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House has been haunted for 25 years

October 21, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Somehow there seems to be some comfort being scared by pretend ghosts and goblins when one lives in a world plagued with real horrors like snipers and terrorists.

At least that may explain some of the popularity enjoyed by the Leitersburg Haunted House, which has been scaring people from as far away as Ohio for the past 25 years.

"We had about 1,000 people go through Saturday night," said Kelly Eakle, one of the originators of the project, which began in 1977 at the Old Leitersburg School House.

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After this initial weekend, the Haunted House will reopen Oct. 25 to 27, and Nov. 1 and 2. Continuous shows start at 7 p.m. with an admission charge of $8.

"And when do we close? When there is nobody left in line," Eakle said.

Keeping the show fresh and lively each year is the task of Gene Snowberger, who also has been with the project since the beginning.

When people enter the Haunted House, there is a 20-minute show during which audience members actually become part of the show. "We're competing with videogames but we're uniquely interactive," Snowberger said.

Last year, there were fears that attendance would be down because of 9/11, but instead crowds increased.

"And so far, this year looks like it's going to be a record year," Eakle said.

As for the cast of ghouls and monsters, most are teenagers who are earning community service hours. But of the 50-plus actors, some have stayed around for many years because they enjoy it so much.

Work began back in the spring on the construction of a new maze, which is 320 feet long and takes about 20 minutes to navigate - in the dark.

A joint venture of the Ruritan and the Leitersburg Youth Organization, the Haunted House began on a shoestring budget 25 years ago, when Eakle said the groups got tired of selling candy bars to raise money for projects in the community.

Those pioneers remember the 25-cent admission fee and first-year earnings of about $250 or $300. In recent years, the number of visitors has averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 people.

Proceeds fund the Leitersburg Teen Center in the old Reformed Church, support the youth minister for St. Paul's Lutheran Church and pay for a variety of Ruritan projects throughout the year, as well as the local Boy Scout troop.

More and more people come from farther away every year, Eakle says. Snowberger knows of one Ohio family who plans annual visits to Hagerstown friends around the haunted house schedule.

One visitor Saturday night came on crutches and when Eakle cautioned him about the length of the maze, the man said he didn't care.

"He told me he's been coming for 15 years and it would take more than a broken leg to stop him," Eakle said.

The haunted house has met all fire and lighting safety codes and security is provided - inside and out.

"We also have an off-duty police officer outside each evening," Eakle said.

For details, call 301-766-0039.

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