Credit: Michelle Sangster Credit: Michelle Sangster

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“The thing that will get me to run, that will scare me every single time, is chainsaws. I don’t know if it’s the noise or the frequency, but it’s the worst. And clowns are creepy, but I’m pretty much OK with them now.

“I started out with Zombie Army Productions in 2009 as a volunteer. I had gone on a date with a boy who worked for them, and I was like, ‘You can work in a haunted house? Yeah!’ Instantly, it was like, ‘This is exactly the kind of thing I want to spend my time doing.’ And I had a theater background, so it felt like everything I’d been doing, except I got to be covered in blood and scare people. I went in on a Thursday to volunteer, and by Sunday, they were like, ‘We are going to hire you.’

“Statesville Haunted Prison is just up the road from the actual Joliet prison. We’ve got a cell block and an outdoor yard and a medical area. The idea is that it was this terrible prison, and prisoners would die, and they’d have to dig to bury the bodies, and they dug too deep and released something dark and deadly, and the warden is, like, the devil and is letting chaos reign. Like every good haunted house, we’ve got a clown room too.

“There’s one Statesville character who has a huge, huge following. His name is Fluffy. He’s got a straitjacket with all the chains, a canvas mask with eyeholes, a big stitched-shut grin, and stringy black hair. He was a disturbed child, and he was left alone in an abandoned asylum and ate stuffed animals, and that’s why they call him Fluffy. People bring stuffed animals specifically for this character to tear apart. I’ve seen girls bring expensive Build-A-Bear animals to him. You know how they put the heart inside the Build-A-Bears, before they sew them up? Once I found a little heart on the ground outside. I’m like, ‘You need to sew this on your costume.’

“The weirdest thing that’s happened was in the room next to mine. We advertise that our haunts are adult-geared, 13 and over. But someone brought a smallish child through, probably seven or eight, and after they left, we found a pair of pee-soaked little girl’s underwear on the floor in the clown room. She got scared and peed, and the parents just took her underwear off in the middle of the haunted house and left it there. So someone had to go with gloves and a stick and take ’em out.

“Ideally you hire people with enough common sense that they can see when someone is really terrified, like crying and not having fun anymore. There’s a difference between ‘I’m so scared, I need to leave’ and ‘You just scared the crap out of me! This is amazing!’ If someone needs to get out of the house, we have emergency codes and procedures. I didn’t understand at first that people would come in and be legitimately scared: Really? But I know you know this isn’t real!