Edith and Travis Arneson are longtime Jaycees, and along with their daughter, Grace Arneson, are helping run this year's 50th anniversary of the Feargrounds. They sat down with Sioux Falls Simplified to talk about what goes into making a haunted house and how they pull it off with only volunteers.
Answers are edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start by learning a little bit about you–how did you “get smart” about haunted houses? What did you do to prepare for your work with Jaycees haunted house?
Edith: The haunted house has been going on for 50 years, and just being part of the Jaycees ... it's passed down.
- Nationwide, they have a training where they have new props, different effects that you can use. We've had a couple of our members go down to that and learn different things.
We’re all about simplicity here. Can you describe in 10 words or fewer what this year’s Feargrounds is like?
50 years of fear: Circus of Horrors. It says it in the name.
What goes into pulling this off every year?
Edith: Typically it's like February or March when we first start talking about it. Sometimes we're even talking about what's going on next year already (during the current year's haunted house).
As far as preparation and getting it up and running, we have five semi trailers, plus we have storage in our Jaycee office.
- We have our building project manager, he helps design what the haunt looks like, where the halls are going, things like that.
Grace: It takes hundreds of hours of building. I'm in charge of volunteer coordinating this year, and we have a Facebook group. I've been constantly on there saying, hey, we're building, come on out.
What’s something you think is often misunderstood about haunted houses and this type of entertainment? And, if you could set the record straight, what would you say?
Travis: We're all volunteers. And when you wait in line for hours, the customers don't understand why we need to take a quick 15-minute break – all they understand is they paid so much for their ticket, and they're waiting in line this long.
- It's hard to politely educate our customers.
Edith: Some people just like to be scared. We don't recommend it for young kids, but we do have a kids day on Sunday, Oct. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. where kids can see what the haunted house is like without being scared.
Is there anything new or unique about this year’s “Feargrounds” experience?
Edith: We did add our Emily's Closet which is a whole second feature of 3D, so we have 3D glasses as people go through that. We've also added some new props, different effects, and we have lots of generous businesses and volunteers that come out to help build and scare.
- One unique thing this year, one of our young volunteers is actually a third-generation Jaycee, and her grandfather ran the first haunted house project, so it's kind of cool that we've had that impact.
For folks who maybe don’t know, what’s the broader mission of the Jaycees and your haunted house, and what do the funds raised help support?
Edith: The Jaycees is a young leadership organization, so essentially kids 18-41. It's training them up and helping them lead projects ... it's helped them get better jobs, have more self confidence, and all of that helps them in the real world with their jobs and with their own households.
- The funds raised from the haunted house, part of it goes into buying new props, part of it goes to our rent and storage, and a majority of it goes into other projects that we do for the community.
Anything else people need to know before they attend Feargrounds this year? Or anything else you want the good people of Sioux Falls to know about this event?
Edith: One of the things we do is collect canned food items, and even if people buy their tickets online, they can still bring food items to donate. You can also bring up to three cans to receive money off your ticket at the door.