Creepy crawlies hang from thick cobwebs, dismembered dolls crowd the walls and ceiling of one room and skeletons peer through the windows on a chipped facade.
The “Phantom Carnival Haunted House” sprawls across the yard behind the Ringling House Bed & Breakfast. The outdoor maze, complete with graveyard and pumpkin patch, leads to a side door of the property’s carriage house, beckoning visitors to find shelter inside. Instead, the horrors continue throughout the building’s first floor.
About 75 people braved the haunted house last weekend, its first of the season, said Julie Hearley, one of the owners of the Ringling house.
“We were pretty happy with that number,” Hearley said, noting people aren’t usually thinking about Halloween yet so early in October.
She, her fiance Stuart Koehler, Shelley Mordini, Jacob Karignan and some other volunteers decorated and set up the property as a way to raise money for the Friends of the Charles and Henry Ringling Estate, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the buildings and grounds once owned by the brothers of circus fame.
“It was a lot of work, but it turned out well,” she said.
Hearley advises parents to accompany their younger children through the haunted house, but age won’t stop some from finding the frights too much to handle. One teenager only made it through the outdoor maze — she exited the haunted house before entering the indoor portion, Hearley said, “and Jacob was chasing her with a chainsaw down the alleyway.
“So, yeah, it is scary.”
About 20 volunteers are needed per night to put on the haunted house, she said. Most of them have been recruited through groups, such as the theater guild or the high school, but they’re looking for more. People who want to volunteer can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 608-356-4229.
For the rest of the season, Hearley said she hopes the haunted house draws at least 100 people each night to raise $10,000, which would cover expenses, pay for next year’s haunted house to be “bigger and better” and go toward converting the carriage house into an event space.
Children will be able to walk through the outdoor maze — sans some of the more frightening characters — for free on Halloween during trick or treating hours, she said.