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Haunted house prepared to scare

DeKALB -- Bloody legs are hanging from the side of the picnic shelter at Hopkins Park. Those standing outside hear blood-curdling screams coming from within the building's walls. Welcome to this year's version of the Kishwaukee Kiwanis Haunted House, the creation of Jim Barker. "I start designing it in December when I do a rough draft," Barker, a Kiwanis member, said. Much of the haunted house's components are constructed in Barker's garage. Corpses and scattered body parts usually spark an interesting conversation between Barker and his neighbors. "Most of my neighbors look out and see barrels of body parts," he said. According to Barker, this is the 32nd year for the Kishwaukee Kiwanis Haunted House. Early versions were held in abandoned houses throughout DeKalb. During the late '70s and early '80s, the scare tactics were organized at the Egyptian Theatre. The haunted house was eventually moved to its current home, which Barker calls "a little bit of a creepy-looking building." "For the club, it's our biggest fund-raiser," he said. Tickets are $4 on Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 and $6 on Oct. 26 and 29-31. "All of the money goes back into the community," Kiwanis member Andy Small said. "We raise anywhere between $8,000 and $12,000 depending on the weather." Since the group does not profit from the haunted house, Barker has to be creative with what methods he uses to scare the thrill seekers. "The challenge is this is not a big-budget haunted house," Barker said. "We are a nonprofit organization." Barker and other Kishwaukee Kiwanis members attend a convention in Rosemont each March to get a preview of the latest haunted house paraphernalia. The group also sometimes purchases professional props at these conventions. "Some of the more elaborate tricks are $5,000 to $10,000 and we don't have that kind of budget," Barker said. That leaves Barker to come up with his own ideas. This year, he decided to add a scavenger hunt. Those walking through the haunted house must collect a ticket from each of three rooms before making their exit. "There are different ways of scaring people," said Barker, who was beginning to sound like some sort of a scholar of fright. "The classic way is to jump out and startle the people." He, along with nearly 20 others working in the haunted house, also tries to give passersby something unexpected. Another feature of the haunted house is a maze that is reconfigured each year. "You go around in circles until, by accident, you find a way to get out," he said. Barker estimates a person could escape the haunted house in 20 minutes if they make all the correct turns. He said the maze was constructed to keep people in the house as long as possible. Some of its twists and turns feature dead ends that confuse 80-90 percent of visitors, Barker said. "Last year we had a couple people get pretty annoyed," he said about those who just couldn't seem to find their way out. A complex maze path isn't the only thing hampering their ability to escape. Loud music blaring over a sound system can distort their ability to communicate. "The music is so loud that you can barely hear each other talk," Barker said.

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