Monday, October 27, 2003
Neosho Rapids The old house at the end of the lane south of town has sat empty since 1963, a sad legacy of the farm family who used to live there and a home to whatever critters dared to invade its darkness.
But for the past 10 years, the house has eerily come to life each October, when the Lyon County Fire District No. 5 volunteer fire department uses it to scare the willies out of hundreds of people who come to Neosho Rapids to go through the haunted house.
"Ten years ago, we needed a fund-raiser for our fire department," said Pat Yeager, one of the volunteer coordinators of the project. "The volunteer fire department was going to do something at Hartford Harvest Day and the weather was just awful. We had all the food left, so one of our members, Farah Naylor, said, 'Hey, let's have a haunted house."'
With just two weeks of planning, the group "threw together" the haunted house on the old homestead that had been in the Yeager family for years.
"We were absolutely bombarded," Yeager said. "We wanted to raise $750 because that's how much we had spent. And we made $3,600."
Coming to the haunted house is more of an experience than you might expect.
Visitors park at the community center in Neosho Rapids, purchase their $4 tickets, then board a hay ride for the three-mile trip to the house.
But that's just the beginning of a spooky evening of entertainment.
After pulling down the farm lane, the wagons circle a clearing at the bottom of a hill and stop by a bonfire.
"This is where they get off the wagons," Yeager said. "Then they walk up this path that is lighted by lanterns until they get to the maze. Then they have to go through the maze to get to the house."
Spirits and volunteers
Some say the house is really haunted.
"The house is built exactly where an old Indian campground was," Yeager said. "And there are those who will swear it's haunted."
Linda and Leonard Dieker of Emporia are believers. They've been volunteering at the house for nine years.
Rocking chairs rock, halos float through rooms and figures move across the lane and into the trees, Linda Dieker said.
"Sometimes we all come running out of the house and the people think we're trying to scare them, but that's not it," she said. "We're running out because we're all scared of something."
Yeager said that putting on the haunted house was the result of many hours of work by area volunteers.
"We couldn't do it without the volunteers," Yeager said. "They come to help build everything and to work in the house when we're open."
Yeager said the Neosho Rapids Lions Club began helping out with the project several years ago.
"They have a concession at the community center where people can grab something to eat before or after they go to the house," she said.
"Off and on, about 19 of us help out," said Lions Club member Russ Heckathorn.
Yeager said the fire department and the Lions Club split the profits that are raised.
"Everything goes back into the community," she said. "We use the money for training and equipment we might need and the Lions Club uses their money for the summer rec program, scholarships and other programs."
Measures of success
Ed Baker has been working at the house for seven years. He's an accountant by day and Frankenstein's monster by night.
"One of my friends came down here the second year they did it and told me about it," he said. "I've been here ever since for this."
Baker said he has the most fun when people he recognizes come through the house but they don't recognize him, giving him the opportunity to frighten them.
Ray Lambert of Neosho Rapids also enjoys scaring people. "I scare them every year," he said. "We've had people actually wet their pants and fall to the ground."
"It's a measure of success for us," Baker said.
The Neosho Rapids haunted house is open Friday and Saturday nights through Halloween weekend.
"We roll the first hay ride at dark each night, and ticket sales stop at midnight," Yeager said. "Except on Halloween, we'll roll from 9 p.m. and sell tickets until 1 a.m."