It's been awhile since Dodge City had a good haunted house where Halloween revelers could get that adrenaline boost brought on by a good fright.
But this year, a group of mischievous goblins at The Depot Theater Company will take the shock one step further by providing a hotel full of haunted rooms that will creep into your nightmares.
"We're definitely going for the scare instead of the gore," said Jola Miller, head of the Haunted Hotel project.
The idea came up early in the summer as company staff discussed ways to boost revenue. The group took advantage of the lack of any haunted facility in town for Halloween coupled with the vacant second floor of the old hotel in the Santa Fe Depot and decided to create a memorable experience for area fright-seekers.
Maybe the walls can talk
The Santa Fe Depot was built in 1898 and housed not just the waiting rooms, baggage rooms and freight rooms necessary for the operation of the great cross country railroad line being built to the west coast. But because Dodge City was an important point on the Santa Fe system, the Depot also included a lunch counter, newsstands, formal dining room and hotel operated by Fred Harvey.
Harvey, a young British entrepreneur, partnered with Santa Fe and ultimately created a vast empire of hotels and dining rooms located in railroad facilities from Atchison and Topeka all the way to Los Angeles, including a number of facilities near the Grand Canyon.
Unable to hire enough men to staff his restaurants, as was the custom at the time, Harvey boldly decided to hire young women from good families back East for his service staff.
Thus was both The Harvey Girl, a crisply-dresses and highly efficient young woman who represented the very best in food service.
Harvey maintained high standards at all his facilities and soon every traveler knew a Harvey establishment could be depended on for quality food served quickly and properly.
Harvey brought the same level of excellence to his hotel operations and the hotel in the Dodge City Depot was no exception.
The original hotel had only a handful of rooms but that number grew to over 20 with a 1913 expansion of the building. The rooms were arranged in suites with two sleeping rooms sharing a full bathroom complete with tub, toilet and hand sink.
The hotel featured transom windows in each room, providing enough western breezes to keep the rooms comfortable.
An elegant lobby became the centerpiece of the hotel, welcoming rail-worn passengers to a comfortable night's stay as the train stopped for the night to be fueled and serviced. The hotel was full of amenities such as the water fountain in the lobby with water circulated through a box of ice to provide cool relief.
Page 2 of 3 - The hotel was open for business until the late 1940s when Americans, emerging from the sacrifices of World War II, began to take the family automobile for family trips instead of the train. Then the development of the airline industry dealt the passenger railroads a final blow and most of the Depot was walled off and abandoned, leaving only the passenger waiting room and a few Santa Fe division offices in use.
Although the building was renovated in 2004 to become the home for the Depot Theater Company, the second floor of the hotel, on the west end of the building, has remained unused and vacant.
What better place for a haunting?
Miller and her crew, which includes her husband, Brian, Mark and Jennifer Vierthaler, Doug Austen and Connie Penick, have transformed the hotel into eight rooms of terror.
Using old sheets, scraps of old theater curtains and props selected from the Company's collection, they plan to populate the scary space with 35 volunteers each night for a fully horrifying experience.
Small groups will be gathered outside the building and taken up the fire escape stairway located on the north side of the west end of the building.
They will be led through a series of rooms based on themes from popular horror movies and video games.
"We'll have a cordoned line set up outside, winding back to the west then along the south side of the building, with special costumed personalities on hand to entertain those waiting," Miller said.
And snacks will be available for those nervously awaiting their experience in the halls of horror.
Although much of the tour will be shrouded in darkness, organizers have gone to extra lengths to use the spaces efficiently and to insure a safe journey for their daring customers.
A script, written by Mark Vierthaler, will help the tour guides provide the maximum spooky enjoyment for participants.
And a special spooky photo opportunity is being planned so those who successfully complete the experience can share the scare with their online friends.
"Because the event is a fundraiser, we've made or found everything we've used to create the rooms," Miller said in a recent interview. "I think I've spent $16 so far – but I'll have to go shopping for things like make-up and fake blood soon," she added.
Miller is currently putting her list of volunteers together for the Haunted Hotel and has room for a few more adventurous helpers.
"Since we'll need about 35 people every night the hotel's open, we'll need at least 50 on the list so no one has to work every night," Miller said,
People are needed to inhabit scary characters, nip at people from behind curtains, guide tours, help with crowd control and sell snacks.
Page 3 of 3 - Costumes will be provided, although Miller says some people will just need to come dressed in all black.
"This activity counts as community service for those students who need to take care of that," Miller said.
To add your name to the volunteer list, or to get more details on the Haunted Hotel, call 620-225-1001.
The Haunted Hotel will be open for business every Friday and Saturday in October, beginning Oct. 4. The ghouls will also be on duty every night during Halloween week.
Hours are from 7 to 10 p.m. and tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.
To purchase advance tickets, call the Depot Theater Company box office at 620-225-1001.
Organizers suggest patrons can park in the theater parking lot on the east end of the complex near Central Station then walk along the south side of the Depot to the west end, or park in the public parking lot across the street at Central and Wyatt Earp and use the crosswalk.
IF YOU GO
What: Haunted Hotel
When: 7 to 10 p.m.
Oct. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31
$8 in advance, call 620-225-1001
$10 at the door