Published 9:41 am Friday, October 31, 2008

This is the silver anniversary for the popular Austin Jaycees Haunted House project.

Sunday, October 24, 1999

This is the silver anniversary for the popular Austin Jaycees Haunted House project.

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For a quarter of a century, the Austin Jaycees chapter has created an annual Halloween extravaganza to scare everyone and raise money for local charities.

This fall, Jaycees are planning the "best ever" Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Mower County Fairgrounds.

For the last six weeks, they have been working diligently on the Halloween attraction in the beer garden area beneath the grandstands on the fairgrounds.

There will be 13 rooms and, although they aren’t giving away all of their tricks, some of the treats include a levitating ghost, a moving wall and a graveyard.

There’s also the "disorientation room" and other surprises.

Rick Pfeifer, president of the chapter, "dares" anyone to test the fright level at the Haunted House. "All 13 displays or rooms are new this year and the Jaycees are working real hard to make this 25th annual Haunted House our best one yet," Pfeifer said.

At least 16 Jaycees will be working during the Haunted House, including 12 in costume. There will be tour guides who also will be wearing Halloween costumes.

Craig Byram said the Haunted House is "user friendly."

"Parents can tell if their small children are really frightened by the displays and if they are, they can tell us and we’ll tone it down," Byram said.

The Jaycees welcome groups to tour the Haunted House. Interested groups may call Byram at 433-3483.

Bill Blowers, a chapter member, recalled the history of the Haunted House project for the Austin Jaycees. According to Blowers, the attraction has been held at the fairgrounds for the last three years. Before that it spent a couple of years in the city’s flood plain homes, the basement of the old Woolworth Store building before it became the Town Center, the old Loading Dock Bar at the Silver Bullet Bar building, the Catacombs at the old Terp Ballroom and the Cavern Lounge.

"The proceeds we make from this project go to the chapter’s general fund and are used mainly for youth activities we support," said Byram.

Shortly after the annual Mower County Fair ends in mid-August, the chapter’s members begin planning their annual Halloween fund-raiser for October.

After a design is drawn and the various attractions or displays decided upon, the first steps are to construct the walls for the various rooms that visitors pass through.

Businesses, including Weyerhauser Paper Company’s Austin plant division and UBC of Austin donated materials.

This year, the chapter spent $349 on new masks, lights and special effects.

Byram also researched the classic haunted house attraction at St. Paul, where the Tunnel of Terror has earned raves for Halloween celebrants for decades. This year, Byram got to go behind the scenes and discuss some new ideas for the Austin Haunted House attraction.

The chapter has 35 members and welcomes new recruits always. The chapter focuses on personal development through community service.

Last year, it donated money to Boy Scouts of America Troop No. 112. In return, scoutmaster Jeff Hall supervised his scouts in the creation of 15 stuffed mannequins which will be used this weekend at the Haunted House.

The local chapter also prides itself on being good role models for youth. "For the last three years, the neighborhood kids have helped us set up the displays for the Haunted House<’ said Byram. "We appreciate their input and their help."

That’s why teenagers Sam and Hannah Gullickson, brother and sister, Mary Helen Eggers and Jason Deyo work side-by-side with Jaycees chapter members Linda Diaz and Renee Simonson and other adults.

This year, Hannah Gullickson volunteered to design the "Pumpkin Room" and the Jaycees welcomed her efforts.

"We help them and they help us," explained Byram.

So, prepare to be scared, as chapter president Pfeifer likes to challenge all comers. Thirteen attractions await the brave of heart this weekend at the Mower County Fairgrounds.

Admission is $3 per person and the tours will be offers Thursday and Friday 6:30-9:30 p.m. and Saturday 6-10 p.m., plus a Sunday, Halloween Day matinee 1-5 p.m.