As the writer of this AP story suggests, this story would indeed make an excellent first act for a Halloween movie: volunteers move into an old residence to create a holiday-themed "haunted house," and then begin to realize they have the real thing on their hands...
"The Pantagraph," October 31, 1988:
It reads like a script from a drive-in movie. Volunteers turn a vacant home into a haunted house for Halloween visitors, but end up getting scared by lights that mysteriously turn themselves on, tools that move and doors that seem to unlock by themselves.Cynics will say these reports were just part of a publicity stunt to sell tickets, but you have to concede it's a pretty darn good one.
"When I first walked into the house I had an eerie feeling. The hair stood up on my arms and I didn't even want to go in," parent volunteer Rita Rledel said yesterday. Mrs. Reidel was one of several adults who helped the Swansea Black Knights Drum and Bugle Corps transform an old brick house on a corner in this Southern Illinois town into a haunted house for their sixth annual Halloween fund-raising project.
This year's house, donated for the project by local owners who live elsewhere, seemed haunted from the start, though its owners and a former resident don't believe the tales being told.
First, there was the basement, "dug out of the earth. It looks like a burial ground," Mrs. Riedel said. Workers puzzled over the stubborn light that appeared nightly there, said Michael Saak, a 16-year-old bugle corps member. "We turned it off every night before we left and even boarded up the door. Inevitably, the light was back on by the time we got in our cars," Mrs. Riedel said. Thinking vandals or transients had gotten inside, workers began checking doors and windows before leaving. The light continued to come on. But the light wasn't the only spooky thing, Saak said.
"When we'd leave, we'd lock the doors, and when we'd come back in the morning they'd be unlocked," he recalled.
"One night we had boarded the basement door ... and the next day everything was open," Mrs. Riedel said.
Weird things continued to happen even after the volunteers finished the project two weeks ago.
"Yesterday we were over there, and ... candles that had been downstairs on the table were upstairs. All the lights were on and the doors were unlocked. We had left it locked and lights off," Judy Saak, Michael's mother, said yesterday.
"There's kind of weird books downstairs," Mrs. Saak said, including ones on psychology and how to operate on oneself. "I don't believe in ghosts ... but sometimes it kind of gives you a weird feeling."
There also was the mystery of the wayward tools. "I'm not kidding about this. We pooled our tools every day on the kitchen counter," Mrs. Riedel said. The next day some of them would be in the makeshift coffin the workers had set up In the living room.
"I don't have any explanation," she said. Police say they never heard of any strange happenings at the house before this year, and that nobody from the bugle corps reported anything.
"I didn't really think there would be anything they could do," Mrs. Riedel said. "If there's actually a spirit in there, the police wouldn't be able to do anything about it."
The house has been vacant for a year, since Lydia Krim, daughter of the original owners, moved out when she and her husband bought a new house. Mrs. Krim doesn't think the house is haunted. "This was my family's home since the early 1900s," she said. "It's all a bunch of fairy tales, and I resent it."
Mary Eitzenhefer, who has owned the house since 1971 with her husband, also doubts that the place is haunted. "I've never heard of any of this stuff," she said.
Any spirits that might be hanging around will have to find a new home. The Eitzenhefers, who donated the house for the bugle corps' project, plan to tear it down.