October 21, 2021

Chiller Haunted Hospital takes shape

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Siri L. Kyler of Virgil at this year’s Chiller Haunted Hospital, in its beginning stages outside the Center for the Arts of Homer.

Deanna Grantham has been an actress in Jim Coon’s Chiller Haunted House for years.

The Cortland woman gets recognized in the grocery store:

“’Wait. I know you, you’re torn out throat girl!’” she laughed, while doing haunted house construction at the Center for the Arts in September.

“I did it back when Jim was in high school, when it was in his driveway. Every year it’s a little bit different, but always the same flavor — delivered in fun,” she said.

That won’t change for the 38th annual edition, which Coon is adapting to an outdoor haunt, with safety in mind, during a Covid-19 pandemic.

It will take place at the Center for the Arts of Homer, 72 S. Main St.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Jim Coon of Cortland, creator of the annual Chiller Haunted House, looks over the beginning shape of this year’s version at the Center for the Arts of Homer.

“We didn’t want to take a year off,” said Coon, of Cortland. “We could have said, ‘OK. Covid. We are not doing it this year,” said the full-time artist.

“I still have reservations. We are moving (forward) as best as we can,” he said.

He says the governor could shut the haunt down if cases rise this month. But he and his crew are giving it their best shot.

Timed reservations are required but the event is spread out over three weekends: from 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 9, 10, 16, 17 and 23 and 24.

“The 18th is our non-scary night,” Coon said.

“We’re doing it three weekends because of covid, to give people more time to get in,” Coon said.

Call the center at 607-749-4900 to reserve a slot. And get to the appointment on time. People can walk up and get a time to come back later if there is an appointment available.

“I don’t like to do it that way,” said Coon. “We have to (cap) it at 50 … and that includes staff. I can’t have a long line waiting.”

Masks and social distancing are required. Temperature checks will be taken. Hand sanitizer will be available. Fee: $3 per adult and $2 per kid.

Grantham and Siri L. Kyler of Virgil, a volunteer builder and actor in the event, were working on a frame at the north side of the lawn at the Homer center.

The Chiller Haunt has morphed through the years, moving from Coon’s Madison Street home, to the Burch Building in Suggett Park, to its latest home at the Center for the Arts of Homer.

This year’s theme will be “The Haunted Hospital.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

From left, Siri L. Kyler, Deanna Grantham, Jenniferleigh Clune and Jim Coon work on the Haunted Hospital.

“We all have to wear the surgical masks. It kind of played into it … We are thinking of different departments of a hospital: research and development, surgery. We’ve got to have a pharmacy. Each one has its own little vignette,” Coon said.

“I don’t think everything will be as scary as in the past. It might be more funnier than scary. We will see how it goes.”

“If something doesn’t work for one weekend, we can tweak it during the next weekend.”

“It’s good. It’s different,” Coon said.

And he is happy to have three whole weeks to set up. “This is more what I am used to,” he said.

In the past, he’s had to rush to build his set, inside the center, in between this show and that, with all its activities going on.

The crew was stabilizing the walls on a Wednesday night. Jenniferleigh Clune of Homer, another regular at the Haunt, joined the three.

Coon said he doesn’t go to Halloween stores per se, like Spirit Halloween.

“I get a lot of stuff at the Dollar Store. And it’s not like Halloween stuff.”

He gets duct tape and small appliances and constructs his scares from there.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Jim Coon of Homer, creator of the annual haunted house.

Kyler of Virgil, has been helping out for the last five years.

“I’m a screamer,” said Kyler.

“I’m a guide,” said Grantham.

But not just any old guide, said Kyler. “Ohh, she’s good,” she said of Grantham.

“I haven’t done an outdoor haunt in ten years,” Coon said. “We have a lot of ideas and a lot of things we like to do.”

And now that he’s self-employed, his schedule is flexible.

What: 38th Chiller Haunted House,

Where: Center for the Arts of Homer, 72 S. Main St., Homer.

When: 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24. On Oct. 18: the non scary night.

How: Make reservations at 607-7494900. $3 per adult, $2 per kid.

Covid particulars: Outdoor event, wear mask, practice social distancing, sanitize hands there, temperature check taken.

Coon relies on about a dozen people to help set up his structure. He’ll have clear plastic set up at points to limit contact as actors will be six feet from customers.

“In the past jump scares were our bread and butter. We can’t do that this year. You can’t get that close to anybody.”

He’s relaying on remote scares, using ropes to dangle objects or animatronics. “That part of it, you look at it. There’s nothing there. And then it moves. We will see how it goes.”

About 10 – 12 volunteers play ghouls, goblins, ghosts, zombies and the like. And there are no try outs for the parts.

“You’d be surprised how difficult it is to get volunteers at times,” he said.

The work is hard. It’s not easy to scream for three hours, he said.