Wednesday, November 2, 2011/lk
When he's not helping people, Paul Henke loves to scare them.
For the last five years, the Hood River Fire Department lieutenant has been the brains - and most of the brawn - behind the creepiest, freakiest, screamiest, goose-bumpiest haunted house in town.
Last year, he says, somewhere between the room with a girl crawling across the ceiling and the man in an electric chair with sparks flying off his head, two adult women did, in fact, pee their pants.
And in what could be his last year putting on the community event and fundraiser, Henke promises bigger, better and scarier things for this weekend's haunted house.
"I'm going out with a bang," he said Thursday while standing next to a 10-foot-tall werewolf. "Unless something changes, unless more people step up to help next year, this will be my last year doing this. It has become too big and too much work to put together in the amount of time that I have."
A few thousand people went through the haunted house last year, and Henke's Catch-22 of consecutive bigger and better performances means expectations are getting higher and higher.
"This year, I tried to bring back everything that people said they liked from previous years," he said. "It's going to be crazy. Even if you've seen something before and you think you know what's coming, you're in for a surprise. Oh, and Freddy is back."
This year's location occupies two buildings: The former E&L Auto Parts store and the neighboring house to the north, both owned by Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. The buildings are empty and scheduled for demolition, so Henke and helpers had free rein to do basically anything they wanted to create a maze of dark corners, moving rooms, alleyways, dungeons, operation areas and a glut of other downright freaky scenes. Like last year, Henke has enlisted a group of drama students from the high school to act out the most theatrical parts of the tour.
"Expect about a 30-minute tour," Henke said. "There will be three chances for people to exit if they want out. Parents should use discretion with their kids. It's going to be scary. I'd say middle school and older is a good guide. Adults love it, too. For those who have come in years past, this is going to be the best yet."
The annual haunted house started with a simple idea Henke had one Halloween at his home. He rigged an air compressor to a bowl of candy and when youngsters said "Trick or Treat", they got both.
It got more complex the following year, and the year after that.
"When I broke something in the house, my wife said, 'That's it; no more,'" he explained. "The next year we had the first community haunted house on Wilson Street."
Since then the event has brought quality fright to thousands of kids in the community, and has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
"Last year we probably had 3,000 people come through," Henke said. "And we donate every penny we get. We don't take anything for our time or materials or anything."
About next year, Henke said, "I'm not totally ruling it out. If more people help and if we can get a location more in advance, it could definitely continue."
Henke said anyone interested in volunteering or spearheading a haunted house next can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.