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Casket closing on Leitersburg haunted house

October 04, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

LEITERSBURG - For the past 29 years, the Leitersburg Haunted House has thrilled and terrified visitors.

The event has grown from a basement production on a shoestring budget to a six-act show and maze that sells more than 1,000 tickets per night.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

This month, the Leitersburg Haunted House will cap its 30th consecutive year by closing its doors for good.

Kelly Eakle, one of the haunted house's organizers, said the decision to close was a hard one.

"We've been more successful than we ever dreamed we would be. But 30 years is a long time to run something like this. Sometimes, you just wear out," Eakle said.

Eakle said the biggest factor in the decision to close was the work required to keep the aging building up to code, which he said has gotten more difficult every year.

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The building, an old schoolhouse built in the 1920s has no running water, but it has always met fire and safety codes.

However, it would have to undergo significant-and expensive-work to continue meeting codes in the future, Eakle said.

Another factor in the event's closure was the aging of the organizers themselves.

Of the 70 people who produce the haunted house, 25 have been around since the first show in 1978.

"A lot of us are just getting too old for all this work," Eakle joked.

Eakle said planning for the year's show starts in the late summer.

Volunteers prepare costumes and makeup at 5 p.m. on the day of the show to make sure things are ready when the first visitors arrive at 7 p.m.

He said the house can clear out as late as 2 a.m.

Eakle said organizers have also decided to end the event because it has "far exceeded its original goal."

The haunted house started in 1978 as a way to raise money for the Leitersburg Youth Organization, of which Eakle is a board member.

"We were tired of selling candy bars," Eakle said.

He said the youth organization and local Ruritan Club, which cosponsor the haunted house, decided about 15 years ago to start depositing a small portion of each year's profits into an endowment fund to pay for the groups' various projects.

Eakle would not say exactly how much money is in the endowment fund, but said it is "enough to pay for our community projects for a long, long time."

The haunted house has come a long way from its humble beginnings three decades ago.

The first event was held at a teen center in an old church in Leitersburg.

Admission cost 25 cents, and Eakle said the group made $600 "at most."

After about 4 or 5 years, the haunted house outgrew the teen center.

When the Ruritan Club took over the old school building, the haunted house moved in.

Over the years, tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on state-of-the-art sound equipment, theatrical lighting and special effects, Eakle said.

Performers use high-quality costumes and professional stage makeup.

Unlike most haunted houses, Eakle said, the Leitersburg Haunted House is a show.

Visitors sit in the front room for a 20-minute performance.

A walk through the darkened maze follows.

Eakle said this year's haunted house will include several surprises.

"We don't want people to know what's happening," Eakle said.

In 29 years, the haunted house has never had the same script, a feat Eakle credits to the "almost creepy dedication" of Gene Snowberger, who has written the scripts since 1978.

Eakle did say that visitors will have a little bit more time in the house this year and will be able to get tickets later than last year.

He said tickets will be available until midnight.

Last year, ticket sales ended at 10 p.m.

Eakle said he did not know what would become of the old school building, which is owned by the Ruritan Club and is not used for any purpose other than the haunted house.

He said he is excited to "retire" from the event, although he knows he will never escape what has become one of the most successful haunted houses in the area.

He said he is stopped "all the time" by people thanking him for the production.

"When I die, my epitaph will probably be Mr. Haunted House," Eakle said.




2007 Leitersburg Haunted House



· Fridays and Saturdays: Oct. 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27

· Tickets available from 7 p.m. to midnight on night of show

· Admission costs $10

For more information, call the Leitersburg Haunted House hot line at 301-766-0039.

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