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Haunt scares up support for nonprofit

POSTED: October 31, 2013 12:30 a.m.
Alyssa LaRenzie/

Roger Hayes’ annual Halloween-themed backyard attraction, Hayes Haunt, raises money this year for The Place of Forsyth County. It will be open tonight and Friday night.

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Walking through his back yard at night alone can give Roger Hayes the willies. He figures that means he’s doing a good job.

After all, Hayes made the monsters himself and he knows none of the props are real.

But a peripheral glance at Gretchen the goblin could give anyone the feeling of being watched by something supernatural.

The annual home haunt in west Forsyth, open to guests for a dozen years, will wrap up this season with Halloween night and an encore performance Friday.

The scares that start in Hayes’ head continue to come to life in the growing string of tents in his back yard. He’s quite fond of the “scary go-round,” a new feature he built this year with ghouls spinning on a carousel.

Though some of the props may reappear from year to year, the haunt is never the same.

“If you want them to come back, you’ve got to do something different,” he said.

The Hayes Haunt doesn’t include anything gory, satanic or provocative, but rather plenty of creepiness. Popping out and yelling “boo” isn’t scary, Hayes said.

“We’re looking for the creepy haunt,” he said. “We’re looking for the type of thing that you think about right before you go to sleep at night and get the willies.”

Having the perfect actors is essential to get that ambiance, so Hayes conducts auditions to find the right monsters for the job.

The haunt has made such a name for itself — winning a national award for best home haunt in 2011 — that a woman flew from Dallas, Texas, for a weekend this year just to act a part, he said.

Hayes also enjoys having local high school students help out as actors, a role he sees bring teens from different social arenas together.

“A lot of these kids have made really good friends and associations through here … There’s an after party every night,” he said. “They hang out and talk about their scares and what they want to do better next year.”

When Hayes’ kids were still living at home, the haunt wasn’t cool because their parents thought it was, he said. Now, his son in college begged for a plane ticket home to take part for a weekend.

It has always been a family activity, starting when Hayes’ wife, Lynn, saw an interesting coffin at a Halloween event in 2001 and wanted to buy it for a trunk or treat in the front yard.

“A couple years later, we spent like we thought we’d gone crazy,” he said. “We actually put fliers in the mailboxes in our neighborhood, and people were excited.”

Over the years, the haunt has expanded and grown in popularity. The Hayes began selecting a local charity to donate a portion of their proceeds to each year.

The haunt has never broken even with its low-price admission, Hayes said, so they always give a percentage to an organization instead of profits off the top.

This year’s beneficiary is The Place of Forsyth County, a nonprofit social service organization that provides assistance for families in need. Lynn Hayes said the charity was selected since it “fills an absolute need here.”

The Hayes enjoy giving back to the community, but she said they really like sharing what her husband has worked on for an entire year.

“That’s the bonus for us is to be able to show people this creation,” she said. “That’s where our joy comes from, being able to just share with our friends and strangers this fun creativity.”

She also loves a good scare.

Lynn Hayes will listen for the screams after she hears a group of teenage boys bragging that they went through the professional Netherworld haunt in Atlanta and nothing’s going to scare them.

“I can always hear them screaming in the back,” she said. “Generally, they’ll come busting through the gate on the other side saying, ‘That was so cool.’ That’s the frosting is they have a really good time and they find things that they don’t expect.”

The Hayes have also come up with a less scary experience for those nervous about going through. A magical talisman, which can be purchased for an extra $4, wards off anything scary.

“The monsters will hiss and rear back,” Roger Hayes said. “It’s not limited to kids. People of all ages will buy the talisman.”

The unique idea is one of many he’s learned from years of creating his home haunt from the ground up.

Roger Hayes is working on a book called “Home Haunting for Mere Mortals” that will share the tricks he’s developed with anyone hoping to start their own design.

With his engineering background, building the props, creating the layout and setting up the electricity comes pretty “natural” to him.

Combined with his lifelong love of Halloween, the haunt is born.

His brain seems to be continually working on plans and ideas for a new room or theme.

With two days left of haunts in his back yard this week, Hayes is already sketching out plans for next year and explaining the details with growing excitement.

 

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