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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Destiny and Clifford Coon sew items that will be used in the Haunted Hotel in downtown Huntington.

  • Jacqui Yeater, who has been a part of the Haunted Hotel for 13 years, explains one of the rooms to new actors.

  • One of the hotel’s scares.

  • A complete skeleton purchased online is now used in the Haunted Hotel. The body was donated for medical research, then the bones were cleaned and sold after research was complete.

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Volunteers put a lot of work in to set a scene.

  • Drew Hinkle auditions for a chance to be one of the actors who will try to scare guests.

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Scary details such as this bloodied mirror can be found throughout the Haunted Hotel.

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Jacqui Yeater stands on one of the Haunted Hotel rooms.

  • Volunteers work on a new scare exhibit at the Haunted Hotel.

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette A giant water stain that stretches across the ceiling is a natural part of the building and gives the Haunted Hotel a creepy, authentic feel.

Sunday, October 01, 2017 1:00 am

behind the scenes

Marking 50 years of scares

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: Haunted Hotel: 13th Floor

Where: 511 N. Jefferson St., Huntington

When: 7 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 29 and from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 31; also, blackout event from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 3 and 4

Info: www.hauntedhuntington.com

Behind the scenes

This monthly feature offers a peek at the production of area events and the operation of area organizations.

Wedged in between a thrift store and a comic/video game store, just across the street from Nick's Kitchen, is a door that leads to one of the scariest places in Huntington.

On any other day, people would walk by without even noticing it. But this month, hundreds will enter through the door, walk up the wooden stairs and step into a maze of twisted and creepy scenes that make up the Haunted Hotel: 13th Floor.

This is the 50th year of the haunt, which opened Friday and will continue every Friday and Saturday through Oct. 31 (yes, they will be open on Halloween, which falls on a Tuesday this year). There will also be a blackout event on Nov. 3 and 4.

It takes a lot of effort to get the haunt ready for scaring. That includes a lot of volunteers who spend hours working on construction, costumes, makeup and rehearsing.

It also means finding the right people who can put the scare into a person. “Actors are what makes the haunt work,” says Jacqui Yeater, manager of the Haunted Hotel.

On a Friday night in early September, a crew is holding auditions. About 15 people have shown up to try to secure a place in the Haunted Hotel. Crew members use a phone app to give actors a scenario to act out, such as an angry mad scientist at a hotel or a sad bellhop in a hospital.

Some of the actors are shy and not sure what to say, while others begin to shout and run around the room, talking to others who are watching their performance. But Yeater says all the details will be worked out once an actor is placed in a specific room and given a character to play.

There are many characters to choose from, as the premise of the haunt is that it once was a hotel – with an owner suspected of conducting disturbing practices. In 1904, the hotel burned to the ground, killing 302 people. The body of the owner was never found.

The fact that the Haunted Hotel is set in a building that is more than 100 years old helps to create the illusion. Yeater isn't sure of the real history of the building, but years of aging and neglect in the rooms on the second floor have set the stage for a spooky experience.

That includes the giant water stain that spreads across the ceiling, the holes in the wall that reveal slender boards, and even an old claw-foot tub and sink in what used to be a bathroom when the space was once someone's home or business. “Everything is natural,” Yeater says of the damage.

Yeater takes new actors on a tour of the haunt. New this year is the bug room. Volunteers work on constructing parts of the room, including a “giant” surprise for visitors.

There's also the polka-dot room, so dubbed because of the multicolored dots that cover the ceiling, walls and floor. Another room is filled with creepy dolls.

And there is a real complete skeleton, bought by the Haunted Hotel online. Apparently a person donated their body for medical research, and once researchers were finished, the bones were cleaned and sold online, Yeater says. The skeleton now rests in a coffin in one of the rooms.

Ideas for the Haunted Hotel are developed by the staff. Yeater says they meet after the holidays to begin coming up with ideas. They throw everything out on the table and then start narrowing down to what will work.

While some materials are purchased, the Haunted Hotel also receives donations from the community and businesses, Yeater says. That's one way the haunt is able to survive. But it also doesn't hurt that the haunt attracts thousands of visitors each year to downtown Huntington, generating business for others stores and restaurants.

When the Haunted Hotel started out, it was operated by the Huntington Jaycees. It was later bought by a private company owned by Brett Molitor, who also operates the Hysterium in Fort Wayne.

Because of the success of the haunt, actors are now paid a per diem for taking part. But it's not an easy job. In addition to dressing up in hot costumes and makeup, actors put in long hours, sometimes not leaving the haunt until 1 a.m.

Yeater has been with the Haunted Hotel for 13 years. She became involved through her drama class at high school. “(I) just came up for fun and got addicted,” she says.

Yeater's husband, Ryan, also helps at the Haunted Hotel. He is the bellhop that greets visitors. That's how they met, Yeater says, and now they haunt together.

For those coming to the Haunted Hotel this year, they can expect to be scared and surprised.

It usually takes a person between 20 to 30 minutes to get through the Haunted Hotel, Yeater says, adding, “It depends if they run or not.”

trich@jg.net