WELLSBURG - For the 25th anniversary of the Brooke Hills Spooktacular, organizers of the spookhouse hope to scare (and entertain) area residents in a big way and that includes lots of activities for all ages outside.
The doors of the spookhouse, which is at Brooke Hills Park about 5 miles east of Wellsburg, will creak open at 7 p.m. Saturday and reopen at that time each Friday and Saturday in October.
Admission is $12 at the door or $15 for advance reservations that enable visitors to enter the house at 6 p.m. For the reservations, call the park at (304) 737-1236. This year the event will include carnival rides, the screening of a horror film on an outdoor movie screen and readings by a palm reader at the park's clubhouse.
READY TO SCARE — Spooks, ghouls and monsters stand poised to terrorize visitors to the Brooke Hills Spooktacular, while volunteers behind the event have lined up carnival rides and other attractions to take visitors’ minds off the terror that awaits them inside the spookhouse.
-- Warren Scott
In addition, attendees may visit fortune teller Madame Phoenix, play at the park's glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course or take a hayride around the grounds.
The attractions will give spookhouse visitors something to do while they await their turn inside the house as well as occupying children too young to visit the main attraction, said John and Lisa Casinelli, who with Jim Aten and Dustin Tredway, are heading volunteers behind the event.
"It allows families with children of all ages to come together," said John, a member of the Brooke Hills Park board taking his first crack at overseeing the house.
Janice McFadden, park manager, said the popular Trick or Treat Trail also will return from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 23. The event offers young children an opportunity to receive candy and other treats at various stations manned by local businesses and civic groups.
Admission is $5.
Each year a large group of volunteers begins rebuilding the former W.C. Gist farmhouse early in the year to feature new scenes of terror inspired by movies, books, folklore and their creators' own twisted imaginations, John Casinelli noted.
"This year we've brought back some old rooms that were popular from the last 25 years. We have nine settings and a maze," he said, adding some scenes will change slightly so repeat visitors may be in for a surprise or two.
Casinelli said the group also has incorporated, in new ways, some of the mechanical special effects introduced by George and Pam Barchiesi during their leadership of the spookhouse in recent years.
Lisa Casinelli said, "It's been a lot of work, but I've had a blast."
The spookhouse was first headed by Madelon Jackson, who with the help of her husband, Lonnie, and sons, Doug and Christopher, spearheaded it for many years. During her tenure, it grew from an event held on Halloween only and visited by about 150 in its first year, to a month-long event attracting hundreds each night and a major fundraiser for the park.
Word-of-mouth and a website have helped to draw visitors in and outside the Tri-State Area, including Canada. This year its organizers have appeared at local fairs and parades, in costume and makeup, and set up a Facebook page to promote it.
"We always came here when we were in high school and wanted to make sure our kids could come here in the future," said Aten.
"We've got a really good group of workers this year and of course, our cast of ghouls," John Casinelli said.
Among the many volunteers working behind the scenes, in costume or both, is Bobbie Jo Parsons of Wellsburg, who has worked there since she was 14, taking a break only for two years when she was living in Virginia.
While she has appeared inside the house in the past, she will be operating lights and sound on the front porch this year.
"I'm content listening to people scream," Parsons joked.
Ryan Brindley, a teen from Follansbee, said he began volunteering at the house six years ago.
"I did it when Madelon Jackson worked on it, and it kind of took off from here," he said.
Harold "Buddy" Campbell of Follansbee said he began working on the house as a teen and recalled losing his voice after losing himself in the part of the "mad dentist."
Asked his favorite thing about the spookhouse, Campbell said, "The people (behind the scenes). Everyone is friendly."
"I've been involved for five years. I've been working on the house since May and haven't left since," joked Alyssa Negri of Beech Bottom.
"I used to be terrified of this place until I started working on it. I like knowing what the rooms are like before October," she added.
But some behind the spookhouse said there may be truth to stories that the house is haunted by spirits that don't leave after Halloween.
Over the years there have been stories of an Indian who was killed in a fire in the basement and a servant who hung himself in the attic of the 185-year-old house, which was home to Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Gist before they donated it and 750 acres of their farmland to the county for use as a park.
Annamaria, the Casinelli's daughter, said one day when she was in the house alone, she thought she heard a young girl calling her to "come downstairs. I went running out of there."
The house has hosted groups interested in conducting paranormal investigations of the house in the past and is available to anyone interested in staying there overnight outside the Spooktacular season.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)