(Photos by Tim Jaynes)
"It's a 1969 model and we need a more reliable truck so we can answer calls," said George DeLisle, treasurer of the group. "We need to be able to start and run when we go instead of having to drag it."
Last week, Gov. Matt Blunt's office announced the Portageville Rural Fire Association was awarded $72,008 for operations and safety, part or more than $1.2 million awarded to state departments by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Proceeds from the Haunted Inn will be used for the percentage of matching funds the fire department must supply to receive the grant money.
Last year's funds were used to purchase an extrication truck, DeLisle said. "There are no administration fees -- 100 percent of the money goes to the department," he continued.
Last year, about 3,000 people took a tour of the Haunted Inn, with some coming from Jonesboro, Ark., and Paducah, Ky. "I would hope we do at least 4,000 people this year," DeLisle said. "We need the money that badly."
The fire department learned last year what really scares people, and DeLisle promised that this year's Haunted Inn will be even scarier. "There are more sudden changes and instead of masks, we'll be using make-up," he said.
Workers are building stronger walls for the Haunted Inn, too, of which all 19 scenes are inside. "People were running through walls," DeLisle said.
Those scenes, which include an electric chamber, a maze, cemetery and Freddie Krueger, will change a bit every night, too. "That way people can come back every night and see something different," DeLisle said. It will also prevent people who have been from spoiling the surprise for others, he pointed out.
The tour guides are all adults, members of the CERT team, DeLisle said. During the each scene, the guides will cover up and not unveil themselves until everyone gets scared. "They're really on their own when they go through this," DeLisle said of the tour-goers.
There are emergency lights and other safety measures to make sure people can get out quickly if they get too scared. Last year, about 80 people went through the chicken line, DeLisle said.
Because of the fright factor, he urged that no one under 14 come through the house, although no restrictions are set. "They need to be mature kids," DeLisle said. "They're going to do a lot of things that just startle (children.)"
Even though the nightly Haunted Inn isn't geared toward children, the fire department is opening it up for them to share in the frights, too. From 5 to 7 p.m. on Halloween, there will be free admission for Kid's Night and Trick or Treat.
"We wanted the kids to have a place to do safe trick-or-treating," DeLisle said. "We'll just pass out candy and they can walk through and look at things with all the lights on so it's not as scary."
Members of the Portageville Rural Fire Department began work for the Haunted Inn about a month ago and will continue until it opens on Oct. 26. Some other community groups and members have volunteered to help, too, DeLisle said.
The Marston Fire Department is also lending a hand by being on call while Portageville is running the Haunted Inn. "We still have to be able to answer fires," DeLisle said. "And we're making a donation to their department."
The Haunted Inn brings a lot of repeat business and is quite popular -- so much so, DeLisle recommends people come early or make reservations. "It's a lot of fun," he said.
The Portageville Rural Fire Department's second annual Haunted Inn is scheduled to run from Oct. 26 through 31. It will be from 6 p.m. to midnight every night but Oct. 27 and 31. Hours on Oct. 27 are 6 p.m. to midnight and on Oct. 31, Kids Trick or Treat, which is free, is from 5 to 7 p.m., and the Haunted Inn is open from 7 p.m. to midnight. Admission is $8 each night. Group rates are also offered.
The Haunted Inn is located on Highway 162 on the east side of Interstate 55 at the 32 mile marker. More information can be found online at www.myspace.com/hauntedinn. People planning to attend are advised to make reservations by calling 573-379-5500.