Press-Republican

October 24, 2013

Officials mum on scares in store

By SUZANNE MOORE
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Rumor has it a vampire or two might show up at the Firefighters Haunted House this year.

But Keith Berg's lips are sealed tighter than a coffin bound by rusty chains and buried under a Transylvanian rockslide.

"I can't rule out anything," the Beekmantown firefighter said.

Since late September, volunteers have been readying space at the former Lake City Skate on Sharron Avenue for the annual spooky house, which raises fire-prevention funds for four volunteer fire departments: Beekmantown, Cumberland Head, Plattsburgh District 3 and South Plattsburgh.

New blood (insert evil laugh here) every year brings fresh ideas, Berg says.

But he won't give even the smallest hint about what terrors are in store.

"This year, pretty much everything is new," he said. "There are a couple of old favorites that never seem to go away, because people like them — but that's as far as I want to go."

COFFINS ON HAND

Those include a few grim reapers — tall, hulking figures like the dementors in "Harry Potter," earthbound versions of ringwraiths in "The Lord of the Rings." 

"A couple of our volunteers can't stand to be around them," Berg said, and they ask to be posted elsewhere. 

But have the Grims ever truly "reaped" any souls?

Berg, of course, wouldn't say.

"But we do happen to have a supply of coffins on hand."

'TREMENDOUS HOSPITALITY'

As many as 60 volunteers are helping out this year, every one of them vital because preparations got a late start, almost a month, in fact.

The building was sold and is slated to become a machine shop, Berg said, but fortunately the new owner, Phil Titherington, allowed them to use it this one last time.

The previous owner, Titherington Properties, made the space available for several years.

"The hospitality has been tremendous from both of them," Berg said.

They will need to scare up new digs for 2014 and beyond, though, he said.

MUM ON MUMMIES

Berg had outgrown his childhood enjoyment of Halloween, never gave it much thought until about a dozen or so years ago, when he volunteered to help with the Haunted House.

"I told my wife (Tammy) all about it; she came down the next year, and we were hooked.

"We've developed into a pretty close-knit family," he said of the many firefighters and others who conjure up the terrifying treat that crowds flock to every year.

Kind of like the Addams Family?

"That might be a correct analogy," Berg said.

"We accept volunteers from every walk of life — Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, nurses, troopers, retirees, college kids ..."

Mummies? Werewolves?

"I neither confirm nor deny there will be werewolves in the Haunted House," Berg said.

As for mummies, well, he remained mum on that.

SPINE-CHILLING

Once the space is transformed, the props in place, the many actors get their skits together. 

Are they really actors? Or is it all real?

Berg wouldn't say.

But it will be hair-raising, spine-chilling, blood-curdling ... 

"The terror comes from the atmosphere we establish even before they enter," he said. 

Their victims are guided through the dark, unaware of what frightening scene will meet their eyes around each corner.

"And there are lots of corners," he said (insert another evil laugh here).

And electrifying? Might an electric chair jolt a poor soul into the world beyond?

"We are in the old Moldrite building," Berg admitted. "And there is plenty of electricity there — high-voltage electricity."

A BIT GHOSTLY

The Haunted House proved a bit ghostly one night last year, when weather forecasts predicted Hurricane Sandy would swamp the North Country.

Only 40 or 50 guests turned out, when the norm is more like 300 or 400.

"We survived," Berg said.

But the money they raise — $4 per person — pays for training materials and videos, 911 stickers and other handouts to students they educate about fire prevention.

They are not connected with the Clinton County Firefighters Association, Berg said, which offers fire-prevention education at the Clinton County Fair and other events.

"We (four departments) do it right in the schools with the children," he said.

GO TO EXTREMES

And, Berg admitted, they don't mind frightening folks in order to make that possible.

"A lot of that has to do with the culture of firefighters," he said. "Firefighters love to help people; in fact, they will sometimes go to extremes to help people.

"One form is the Haunted House."

There are other events offering scares as Halloween approaches, and many will try to visit every one, Berg knows.

Can a person ever get too frightened?

Stop by the Firefighters Haunted House, he says (evil chuckle, here), and find out.

Email Suzanne Moore: smoore@pressrepublican.com

+++++

IF YOU DARE TO GO

The Firefighters Haunted House at 102 Sharron Ave., Plattsburgh, is open 6 to 10 p.m. Friday through Wednesday, Oct. 30. Learn more, and potential sites for next year can be offered, at facebook.com/ffhauntedhouse.