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 2000 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 Of course, this is an archive, so things like show times, dates, price, and out-of-date historical context, are removed.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, 10/2000
October 1885. Deep Woods, outside an old western town. Darkness had long since fallen, and the group — about ten in all — seemed hopelessly lost. Overhead, the crisp October moon glared balefully on the frightened travelers. In the distance, primal sounds erupted from the trees. Walking down the broken path, there were eyes in every shadow, the devil snapping at our heel. The underbrush seemed to be changing — was it dead branches, or snakes?
From out of nowhere, a figure appeared, shrouded in darkness, but familiar. It’s was our guide, and he began, “Welcome to the Foxboro Jaycees Haunted House!”
September 2000. Camp Lincoln Hill, Foxboro. The camp has been a flurry of activity since early August. The sky is a spectacular blue, and the group is hard at work in Tom Whiffen & Paul Lanza’s cabin, “the jail.” Freshly painted walls make the new plywood look 100 years old. Steel rods are being cut to become “jail bars.” In the distance, the Patriots game plays out on the radio. Two people are painting the new deck on one of the two additional cabins we’re using this year. The sound of a power saw emanates from Bob Webster and Sandy Smith’s cabin, where it was rumored they’d be hanging criminals each night in the near future. Tom Sawran and Lynda Walsh are busily painting their cabin, transforming last year’s general store into a saloon. Everywhere, fake walls are being constructed, plywood is being sawed and hammered, props are being refurbished. Speakers are being wired through the trees. Little gravestones with names like “Wilhelm Klink” and “Jack Dawson,” are being painted. (Ok, that last one was me)
Omnipresent electrician Dave Fisler is wiring a new junction box. In the background, Walkie-talkies squawk. In the kitchen, Ken Wills, whose “barber shop” cabin is nearly completed, is cooking a boiled dinner for the hungry volunteers, as he often does. Dozens of other Jaycees perform other tasks. Empty two-liter soda bottles are everywhere.
Creating this 12th annual Haunted House — the largest non-profit one in Massachusetts — is a staggering effort involving months of work and planning by dozens of people.
At the eye of the storm, keeping watch and directing the flurry of activity, is this year’s Haunted House chairman, Fred Badger. Fred has been a Jaycee 14 years, having participated in countless Jaycee projects over the years. He’s also played Santa Claus for many years at the Jaycee annual “Santa on the Common” event.
His job? Coordinating everything, and making sure it goes off without a hitch, not to mention attending to the eleven billion details that creep up in a project this ambitious.
“I decided to chair the Haunted House because it was the one big project I never chaired,” Fred begins. I had some thoughts on a few things I’d like to see done differently. I felt that by chairing the project it would give me the voice and time necessary to address these issues.”
He continues, “The Haunted House means a lot to me. It’s obviously our biggest fund-raiser of the year which, in itself, equates to a big effort by everyone. To see our members work, not only the 12 or 13 nights the Haunted House is open, but the many weeks leading to its opening, shows the dedication of this chapter.”
Indeed, the construction and preparation process is Herculean. As Fred explains, “I certainly have a better appreciation for the complexity of the project. Having been in a room for the past 11 years narrowed my focus on what was required. Being the chairman has certainly opened my eyes to the many requirements necessary to manage the project.”
Fred has a lot of help, of course, and adds, “The fact that several members have celebrated 10 year anniversaries at the Haunted House is a bit overwhelming. It may be a grind physically, but emotionally, it is very satisfying.”
Derek House, another active member, agrees. “Through the Haunted House I have seen firsthand what the money Is raised does. We have touched so many lives over the years. It always keeps me coming back when I meet the people that benefit from the work we do.”
The Haunted House is a very special event for each person. Longtime Jaycee (1984!) Paul Lanza, famous for his characters of the Widow Penderghastly and Father Damien, explains, “The Haunted House represents many things to me, but I believe they are overshadowed by my sense of pride. In my community, my fellow Jaycees and myself. Whenever I hear someone refer to the Jaycees, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment for what the chapter has done for our community and the respect that our community has shown to us. Equally significant, is the strong feeling of camaraderie Is felt with each house.”
I next talked to Jaycee Sandy Smith. About the Haunted House, she told me, “For one short time during the year, we allow ourselves to let loose and be someone else. Since it is for a good cause, it more or less makes it acceptable to be a kid again. So many of us live such busy, stressful, hectic lives that the release that this allows is therapeutic. I think that’s why I enjoy is so much. That and the camaraderie that has developed over the years. There are people I only socialize with during that one period of time and it is like renewing old friendships once a year.”
Tom Whiffen, last year’s “Legion,” and running the jail this year with Paul Lanza, agrees completely. “It gives me the opportunity to be someone or something I’m not. It’s a chance to entertain people doing something I enjoy and what better way to give back to your community through a charity than doing something you enjoy.”
But to ask these volunteers to come back night after night — to literally give up months of their lives — well, why do it?
Fred Badger smiles at that one. “I’ve often asked myself that question. Halloween was never a big holiday for me but since we began the Haunted House, it took on a new meaning. To see the effect the Haunted House has on the people who visit makes me look forward to “another night”. I remember back in 1989, when we first began the Haunted House with the Mansfield Jaycees, we didn’t have set hours nor a break period. We would begin at 7:00 and would stay open until the people stopped coming. I remember working one night until 1:00 a.m., and that was after a full day at my regular job.”
Derek House adds, “What keeps me coming back is the satisfaction I personally receive from entertaining people. If we make them laugh, or make them scream we have a commitment to put on the best show possible. By giving it 110% night after night I feel we accomplish a great show for the patrons. … I enjoy the way the house has evolved from the old days and how the people are constantly striving to make both the work and the show more enjoyable.”
Paul Lanza continues, “I feel something is missing in me if I should miss a show night. I actually go into a state of turmoil when I know I HAVE to miss a night. It’s not that anyone puts pressure on you… it’s our own desire to be part of a really good show and knowing how much we count on each other to show up to do our little part. I find it very hard to miss a show and then hear what great groups we had that there was a huge crowd that the house ran like clockwork, etc. You have to experience the joy of our guests responding with compliments or just plain, good old screams laughs, cringing body movements, etc. It’s very stimulating to have a group be so thrilled, so entertained… so scared!”
I remember talking to Paul on the last night of the Haunted House two years ago. I had a 102 fever, he was exhausted. For anything else, we would have stayed home. For the Haunted House, you go. You want to be there.
Paul O’Sullivan, this year’s head guide, agrees. “What keeps me coming back is the camaraderie. I think its amazing how by mid to late October one hundred or so overly exhausted human beings can exert the kind of inspired energy that can keep hundreds of people entertained night after night. And the friendship we all share just keeps growing closer and closer.”
Last year’s Haunted House chairman Lynda Walsh tells me, “I keep coming back every night, year after year because I don’t want to miss anything that happens, I love the comments from patrons that visit us year after year. I guess you can say it’s like an addiction, the more you do, the more you want to do more. The whole picture of last year was just an incredible whirlwind for me, and you must remember, having Spooky World come to town, then being told we couldn’t hold it in the Auditorium, starting from scratch at the camp. It was so overwhelming on how we all pulled together and with determination and dedication gave the community the same Haunted House experience that they have become accustomed to.”
Lynda’s comments refer to the double setback dealt the Haunted House last year — Spooky World arrived in Foxboro, and new state-mandated safety regulations were enacted for all Haunted Houses requiring special amusements to have sprinklers, a public address system, emergency lights, and an electronic alarm system. The cost of installing these features into the former state hospital a — building with an uncertain future — just didn’t make economic sense. After much effort, the Jaycees secured the Camp Lincoln Hill site for the Haunted House.
Lynda fondly recalls her favorite night last year. “I guess one that stands out is last year when [actor] Kane Hodder (“Jason”) showed up and gave some real positive feedback after his trip through the house, it was a proud moment for the Foxboro Jaycees to have an actor with his stature tell us, we’ve really done a great job, and heard lots of screaming, therefore, we’ve done our job.”
And what about the chairman himself? What are his plans and goals for this year’s Haunt? He explains, “I’m sure my goal is no different than any of the previous Haunted House chairmen: to have the people walk away saying, “that was a great show.” We all want to attract the big numbers, make the most money, but it’s not always possible. If those that do come walk away feeling they got their money’s worth, then we’ve all done what we set out to do.”
He talks again about the people involved. “I’m always impressed by the people who step up and make the commitment to put on a successful show. As you know, it takes many people to put the Haunted House together. However, it’s those people that get involved in August and stay with it until the end of October, Impress me the most. I somehow feel a “thank you” and a sweatshirt are never enough.”
He concludes, “I would like to say thank you to everyone for their support. While it hasn’t always been over smooth waters, and it shouldn’t be, it’s been a big learning experience for me. Next year, when I am back in my cabin as the doctor, I will have a much better appreciation for the success of the Haunted House. I will be happy to lend my experience to the next chairman.”
As for this writer and Jaycee, I’m excited because each of the main cabins is being created and run by long-time Jaycee Haunted House veterans — many have been involved with the Haunted House since its inception in 1989. They know what works and what doesn’t, what’s scary, and what isn’t. They have the experience to make this the best Haunted House yet.
I’m very impressed by the look of the nearly completed cabins. The attention to detail is incredible. Bob and Sandy’s cabin, for example, has been completely repainted so that the walls look like old bricks. There are frontier-style lanterns and many other touches for authenticity — including the noose hanging from the gallows in the center of the living room! It sounds cliché but it’s true: They’re putting heart and soul into this project.
The Jaycee Haunted House means a lot to me. My own family has commented I am “weirder than usual” this time of year and I admit that’s true. It does feel good giving so much back to Foxboro, seeing all my Jaycee friends and it’s amazing fun getting all dressed up and scaring people. But it’s more than that. The Haunted House takes on a life of its own; it’s a mega-event, one that simply takes over our lives. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated!
If you’re as into Halloween as we are, the Jaycees Haunted House is the place to be. We’ll scare you, make you laugh, and you’ll have fun. You get the heart-felt love for this project that the Jaycees offer. You get our sincere effort to put on the best show possible. You directly benefit Foxboro. You get to be part of something special.
Come to our Jaycee Haunted House. Lynn Freerksen sums it up best with these words, “The Haunted House is where the Jaycee heart is. We love this stuff and we’ve gotten mighty creative over the years and it just keeps getting better.”
I couldn’t agree more.