Be prepared to experience a chilling adventure when you visit Schaefferstown’s carnival grounds this Halloween season. The area at the corner of Locust and West Oak streets in Schaefferstown has morphed into The Haunt, an immersive haunted attraction.
A collaboration between the Friends of Lebanon-Berks Inc. and the Schaefferstown Volunteer Fire Company, The Haunt made its debut Friday, Oct. 1, and is open from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturdays through Nov. 6. Ticket cost is $15, and tickets may be purchased on The Haunt’s website or at the onsite ticket booth.
“The location is great. We’ve had a lot of great feedback from guests, and we even had two gentlemen who came to display their classic hearses that were decked out in Halloween style,” said Ann, a spokeswoman for Friends of Lebanon-Berks who asked that her last name not be published. “Our prices are low, but our scares are high.”
She said that the Friends group is a nonprofit organization that was founded with the goal of raising money and then donating the funds to community organizations in Lebanon and Berks counties.
“The idea of hosting a haunted house came up since a number of our members have worked in ‘haunted houses’ in both Pennsylvania and Maryland. Since that’s where we have the experience, we decided it would be our first project,” she explained.
The Schaefferstown Fire Company’s carnival grounds, which are adjacent to the fire house and feature several small buildings and a stage, were selected as the location. Ann said the fire company’s carnivals were held on the grounds beginning in 1919. The last carnival was held in 2018.
“It was very popular, but it required a lot of work from fire company volunteers. And those volunteers were in short supply,” she explained.
Ann said the group began planning The Haunt in January 2020 with the thought of having the haunted carnival grounds open for Halloween 2020. However the COVID-19 pandemic pushed those plans back a year.
The Haunt is both an indoor and outdoor experience. Guests visit both the buildings on the carnival grounds and the outside areas between them. There are also some photo spots where guests can take selfies and share them on social media.
There are some COVID-19 safety precautions in place. Ann said there is ventilation in the buildings. When guests make reservations or purchase tickets onsite as a group, they go through the grounds as a group, and one group goes through the grounds at a time. Even if a couple or a single person purchases tickets, they are not placed with other people.
Guests are not required to wear face coverings, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines are posted onsite.
Ann said all of the props, including the “electric chair,” were made by volunteers. Pallets were loaned by Flintwood Metals, Lebanon, and have been used to build walls for the mazes throughout the haunted carnival grounds, and they will be returned when The Haunt closes for the season. A fog machine is in use, and there are strobe lights in one of the buildings.
“As people wait to go through The Haunt, we have them read the rules, which include information about the strobe lights and the fog machine,” Ann said.
Since it is an immersive experience, the actors do interact with guests in a number of settings, such as at a dining room table. As they enter The Haunt’s carnival grounds, guests are given a “toe tag.”
“The goal is for them to keep their toe tag and not lose it; it’s a souvenir of their experience at The Haunt. At times throughout the experience, the actors may give a gentle reminder about the toe tag,” Ann explained.
And although guests go through the experience in the groups that they arrive in, group members may not always be together; they may be sent down different hallways in a building.
“As our actors interact with guests, we do keep an eye on guests; if we see they’re being upset or truly scared by what’s going on, we stop. We want this to be a fun and safe experience for all of our guests,” Ann stressed.
She said 65 volunteers staff The Haunt including some members of the Schaefferstown Fire Company, but they’re not all onsite at the same time. It takes about 40 people to staff the haunted carnival grounds for one night’s revels including actors, those in the concession stand and parking attendants. Actors are from local high schools and colleges.
“We have some local kids who are 13 to 15 years old. They’re hardworking kids, and being part of The Haunt gives them something to do,” Ann said.
All of the volunteers and actors over age 18 have Pennsylvania Child Abuse History clearances, and the concession stand is managed by a volunteer with a ServSafe food certification. There’s also security staff on the grounds.
Ann said funds raised from The Haunt will be donated to community organizations including the Schaefferstown Fire Company and Schaefferstown Historical Society. In the future, the Friends of Lebanon-Berks may host other themed activities such as a haunted ghost walk.
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