What goes bump in the night and teaches young people valuable life skills?
The Haunt, an elaborate annual 4-H project at the Ozaukee County Fairgrounds that just finished its 11th season.
But this haunted house isn’t just child’s play. In 2016, 3,321 tickets for the haunted house sold at $15 a pop raised nearly $30,000 for 4-H educational trips, scholarships and events. They’re still crunching the numbers for 2017.
Each year, Ozaukee County 4-H takes over the Cedarburg fairgrounds’ show arena and dairy and horse barns, the latter added this year. 75 youth and adults volunteer nightly during the three Fridays and Saturdays leading up to Halloween. This crew includes 35 youth actors, a dozen makeup artists, and handful of volunteers each for ticketing, parking, security, a fall-themed concession stand, volunteer management and, of course, a 4-H promotion booth.
“It’s a great way for youth to learn,” says Kathy Butler, Ozaukee County 4-H Youth Development educator. “We have some kids who sign up for the theater arts project and then they can use this, whether it’s writing a script or designing costumes.”
Young volunteers can also pick up skills in construction, set painting, electrical work and marketing through The Haunt, Butler says. And, of course, the leadership and teamwork that are a hallmark of 4-H life skills lessons come into play.
Youth volunteers in 8th grade and older are actors inside the buildings during business hours. Outside, a dozen or so 3rd-7th grade “ghoulies” creep around the waiting area and escort groups of six through the doorway for their 10-15 minutes of fright.
Themes for the attraction rotate annually, including a circus, hospital and this year’s theme: a home — with a Halloween twist. In the creepy kitchen, a scarily costumed actor cooked up body parts. After passing through the similarly creepy abode, visitors enter a dazzlingly bright room of mirrors, followed by a blacklight-lit hoop-house filled jack-in-the-boxes manned by clowns in neon costumes. The Haunt changes nightly as actors switch rooms and costumes, improvising at will.
The Haunt is a year-round effort by Ozaukee County 4-H Clubs. A 20-member committee of primarily adults sits at the helm, meeting once a month year-round to plan everything from theme to renting portable restrooms. Building begins Sept. 1, with volunteers working from 5-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, as well as 8 a.m.-noon and beyond on Saturdays for six weeks. After the holiday, volunteers spend another month cleaning up and packing two semi trailers with props, equipment and building materials.
Of the nearly $30,000 raised from The Haunt, $20,000 is awarded to the county’s adult-volunteer-led 4-H Leaders Associations to help fund educational travel, summer camps and other county-wide activities. Another $5,000 is given to participating Ozaukee County 4-H clubs, based their members’ of participation in the project. The remaining $5,000 is awarded to higher education scholarships for The Haunt volunteers.