For 25 years, Troop 2’s Haunted Castle in Fort Wayne, Ind., has provided scary — but safe — fun 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 tasks — including 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 1970s.)
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, which 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 that 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 Vortex — a cylinder that’s 12 feet in diameter and 30 feet long and made of steel frame with cloth covering — is 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 monthlong camping trip to the West Coast.
The troop also takes eight ski trips a year, traveling in its 40-foot bus to sites in Colorado, Michigan, New York and Vermont.
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 night — taking 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, 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. Click here to learn more about Troop 2’s Haunted Castle program.
Guidelines for Money-Earning Projects
Packs, troops and crews planning a money-earning project should submit a Unit Money-Earning Application to the local Scout council service center at least two weeks in advance of the project’s proposed date.
For help in planning a project, the application form includes “10 Guides to Unit Money-Earning Projects.” Following these planning steps will ensure that the project is in compliance with BSA money-earning guidelines and has the full approval of the unit’s chartered organization.
The application is available at local Scout council service centers, or it can be downloaded from the BSA national website.
An Idea that Worked
Troop 2 has been successfully running the Haunted Castle as a money-earning project for 25 years, thanks to the leadership of Scoutmaster Randy W. Young, a Fort Wayne attorney, and his Boy Scout helpers.
In the 1960s, Young was a Scout in Troop 2, which held its meetings in the cold, damp basement of the century-old St Vincent’s Catholic Church. By the time Young returned in 1977 to become Scoutmaster, the troop had moved its meetings across the street to the church’s school building. However, limited space in the school meant the troop had to store its equipment in the older building.
When younger boys confessed to being scared to go inside the old building, Young and his Scouts came up with the idea of turning it into a Halloween attraction.
The parish was planning to tear down the old building, but the high cost of demolition had postponed its demise. So parish priest Father Eldon Miller gave Troop 2 permission to use it, under the condition that the Scouts fix it up first.
The task wasn’t easy, but the troop accomplished the job. Today the Haunted Castle and its other attractions bring in enough money to finance an extensive program for the troop membership of more than 90 Scouts.
Scoutmaster Young is also vice president of the International Association of Haunted Attractions (IAHA). He advises anyone interested in creating a Halloween attraction to look for advice and help at the IAHA website.