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The door to opening our haunted house

The year was 2011 and my best friends, Alex & Cristy as well as myself decided at some point to open a haunted house. They had helped several years in a local haunted house that had closed and I had some business experience. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing but we were going to give it a shot.

I do not remember exactly what sparked us wanting to open a haunt or exactly when but I do remember that it was cold still so likely late winter / early spring. I was still a student at Indiana University majoring in Arts Management so it was actually great timing and I was even able to use it as my internship project.

What we had was the idea that we wanted to be open by that fall, a little bit of knowledge about how to build a haunt and some friends who had built and ran the previous haunt in town. What we did not have was money, a building, walls, props, etc. That wasn’t really a concern on our mind though, we just jumped into it and gave it our best.

We decided that we could scrap metal to raise the money for the haunt and possibly even get some props and supplies in the process. We started off small by walking county roads and picking up aluminum cans. We were then given permission to tear down an old mobile home. This was HUGE for us because not only did we get to scrap all of the metal but we also knew that there was lumber to be had. We tore this trailer down piece by piece, salvaging everything that we could. The floor joists were 2×6 so we actually were able to rip these into 3 pieces, each approximately a 2×2 (little less) and our intention was to use these to frame our walls. We also had 2×3 studs and 2x2s from the rafters. I remember the three of us sitting around pulling nails and cleaning up the boards for use.

Cristy working on loading our aluminum cans after using Alex's truck to crush them.
Cristy working on loading our aluminum cans after using Alex’s truck to crush them.
One of our scrap hauls of stuff that we were given to help fund the opening of our haunt.
One of our scrap hauls of stuff that we were given to help fund the opening of our haunt.

We were also given an opportunity to clean up my grandparents property and get rid of a lot of the scrap there. My aunt & uncle loaned us a trailer and brought their tractor to help and we found a great scrap yard that was easy to work with and ultimately a lot of people to help out.

By mid summer, we had over $3000 saved up to open but still did not have a building, props, etc. I remember at one point having a “meeting” with some different people who had haunt experience or wanted to help and being told that we really should just wait another year to get everything together.

Being crazy though, we kept pushing forward, just hoping for the best. We were given some props, kept collecting stuff and so on. One of my fondest memories was going to Northern Indiana on vacation with Alex & Cristy and visiting a Dollar Tree. That year they had a good selection of (cheesy & cheap in hindsight) haunted house stuff including organs packaged on styrofoam trays like meat. We knew then that we needed a butcher shop.

It has now been over 10 years and I do not remember the exact timeline of events but I do remember driving around town looking for an affordable place to have our haunt. I was convinced that we were going to have a huge crowd and make tons of money (this was not the case but that is a story for later). We found a couple options but nothing panned out until I noticed that the back lot of a former lumber yard (that was for sale) was sitting vacant.

I happened to know the realtor, as my mom had worked with him, and after a couple phone calls, the owner of the property actually agreed to let us use it FOR FREE as long as we cleaned it all up and took care of it. We didn’t have money but we did have drive and manpower. We got to work right away cleaning things up, borrowed another tractor, did some electrical wiring and so on. Collecting free things from people along the way to make it happen.

The building our first haunt was in, complete with gravel floor.
The building our first haunt was in, complete with gravel floor.
We got our power turned on finally and had to take a celebratory photo.
We got our power turned on finally and had to take a celebratory photo.

We have tons of stories from that year but some of the funniest involve the cops. One of our first run-ins there was shortly after we started working on it when an employee of the owner (who did not realize we had been given permission to use the building) called the cops. We had front and back gates and the cops come cruising in from both sides. While it was all a miss understanding, the funniest part was when one of them ran over a pile of landscape timbers that we had placed in a pile for later use.

Another run in was when we were taking off a power meter box (with permission) from a property but it just happened to be dark. The cops showed up and I remember asking one of the cops if they had a tool-kit in their car because we didn’t have the tools that we needed. They didn’t but the office did hold the flashlight for us to help get it down.

The first year was really one of my favorites because it was crazy but I digressed from the point of our story. DOORS! While we had a building and a growing number of props and costumes, we still didn’t have walls. We had gotten some cheap and free OSB, paneling, etc but not enough to build a haunt with.

Then comes August 13, 2011. I remember this date because this was the night that the state fair stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair during a Sugarland concert as the result of a severe thunderstorm. That day Alex and myself had traveled to Bloomington to pick up a desk that I had found on Craigslist. After getting to Bloomington, the person I was buying from stopped responding so to kill time, we first went to the Goodwill to see if we could find some supplies and then went across the street to Menards. If you are not from the Midwest, you may have never heard of Menards but it is a hardware / home store similar to Home Depot or Lowes but 100x better. Check them out if you ever get near one.

We go into Menards just to check some pricing and ask an employee to show us the push type door latches for like emergency exit doors. While walking through the millwork department, a sign on some doors caught my eye. It said “$1.99 each”. So after looking at the closures, we go back and check it out. It says a limit of 10 but they have 50ish there. We grab an employee who grabs a store manager and after some discussion, the manager agreed to sell us the doors for $1.99 cents as long as we took all of them.

The sale sign on the night that we bought the doors.
The sale sign on the night that we bought the doors.
Hanging out with part of our door purchase waiting on backup trucks.
Hanging out with part of our door purchase waiting on backup trucks.

Of course we jumped on this and bought them all. There were still 2 issues though. First, Alex drives a Nissan Frontier and there was zero chance of hauling 50ish doors. Additionally, the store was closing and we were about an hour from home. We get the store manager to allow us to stack the doors out in front of the store so that they can close up and we call Alex’s parents as well as my dad and they both head our way with trucks and a trailer.

We always remember that it was the night of the state fair stage collapse because the same line of storms happened while we were standing in front of the store waiting on the additional trucks and we learned of the stage collapse while waiting out there. We loaded all of those doors and drove them home in that massive storm too.

Those doors, of different sizes, styles, etc was our missing piece to opening our haunt. We were able to piece them together into walls and ultimately opened for our inaugural season in October of 2011. We had a great reception and that launched what ended up being 11 years of operating our haunted house. Funny enough, there were still some of those original doors adorning our halls during our final season in October of 2021.

The lesson that I learned from our opening season is that sometimes, all that you need is a dream and the drive to make it happen. When we started picking up aluminum cans, we did not know what was going to happen. We just kept pushing for what we wanted and we got it. We learned a lot in the process, made tons of friendships and ultimately proved that we could do virtually anything that we set our minds to.

Starting to paint and setup our "doors" to make them into walls.
Starting to paint and setup our “doors” to make them into walls.
Looking down at our maze setup.
Looking down at our maze setup.

If you ever feel that you cannot achieve your dreams, try stepping away from thinking of it as a whole and just pick up the first piece of the puzzle and get started. You may not succeed but you will also not fail as long as you try and manage to learn something. True failure comes from never trying.

You never know when you may reach the door (or doors) that holds the final piece of the puzzle to your success but if you are not prepared for the opportunity, you may just miss out.

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