Foxboro Jaycees Haunted House 1999: Camp Fright

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 1999 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 Of course, this is an archive, so things like show times, dates, price, and out-of-date historical context, are removed.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 September 1999

The Jaycees Haunted House — Of all the columns I do each year, my very favorite is the one describing the scary happenings at our annual boo-fest. The Jaycees are much more than the Haunted House, of course, but it was a visit to the 1992 house that first introduced me to the group and made me say, “I want to be a part of that!”

But as you probably know, things are going to be very different this year for the Haunted House. Two very significant changes will make this year memorable-and challenging. One: Spooky World is here in Foxboro. Two: We’re moving.

First, Spooky world. The largest Haunted House in Massachusetts isn’t four solar systems away in Berlin anymore — it’s up the street on route one. Regarding the inevitable comparison, let’s start with a simple truth — we’re talking apples and oranges. We’re both Haunted Houses. But the Jaycee Haunted House is not a commercial venture.

The Jaycee house is a FUND RAISER that helps the Jaycees run a multitude of Foxboro community events (Santa on the Common, Concerts, Easter Egg hunt, Senior Appreciation Day, et al) and allows the chapter to make the many donations and scholarship grants it gives out each year. Without this Haunted House fund-raiser it would be difficult — if not impossible — for us to bring you these wonderful events and make these donations.

That said, there is nothing amateur about the Jaycee house My honest opinion is that we’ve got the best non-commercial house I’ve seen, ever. Am I a little over-protective of the Jaycee Haunted House? You’re damn right I am. But I’m also honest. We’re not always perfect. Sometimes a Haunted room just doesn’t work. We revise it so it does. Sometimes a scare isn’t scary. We change it. Sometimes an ad-lib really works — we keep it. We’re always improving. Always innovative.

The level of enthusiasm this project generates is contagious — and I’ve seen many Jaycees contribute night after night, despite sickness or fatigue — it means that much to us. And yes, for the many that have asked, it IS as much fun as it looks.

The fact that it tremendously benefits Foxboro means a lot to me. As I led my groups down the stairs at the house last year, I modified the script so I said, “This is the 10th anniversary of the Jaycees Haunted House and we are very proud of that.” I meant it.

None of this means the Jaycees won’t be keeping an eye on route one. Bottom-line, with Spooky World so much closer, a lot more Foxborians will be visiting it this year than ever before.  But a family of four will drop over a hundred dollars to visit Spooky World. The Jaycees are a lot cheaper, directly benefit Foxboro, and already have a built-in audience.

Jaycee Lynda Walsh, this year’s Haunted House chairperson, who also serves as Massachusetts Jaycee Vice President, told me that the town will be getting .97 per ticket sold from Spooky World. Her sentiments seemed to reflect what many Jaycees have said: “We welcome you to our town, wish you much success, and challenge you to put on as an entertaining show as we have in our past 10 years.”

I suppose each Jaycee will have to evaluate the Spooky World presence for themselves. Speaking for myself, it isn’t going to change my perspective.

Frankly, the larger concern is the above-mentioned monkey wrench — the Haunted House is moving this year. For the last decade the Jaycees have used the former State Hospital Auditorium for its one of a kind show. We first used the underground tunnels, then constructed our maze beneath the auditorium.

My experience and observation has always been that the Jaycees have strove to go beyond normal safety procedures — the fire inspectors are on hand, there’s a fire extinguisher in every room, flame-retardant materials are used, and the maze was altered last year to include more emergency exits. We go over safety drills and contingency plans. The rooms communicate by walkie-talkies. I remember Jaycee Chris Mullen (he ran the popular “EVIL! Beware the corn!” room) told me that he came down to the house every day, checking the room, replacing bulbs, and adding flame-retardant spray to his set.

The Jaycees have always put safety first.

But this year all Haunted Houses in Massachusetts (including us, including Spooky World) must comply with revised 1993 safety laws, requiring special amusements to have sprinklers, a public address system, emergency lights, and an electronic alarm system. The cost of installing a sprinkler system and electronic system into the former state hospital a — building with an uncertain future — just doesn’t make economic sense.

But the Jaycees both need and want to have a Haunted House. And nearly 10,000 Foxborions expect it as well. Lynda, as well as her committee, are to be commended for their tireless work resolving this situation. After much effort, they have secured the Camp Lincoln Hill site for this year’s Haunted House.

Talking to Lynda recently about the house, she said, “At this point I’m foreseeing a great house. I think that the move to the camp is a positive one and one that gives us more room to be able to give a super show. The usual needs have doubled this year; we need lumber, paint and manpower.”

The Jaycees are already hard at work clearing the site, renovating, cleaning, and coming up with ideas for this year’s theme of “Camp Fright, Foxboro’s original Haunted House” The Jaycees will take every safety precaution as before.

At the last Jaycee General Meeting, the overall feeling seemed to be this year would be the biggest challenge yet. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t concerned about the changes. A few years back, the chapter faced a tremendous hurdle when we learned that the septic system at the auditorium needed to be replaced. Jaycee Tom Sawran engineered a miracle – twice — and got a new septic system installed for the house in just a few short weeks. But this year… Well, to be honest, I think we’re all a little jittery. It’s only natural.

The consensus is that this year’s show will be incredible. Given the arrival of Spooky World and the new location, the 1999 show MUST be one of the best we’ve ever done.

Are the Jaycees up to the task? I believe so. While this year is going to be a greater challenge to pull off, the excitement and newness of the Camp Lincoln Hill location, I think, will add a lot of creativity. Things are going to look very different. It’s a whole new venue. There will be the usual enthusiasm, excitement, scares, screaming, a chain saw or two, and a lot that will be completely different. New. Fresh.

Despite the hurdles, this group is determined to continue its tradition of helping out its community.

In October, come see our show. And when you do, you’ll know why so many of the groups say to us, “Your house is better than Spooky World!”

Hope to see you there.

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