Some people measure the success of an event by the profits made, or the number of tickets sold. But at the Kenduskeag Haunted House, held at the Cole Memorial Ball Field the weekend before or weekend of Halloween each year for the past 36 years, organizers have a slightly different metric by which they judge how well it all went, and how scary it really was.
“If one person pees their pants, that’s pretty good. If two pee their pants, then we know we did great,” said Wendy Cousins, a Kenduskeag resident and one of six community members who plan the haunted house each year. “If we get more than five in a night, that’s amazing.”
The Kenduskeag Haunted House isn’t the biggest Halloween event in the state. But few can match the enthusiasm with which residents of the Penobscot County town attempt to scare the living daylights out of haunted house attendees.
Each year more than 40 people come out to build the haunted house over the course of several weekends, both inside and outside the baseball clubhouse. Many of those volunteers then staff it for the weekend it runs — whether it’s taking tickets or playing various roles, like a psychotic doctor in a nightmarish emergency room, or a demon crawling out of a well.
“Scaring people is the best thing, but setting everything up is really fun, too, because we all get to scare each other before we scare everybody else,” said Justice Thompson-Gilley, a freshman at Central High School, who this year will portray a creepy little girl in a room full of creepy dolls.
Unlike many other haunted houses, volunteers at the Kenduskeag event tell attendees right up front that once they come through the doors, there is a high likelihood they will be touched by the actors, and that they will get dirty, whether it’s from water, or from fake blood. They recommend it for ages 12 and up, but leave it up to parents to decide if their kids are ready.
“We’ve had eight-year-olds love every second of it, and we’ve escorted adults out,” Cousins said. “We figure, parents know their kids. They can decide if it’s appropriate for them.”
On the day of the haunted house, Cousins’ job is gatekeeper — the one responsible for lining people up to go inside. Her favorite part of the job is finding out which members of each group are the most scared to go inside.
“I find out who is the most freaked out of the bunch, and then I tell our ghouls to really give it to them,” Cousins said, flashing a wicked grin. “If I know so-and-so doesn’t like clowns, then Pennywise is going to be your tour guide. And you’re going in front.”
The proceeds from the event, which organizers said draws more than 1,000 people over the course of its two nights of fright, allows the Kenduskeag Recreation Department to offer all of its programming for free to all kids living in Kenduskeag — and even to some kids from neighboring towns.
“This is our big moneymaker. This is what provides all of the uniforms for our soccer and baseball. All our equipment. And the kids don’t pay a thing,” Cousins said.
Cousins said that generally, the two most coveted jobs each year are the roles of the Pennywise-style clown and of the chainsaw-wielding maniac.
“Everybody wants to have the chainsaw,” said Cousins, who added that the actual chain from the saw has, of course, been removed. “And everybody loves a scary clown. We have always had a clown room. One year we really messed people up and had two.”
Though some towns might hold fall festivals or craft fairs or community dinners to raise money for various causes, for Kenduskeag, it’s a haunted house that suits the community best.
“Who doesn’t like a good scare? And if you don’t like a good scare, who doesn’t like scaring their friends?” Cousins said. “Who doesn’t like jumping the bejeezus out of their friend, and then laughing together? It’s a blast.”
The Kenduskeag Haunted House is open from 7 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, at the Cole Memorial Ball Field, 536 Kenduskeag-Levant Road. Admission is $5 per person.