Q: How did you get a job at a haunted house?
A: In Kansas City, where I grew up, there are lots of haunted houses, but two of the biggest and best are owned by the same company. One is called “The Edge of Hell” and the other is “The Beast,” which I think is the largest haunted house in the country.
They’d run ads on the radio that said, “Do you want a job scaring people?”
Q: Did you have to interview for the job?
A: There wasn’t an interview process. You just needed two forms of ID and had to be 16 or older. They took a picture of you holding both IDs. Then they told you, “Be here at this time, this is how it works…”
Q: How old were you?
A: I was 17—a senior in high school.
Q: Were there other kids from your school working there?
A: There were other kids but no one from my high school. My high school was a little more in the suburbs and this was downtown.
There were A LOT of 19- to 20-year-old guys. They were super-sketchy. Because you didn’t need to prove anything, there were a lot of vagrants, transients, that kind of thing.
Q: And what was your job role, exactly?
A: In “The Edge of Hell,” on the top floor, there was this room set up to look like Heaven, and after you left, you’d go to a slide that went down five stories into Hell.
In that room I was an angel. You wear white and dance around while they play the same minute and a half of harp music. People would yell funny things at me. Some of the highlights were:
“Hey! It’s Alanis Morissette!”
“Come home with me, I drive a Chevy!”
“Do you strip?”
“Play ‘Stairway to Heaven’!”
At “The Beast” I was a bar wench. Basically I got to yell at people in a Cockney accent. And there was a secret button I could push that made a hydraulic wolf head jump out. The room was like a breather spot where people thought they could relax for a minute. I’d yell, “Pet the doggie!” and then push the button.
Q: I thought you said it was a wolf head? Any reason you called it a doggie?
A: It relaxed the customers, which made them even more startled when the wolf popped out. Plus, it was funny to me…
Q: Were people always scared? Did it ever get old, watching people be scared?
A: People were consistently startled. It was mostly entertaining. It didn’t get old, but I only did it for one season.
People peed their pants, though.
Q: I don’t believe it.
A: I didn’t believe it either. But I saw it. It was a thing that would happen pretty often. We’d say, “I got a pee-er today.”
Q: Did the houses look a lot different inside when the lights were on?
A: In “The Beast,” the big feature is the werewolf forest. It’s basically a big room full of trees, with guys dressed like werewolves roaming around and chasing you while you try to find the door. The forest was cool when the lights were on and you could see the door—like it’s right over there.
It could really mess with people. I got really used to it so I could go run around the forest and then run back to the mock-up bar where I was the bar wench.
Q: So you worked a lot?
A: The houses opened in August and were open on weekends through September. Then gradually they’d add Wednesdays and Thursdays, and then the last two weeks of October they were open every day. On weeknights it probably closed at 10 or 11. On weekends our doors had to shut at 1 a.m. but it took a good 45 minutes to an hour for people to come through. 1 a.m. was after the bars closed, so we’d get total drunks who’d shout things.
Anyway, you didn’t have to work every day but you got $200 if you did. And you got a 20% merit bonus if you did a good job.
Q: How did the bosses know if you were doing a good job?
A: There were cameras everywhere and they did walkthroughs.
Q: And so you worked every day?
A: Yeah. Those last three weeks I worked 40 hours a week and went to high school. I got so tired I was hallucinating. I’d see things in the forest that weren’t really there.
At one point I walked off the end of a loading dock. I skinned up my knee, jammed my arm. One of the werewolf guys scooped me up and brought me to the manager. They took me to the ER and X-rayed my arm but it was fine. I remember when my mom got there she said, “You’re green! What have they done to you!?”
Q: How much did it pay?
A: It paid barely minimum wage, which I think was $6 an hour. I heard that this year, because of the economy, they had a record number of applicants.
Q: Do you ever go into haunted houses now?
A: If I go now, I’m not really into them, but I know my brain would spend a lot of time thinking, I wonder what makes that work.
Q: Any life lessons learned?
A: Maybe just that there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark—it’s just a dude.