supplies to local law enforcement agencies and sponsored Easter egg hunts for area children."
Freelance writer Kayleen J. Reusser lives in Bluffton, Ind. Learn more about Troop 2 at www.svscouts.org and about its Haunted Castle program at www.hauntedcastle.com.
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