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Haunted house delivers scares

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Surprised by a sudden flurry of noise and movement, children react to meeting another chainsaw wielding assailant at the Haunted House Saturday in Spirit Lake, Iowa. The event is put on by KUOO Radio and the Spirit Lake Chamber of Commerce.

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa -- Prepare for a frightfully fun time at the fairgrounds this week as the ghouls of Spirit Lake convene at their annual Halloween haunt.

The ninth annual Spirit Lake Chamber of Commerce "Frightmares at the Fairgrounds" haunted house began this weekend on the Dickinson County Fairgrounds. But fear not -- the haunting will continue from 7 to 10 p.m. this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a softened spooking for children planned from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The event has changed in its ninth year, confirmed Blain Andera, the chamber's executive director -- though he was reluctant to give away too many of his spooktacular secrets.

"I don't elaborate a lot because we don't like to give away the stuff on the inside," he said, "but two of the areas are brand new. We've never used them before, and it will be a nice surprise for the customers who have been there year in and year out."

Andera said transforming a standard-issue cattle barn into a haunted maze takes time. Workers began setting up the second week in September, using 350 sheets of plywood and hundreds of man hours to build the hall of horrors.

"We average between 100 and 120 people who help out, either with construction or actually booing, scaring people," he said. "Everybody that volunteers we provide a costume and a mask for; we've got 50 or 60 masks that people can choose from."

The event draws as many as 30 volunteers on a busy night -- folks from Sibley, Sheldon, even Sioux City pitch in to help.

"Without the volunteers it wouldn't be possible," Andera added.

Attendees also travel from miles around to test their wits.

"We have several hundred come through each night. The people who work our front gate always ask where they're from, and we've had people from up to 80 miles away that we've seen come through," Andera said. "Not only is it a good fund-raiser for the chamber, but it also fulfills our mission of getting folks to town, because hopefully they're going to a restaurant or getting gas or shopping while they're here."

Saturday afternoon's kid-friendly haunted house is hosted in conjunction with the chamber merchant association's downtown trick-or-treating from noon to 4 p.m.

"We don't have any ghouls on the inside that are going to scare you," Andera explained. "Things are still animated and it's still dark, but everybody gets a flashlight and a tour guide. It's a good opportunity for parents to bring children that are probably still scared to go in at night.

"We have adults who come through, too," he added. "They're looking for a little something to do. It is more geared for younger children, but anybody's welcome."

The nightly haunted houses, too, are attended by scaredy cats and die-hard Halloween fans alike.

"It really varies," Andera said. "We have a lot of people who just run through it with their eyes closed. They're scared, and they don't want to see anything. Then we have other people who like to stop and look at the props."

The Spirit Lake Chamber of Commerce and KUOO Radio Haunted House is located in the cattle barn on the northwest corner of the fairgrounds in Spirit Lake. There is a fee charged for admission. Call the chamber at (712) 336-4978 for more information.

The event is also sponsored by Bank Midwest, Central Bank, Consumers Lumber, Liberty Bank, Northwest Bank, Okoboji View Golf Course, Pizza Ranch, Spirit Lake Chiropractic Clinic, The State Bank and the Spirit Lake Wal-Mart.