Halloween hauntings: It’s time to howl

For you, it’s simply time to stock up on candy, as a treat for all the little monsters roaming the neighborhood.

For Larry Kirchner, it’s showtime. He relishes the reactions to own his horrific creations, and he boosts the posterity of all attractions that scare the bejesus out of us.

For Jennifer Lauer, it’s pretty much business as usual. She fields three or four calls per month from people who want help determining whether a home, business or other place is haunted.

Jennifer’s Southern Wisconsin Paranormal Research Group is one of at least one-half dozen organizations in the state that investigate and document the places that haunt others. The training and level of seriousness can vary wildly; these volunteers typically do their work without charge.

Online, www.hauntedwi.com — based in Stevens Point – suggests that Wisconsin has 410 haunted locations, the Hotel Chequamegon in Ashland to Tuttle Lake in the town of Wild Rose. The list is a mix of public and private sites.

Andy and Jennifer Meier of Waukesha since 1998 have maintained a fun and newsy description of places to visit at www.hauntedwisconsin.com. The project is a passion, but not their livelihood, which makes them different than Larry Kirchner, who lives in St. Louis and says “haunting” has been his full-time job for 10 years.

Halloween marks the culmination of work for Larry, who designs haunted attractions such as The Darkness, a haunted house in St. Louis, and is president of the Haunted House Association, which surveys and represents the thousands of similar attractions that exist in America.

“October isn’t as busy as other months,” he says. “More work goes into getting everything in place,” from attraction props to fire marshal permits.

“Most haunted houses aren’t setting the world on fire,” he admits, “but some are as scary as any movie you’ll see.”

These attractions used to be based on Hollywood movie themes, Larry suggests, but today more are based upon terrifyingly original storylines.

“Not every haunted house owner could make cool props” until the advent of computer effects. High-tech options also put many make-up and special effects artists out of business, Larry says, and some of these displaced workers created haunted house supply businesses. That means it is easier for the average haunted house to toughen its image.

“In a haunted house, you are a star in a horror movie,” Larry says, to explain the appeal. “You are Jamie Lee Curtis from the time you walk in, until the time you walk out – if you do.” Har, har.

He mentions Terror on the Fox, the Green Bay attraction that’s been around 10 years, as Wisconsin’s best haunted house. “It’s not the biggest, but in the industry, it’s the most well-known,” Larry says. “Nice attention to detail.”

Nic Wessely, a Green Bay cook by profession but “head bad boy” at Terror on the Fox, says 85 percent of the 6,400-square-foot attraction has been changed since last year. Add to that a forest mirror maze and “Torment,” a new attraction/expansion.

“It’s about your fears and phobias, like fear of heights, but everybody stays safe,” Nic says, of “Torment.” About 50 actors are involved with the entire production, and that includes drama clubs and cheerleaders who donate their time. Another three dozen people – electricians to metal fabricators – have completed the prep work.

Terror on the Fox stays open through the first weekend of November this year, since the holiday falls at midweek. Tickets are $14-30, depending upon how much you want to see and whether you mind standing in line.

For a more refined look at terror, consider “Phantasmagoria: A 19th Century Gothic Variety Show” at the Charles Allis Museum of Art in Milwaukee, through Oct. 29. The shows are meant to invoke the spirits of the dead, similar to what was done after the French Revolution, when people tried to bring back guillotine victims, just for kicks. Admission is $20.

And if all this ghost talk spooks more than entertains, Jennifer Lauer may be the gal to contact. “We’re not psychics,” she emphasizes. “We’re more like environmentalists who can detect environmental changes when someone has a paranormal experience.”

Explanation of a haunting is not the same as finding a ghost. Some of her colleagues have a science background, and Jennifer contends only five other groups in the world take this work as seriously.

“Most other groups believe there are ghosts,” she says. “We don’t say there are ghosts for sure. Our credibility is of foremost importance.”

The work is “not just a Halloween thing for us,” although this is when attention is drawn to it.

“A lot of times, people’s fears come from the unknown,” Jennifer says. “If we can explain why something happens, there may be less fear” in the future.

For more:

Terror on the Fox: www.terroronthefox.com, 920-430-1844. The attraction is on the National Railroad Museum grounds, 2285 S. Broadway St., Green Bay.

Charles Allis Museum of Art and: www.cavtmuseums.org, 414-278-8295. The museum is at 1801 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee.

Southern Wisconsin Paranormal Research Group, Janesville: www.paranormalresearchgroup.com, 608-931-3633.

Haunted House Association, St. Louis: www.hauntedhouseassociation.org, 314-504-3970.

Halloween Productions, St. Louis: www.hauntedhouseonline.com, 314-241-3456.