When students from the local high school want to volunteer their weekends at a haunted house, even if they already have nearly 200 hours of community service, you know it's a success. Such is the case at the Haunted Dungeons at Fort Howard Park.
Dedication is obvious as dozens of local residents show up at the park gate to volunteer their time. Some are wearing costumes, others are talking of slimy maggots in jars, and a few plain-clothed people are just looking to help.
"Most of our adults started off as kids working [here]." states Patty Sauerwald of Edgemere, as her two children, Todd and Lisa, stand by. "I started here before I had kids."
The park is near the water in Sparrows Point, surrounded by a thick forest and sports fields. Historic gun batteries serve as a maze of dungeons, beneath the fields, hidden by trees.
Volunteers apply makeup and fake blood as chain saws are revved and torches are lit. A gentleman with two faces strolls by and introduces himself as Tim May. He sticks out a gnarled hand and shakes with a smile, stretching beneath bloody flaps of skin on his face. May and his family have been working here three years. For May and the nearly 150 other volunteers, there is a strong sense of community.
Students from Sparrows Point Middle School and High School show up in droves, with friends and family, to don white robes and guide visitors from Washington, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It teaches the students respect for the park and "gives back to the community" says Sauerwald.
As the light fades from the sky, volunteers rush to get ready for the first group. Meanwhile, outside the gate, visitors wait in line, some ready, some not, for what's inside. A clown walks by, bearing an evil grin and sharp teeth, as James Morrow and his family wait in line. "I used to volunteer here." he says. For Morrow's 7-year-old nephew, Adam Bennett, this is his first haunted house. When asked if he think's he'll be frightened, Adam stands up straight and exclaims, "I don't think so!"
For Bob and Becky Smith, of Edgemere, this is their 15th year. They've been helping since the beginning and are still working tonight.
Things quiet down and actors take their places as the announcement is made that the first tour group is coming through. Hand-held radios crackle as volunteer security guards and tour guides prepare themselves.
The tour progresses along a wooded path lighted by torches. Tombstones are lit up, and the guides read them aloud for the visitors. Fort Howard has some history behind it: This is where the British landed for the Battle of North Point.
The guide stops in front of a guillotine and gathers the group nearby. Barely recognizable is an executioner draped in black; he speaks directly to the audience, inquiring who the "traitor" is. A few girls from the crowd step back, but a suspect has already been chosen.
Audience participation plays a large role in the effectiveness of the Dungeons. As the group progresses toward the second dungeon, they are stopped by a fortune-teller (Elizabeth Wood, 14, of Edgemere.) She warns them of the imminent danger that lurks ahead, but the guides urge the group along, heedless of the warning.
Spectacular special effects are displayed in scenes from "Stigmata" and "The Blair Witch Project" and other popular horror movies. The setting within the damp gun batteries merely adds to the chilling scenery.
Once the tour is through, Fort Howard and the 150 volunteers prove themselves to be a strong community and creative entertainers. The Dungeons are well worth the massive effort instilled in them.
The Haunted Dungeons at Fort Howard Park are open Oct. 21-24 and Oct. 28-30 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Arrive early, the park usually reaches capacity by 7 p.m. Take Exit 42 off 695 and follow Route 20 South to Fort Howard Park. $6; $4 children 12 and under. Call 410-887-7529.
"Bedlam in the 'Boro." Haunted hay rides Oct. 21-23 and 28-30 from the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department, 4224 Main St., Lineboro. Hours are 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. $7; $3 ages 8 and under. Call 410-239-4467.
Bel Air costume parade. 11th annual costume parade and contest, Oct. 30, 11 a.m., registration begins at 10: 30 a.m., the Festival at Bel Air. Free. Call 410-893-1700.
Canal Town ghost walk. Progressive mystery and ghostly storytelling, Oct. 22-23, 6 p.m.-9: 30 p.m., South Chesapeake City. $7; $6 in advance; $5 under 12; $4 in advance; free under 3. Call 410-885-2025.
Candy carnival. Halloween games and candy, Oct. 27, 3: 30 p.m.-4: 30 p.m., Mora Crossman Recreation Center, 701 S. Rappolla St. Free. Call 410-396-9222.