Foxboro Jaycees Haunted House 1997: The University

Introduction: From 1989-2007, the Foxboro Jaycees Haunted House was the largest not-for-profit Haunt in New England, our biggest fundraiser, an extremely popular event attended by thousands of people, and my favorite Jaycee project. This is the column I wrote for the 1997 Haunt. Of course, this is an archive, so things like show times, dates, price, and out-of-date historical context, are removed. So why include this column here? I think it’s well worth a read because the Jaycees’ enthusiasm and dedication to our Haunted House – and helping the community – is readily apparent, as is my great love for the chapter and our Haunted House. I put a lot of passion into these columns, and the excitement of our annual boo-fest always shines through. Those were good times.

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by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 10/1997

Darkness. Screams. Madness. Phantoms and ghosts. The dead and the undead. A path to the unknown. A maze of horror.

We’ve been here before—there’s definitely something eerily familiar about all of this. A group of lost souls, huddled together in blackness, trying to find our way out of this horrifying place, with terror around every corner.

There’s no strength in numbers tonight; the ten of us can’t even see each other through the shadows. On this journey of fear, we somehow find ourselves in a whaling museum, where the apparition of an obsessed sea captain tells us his tale of fifty long years, hunting the great beast. The wind slashes against us as we stumble through the dark. The person behind me shrieks, “Something grabbed my foot!”

We can hear wailing and eerie howling somewhere close. We meet an Egyptian queen who tries to warn us of the curse that has kept her prisoner in a tomb—when suddenly a foolish boy is devoured by a monstrous figure.

“You’ll be next!” the queen shouts, “…or perhaps you’re entire group!” She’s gone, replaced by a man in a fedora. Calls himself Jones, a great explorer. He dodges knives and rats as he tries to find the lost treasure of a dead king. But the wrath of King Inky-Minky reaches across the centuries, and Jones is dead.

The fear in the air is palatable—you can taste it. Around every corner, something is about happen. Something very bad.

I remember the previous journeys: A rain forest official lost his head, literally. Evil puppets came to life and attacked us. Long dead rulers decapitated screaming victims. Pictures, tables and other objects flying at us, screaming as they foretold our doom.

We’ve had brushes with insane murderers and serial killers and even more terrifying encounters with supernatural beings like Dracula and the Devil himself. Even the most benign looking places—a dining room, a barbershop, an old saloon, a basement workshop—hold unspeakable terrors.

As before, the enveloping darkness reveals only a greenish blob, seemingly floating in space—the face of our guide, a beacon through this madness and terror. Looking behind us, we see the counterpart green glow—that must be the rear guide.

People are screaming again and others are shouting as the next apparition appears. Yet through all this unearthly world of the creepy, the eerie and the terrifying, the group is having a great time. They’re laughing and smiling! For this, of course, is one of the most eagerly awaited and best loved community events of the year—The Foxboro Jaycees Haunted House.

As a Jaycee and Foxboro resident this is the Autumn event I love the most, and thousands of Foxboro residents and out of town guests will concur—this is the one you must see!

The Jaycees Haunted House, as you may know, is the largest non-profit Haunted House in Massachusetts as well as the biggest fund-raiser of the year for an organization that is responsible for a multitude of Foxboro community service projects, such as SHARE, the summer concerts on the common, elder’s day, CYO basketball clinic, Easter egg hunt, the pancake breakfast, many Founders Day activities, mothers and fathers day activities, as well as Christmas activities such as tree sales, Santa on the common and setting up the nativity set. The list of Jaycee community involvement just keeps getting bigger. Around town, the Jaycees are also actively involved helping other worthwhile causes, such as the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, the Discretionary Fund, Council on Aging and the Rodman Ride for kids.

At the Haunted House, I walked the maze with this year’s chairman, Peter Sorrow, whose job it is to coordinate the myriad of details that comes with a project of this scope. The Jaycees have been hard at work since the beginning of August, cleaning, demolishing, building sets, putting up sheet rock, and planning, planning, planning.

It’s amazing to witness all the details that go into this project:

“We could put an electrical switch there, but it has to be on when the door is open to activate the strobe.”

“Can we put a false floor here?”

“How do we handle charges at the store?”

“Now, the fire exits are located here…”

“This really scared people last year, let’s try to incorporate it into this set.”

Gargoyles are sculpted. Kneeling rails are removed and repaired. Recycling occurs whenever possible. Paint rollers are dipped in black paint as walls are painted and repainted. Odd fixtures are attached to the walls. Props and clothing are scavenged from attics and basements. Costumes are created. The excitement level builds.

Sorrow explains that this year’s theme is “the Haunted university,” and will incorporate college themes, such as a Dean’s office, cafeteria, student union, and so on. Expect the unexpected in each room!

Sorrow is joined in this enormous endeavor by co-chair Lynn Freerksen, head room chair Bill Maddestra, head guide Firm Locke, and creative director Tom Whiffen. Michelle Rogers and Susan Zakhary will handle concessions this year, with Lynda Walsh and Beth Maddestra handling manpower. (Beth is also in charge of publicity). Add to them a cast of dozens and dozens of enthusiastic Jaycees performing all sorts of jobs, and you have an amazing success that gives new meaning to the words, “team effort.” The end result is always impressive and makes a huge difference for Foxboro.

Sorrow explained that the Jaycees check out many other Haunted Houses around the state, in such places as Salem and George’s Island, to get ideas, make suggestions, and come up with new scares. All this is balanced with safety considerations (for example, not being able to use a material because it isn’t fireproof) and budgetary requirements. Add to that such things as guide training, planning for emergencies, getting the rooms right, ensuring manpower, securing permits… Well, the list goes on and on.

Speaking for myself, I felt a rush of adrenaline walking the maze, even back in August with the place all lit up and remnants of last year’s “Haunted museum” still around. I remember how sore our throats get from all the shouting we did, and the steady supply of cough drops we consumed. (Being a Haunted House worker has other interesting perils—last year at work, someone asked if I was coloring my hair—turns out that I hadn’t washed all of the Haunted House makeup out and I still had subtle red highlights from the night before. Thank God I didn’t go for green hair that night!)

Last week at the house, it was very impressive to see all the progress made since August. The entrance way and stage of the auditorium are now enclosed with drywall and made to look like the outside walls of Foxfield University. Painted ivy and graffiti adorn the walls. Realistic looking cobwebs are being stapled into place. The front hallway by the concession stand has been painted in a college-like splatter technique. Downstairs I see that a large section of the maze has been rerouted, adding new twists, turns and horrors. Sets have been repainted. One room has a row of odd machines and computer equipment; another has washers and dryers for the laundry room set. Backstage someone is soldering a new control panel for the video monitors that will entertain the people waiting in line, while industrial speaker wire is being run throughout the place.

Things are looking good.

Upstairs over pizza, as Jaycees go over Halloween catalogs and brainstorm ideas, the conversation turns to the many great memories of past houses, and this year’s new sets. I asked Derek House, whose “Portrait Gallery” was one of last years most memorable scares, how he planned to outdo himself this year. He smiled cryptically and replied, “Don’t get the coach angry.” Other Jaycees echoed similar sentiments—they planned to make this year’s house one of the best ever.

Come to the Jaycee Haunted House and benefit your town.  [Admission details, venue location, open dates, etc. deleted for clarity.]

But remember, this is not a kiddy Haunted House and is not recommended for children under the age of 8.

You will be scared. You will scream. You will laugh. You will have a wonderful time, you will not spend a lot of money, and best of all, and you’ll directly benefit a great organization that does so much for Foxboro all year long. How many things can you say that about?

Come to the Jaycees Haunted House. The ghosts and goblins are waiting for you.

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