AUBURN — Madison Graves didn't know what to do with all the severed heads.

Graves, a student volunteer with the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn, was handling a refrigerator smeared all over with fake blood Thursday. She had a fake head, which had chains on it and a contorted facial expression that suggested it would shriek in agony at any moment, placed on the refrigerator, along with other props.  

She wasn't sure where she wanted to place the various other fake body parts at her disposal, like other heads, a foot and a brain, however. The set-up was just one scenario concocted by students and staff for the center's haunted house, a part of the center's annual Halloween Safe House. The Halloween night consists of the haunted house and a room with free concessions. Children will receive candy as they leave. 

The haunted house is a black maze in the center's gym, set to be filled with various frightening scenarios worked on by students and staff alike. Brandon Wakeham, the center's program director, said the areas planned for the big night include a clown-themed area, a crime scene, sets inspired by the horror classic "The Exorcist" and the film series "The Purge" and a jail cell complete with a deranged prisoner.

He said Auburn Party Rental gave the center more black drapes and piping than usual for the same price, allowing for more sections. The center uses the macabre trove of props it has accumulated over the years for the event.

While the students do have fun setting up the event, it requires a great deal of dedication from everyone, said Gabe Solomon, the center's site coordinator. Despite the jokes being tossed around and the students' imaginations running wild, Solomon said, the hours students put in to the event helps them learn skills such as carpentry, painting and acting — as they will portray the lunatics, creatures and other assorted frights that populate the maze.

Solomon has been floored by the creativity displayed by students and the ways they have created things for the event, like the detailed tombstones they made from form board installation. Wakeham was impressed by how they simulated groupings of coal for a cauldron, as a mass of spray installation used for houses was painted and laced with LED lights.

"You think of it from the outside, you're thinking, 'It's just a fun time (for) a night' or whatever, but there's a lot more to it," Solomon said.

More work continued that afternoon, as Kiara Heiler and Demetria Strachan were prepping the crime scene section, which included a blood-covered fake knife, various red spots scattered throughout, a chalk outline and a long-haired mangled head.  Heiler said she figured adding liberal amounts of fake blood to the head would distract from the head's lack of detail.

Wakeham, his eyes wide, gave his approval.

"That looks disgusting," Wakeham said. He dubbed that "the ultimate compliment" for the situation.

Back at the refrigerator area, Graves was still pondering how to arrange her menagerie of corpse pieces. She wished she could move the table to a different side of the scene and hang up some of the body parts. She surmised that if a deranged butcher with a pig head will be by the fridge, it would make sense for the butcher character to hang things. Wakeham praised the work she had already done regardless.

Graves said she enjoys seeing the end result of the haunted house compared to the beginning stages. She recalled a point last year when a performer "scared the life out of" a little kid. Graves said she felt sad for the child but also thought it was fun.

"When we're all done I like seeing the before-and-after (of the haunted house). And I like seeing little kids cry," Graves joked.

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.


Education Reporter