A barn can be a spooky place to venture into at night, a place where animal sounds create an eerie soundtrack for unimaginable things that may be lurking -- and waiting -- in the corners, hidden by the dark.
Now imagine the barn crawling with creepy figures, a farmer with his hand caught in a threshing machine, a slaughter machine, a cattle herding pen trapping visitors inside and cornstalks that turn around and stalk you for daring to enter their world.
Welcome to the artful imagination of Crow Wing County's 4-H Ambassadors, who have spent months planning a spooktacular fifth annual Halloween Haunted House at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds Friday and Saturday.
The teen 4-H leaders, along with adult volunteers, have been busy constructing the set and scary scenarios for the haunted house, which offers visitors young and old the opportunity to be scared -- and to donate food for The Salvation Army.
This year's theme is the Haunted Barn, which will be 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the 4-H Building at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds in Brainerd.
The event is free, but visitors are asked to bring a nonperishable food item to be donated to The Salvation Army. Free hot cider and coffee will be offered, and Halloween games for younger children will be available. Children are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes.
"Walking through this during the fair, you can't picture it as a haunted house," said Lacy Thesing, 16, who joined other 4-H members for several days last week in the 4-H Building, listening to spooky music as they built the maze of rooms for the haunted house. "It's fun decorating, and taking it down is the worst."
About 25 4-H members volunteer each year to dress up and perform at the annual haunted house. Organizers are hoping to raise more than 2,000 pounds of food for charity.
Because of the nightmare-causing nature of the Haunted Barn, it is recommended for children ages 8 and older. But Gretchen Patrick, 20, who decided to help with the haunted house this year even though she isn't in 4-H anymore, said sometimes it is the adults, not the children, who can get carried away by their own fear.
"You never know what's going to happen. It gets your blood pumped," said Patrick.
Adult supervisors are now perched in the rafters of the 4-H Building on a catwalk to make sure 4-H members and participants are safe.
"I love going through haunted houses. It's fun," said Thesing. "It's cool when people walk through the 4-H Building (at fair time) and the kids say, 'Mom, remember when we were here for the haunted house and got scared?'"
"I think since I've been doing this, I'm more excited about Halloween than when I was younger," added Jilene Adair, 16. "It's fun when the guys act like they're so tough and then they get really scared."
Kent Montgomery, who volunteered to help the teens construct the haunted house, said last year the teens frightened an average of 200 people an hour, or 1,700 visitors for the two-day event. Last year they collected 1,800 pounds in food donations.
"It helps promote 4-H and we like to think it's a good thing for the community, too," Montgomery said of the haunted house. "We try to make it so a family can come out here in a safe and secure environment. I think the adults have as much fun as the kids going through."
Montgomery said the 4-H members have had fun planning scary scenarios around the Haunted Barn theme. "Farm animals just scare people sometimes, too," said Montgomery.
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