Thousands get a good scare at Fright at the Fort

Posted Oct. 31, 2010, at 11:07 p.m.

PROSPECT, Maine — Even in broad daylight, an abandoned fort is spooky. History lives in the charred walls. Dark corners are everywhere.

Come nightfall, a fort can be downright terrifying, especially when you add a bunch of perfectly placed props and dozens of costumed volunteers lurking at every turn.

The 11th annual Fright at the Fort event wrapped up Saturday at historic Fort Knox in Prospect, drawing visitors of all ages from all directions.

Before Saturday, more than 6,000 patrons had come through the gates in the event’s three previous nights, and the final night featured lines that extended well into the parking lot. Leon Seymour, executive director of the Friends of Fort Knox, said the goal of 8,000 visitors was likely to be eclipsed, which would mean at least $40,000 in funds raised for the nonprofit group.

“It’s gotten bigger and bigger every year,” Seymour said Saturday outside the fort’s entrance, the sounds of chain saws and high-pitched shrieks echoing behind him. “When you start with a tremendous location like Fort Knox and you add the imagination of all the volunteers that make it happen, it’s easy to see how it keeps going year after year.”

The volunteers, many from nearby Searsport District High School’s drama club, began setting up for the nighttime event early that morning. Every detail has to be just right.

For visitors, Fright at the Fort is both subtle — a simple, ominous drum beat; a lone, stoic, Civil War-era soldier saluting no one — and overt — a chain saw-wielding madman, periodic musket booms.

“The clown room was the creepiest,” said 13-year-old Mackenzie Stanford of Monroe.

“Just walking down the long, dark corridors not knowing what might be there was the scariest for me,” added Stanford’s friend Katelyn Shaw, also 13.

Tour guides lead groups of patrons from the ticket line to the fort’s entrance. Before they enter, the guides give a final warning: “There is no place to turn back once you’re inside.”

Some younger children never make it that far. A father tried to reason with his 7-year-old son that he would be safe, but the boy wasn’t convinced. They turned around.

“Maybe we’ll try again next year,” the dad said.

Next year, the event promises to build on its previous successes, but it will not be any less scary.

“We have volunteers that have graduated from high school and still come back to participate. They really take it seriously,” Seymour said.

For the Friends of Fort Knox, the money raised in 2010 already has a purpose. Repairs to Battery B, a section below the main fort, have been estimated to cost $39,000.

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