As of Friday, October 3, 2014
Hood River Fire and EMS Lieutenant Paul Henke loves scaring children.
For the past several years or so, Henke has put on haunted house productions every October that serve both as a fun and frightening community event and as a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which the fire department collects money for year round. Last year, the house raised $8,500 over its five-day run, with all the money going to MDA.
As Henke’s terrifying tableaux become increasingly elaborate and labor-intensive, the firefighter has run the risk of burning out, and has perennially threatened that each year would be his last for helming the event.
This time though, Henke says “the rumors are true” and he will not be putting on a haunted house for Halloween.
“There’s a number of reasons but the two biggest are location, which is probably the biggest, and money,” he says of his decision, noting he doesn’t have a location for the house even if he wanted to do it this year. “I’ve always dumped a lot of money into it. The size it’s getting — I just can’t afford it.”
Henke first started freaking out trick-or-treaters around a decade ago. His first set up was modest and is a stretch to call a haunted house: a bowl of candy placed on top of an air compressor. When an unsuspecting trick-or-treater went to reach for the bowl, Henke would switch the compressor on, causing the candy to fly up and startle his visitors.
“The motivation then was to give something better than just knocking on the door and giving them a treat,” he recalls.
The next year, Henke’s goal was to make the scares bigger and better, and “to get somebody to pee their pants.”
Without going into much detail about the incident: mission accomplished.
Henke strove to outdo himself in subsequent years, moving the production from his own home to abandoned or decrepit buildings in the community. Last year’s house was located off Alameda Road not far from the high school and featured open graves with zombies in the backyard, an electric chair in the basement, and an irate, meat cleaver-wielding butcher in the dining room, and sixteen infrared camera to capture the meltdowns of frightened guests.
The level of time, energy, and money Henke has had to dedicate has reached a point where Henke says he can’t do it anymore and hopes somebody else — or somebodies — will take over the tradition he started.
Henke says the word is already out and people come up to him on a regular basis to ask him about the house.
“It’s a mixed blessing — between the mustache (Henke sports a prominent one) and the fire department, I can’t go anywhere without people recognizing me,” he notes. “Every day when I’m in public, for the past month I’ve had or two or three people a day ask me about it.”
That isn’t to say Henke’s totally giving up the ghost, so to speak.
“I’m not totally turning my back on haunted houses around here,” he says.
Henke explains he would help if someone were interested in running the haunted house, noting that he still has plenty of props, costumes, and equipment in his shed that could be used. So far, he says, he hasn’t heard of any takers and with less than four weeks until Halloween, time is slipping away.
“It could happen if somebody wants to do something,” Henke says.
“If somebody was really fired up about it, I would absolutely help,” he adds, “but all the responsibility is going to be on their shoulders.”