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Monsters and masks: How one haunted house is adapting for a pandemic Halloween

Courtesy of Adrienne Lenhoff
Ed Terebus, co-owner of Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, says new COVID-19 safety precautions are in place at the haunted house this year.

If this were any other year, Michiganders could expect the usual costume parties, trick-or-treating, and corn mazes that signal the approach of Halloween. But now that COVID-19 is circulating, bobbing for apples is definitely out, and families might not be comfortable accepting candy from strangers this year. For holiday-driven businesses like haunted houses, the pandemic presents challenging questions about how to open up for the Halloween season safely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a holiday guide that ranks popular holiday activities based on risk of COVID-19 transmission. Like traditional trick-or-treating and indoor costume parties, indoor haunted houses—where people are likely to scream—are listed as “higher risk.”

Stateside spoke with Ed Terebus, co-owner of Erebus Haunted Attraction, about how his team approached opening for the season. He says they’ve adapted some of their usual frights and implemented new safety precautions at the half-mile-long haunted house this year.

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“It might not be all the tricks and goodies that we have to offer, but we’re still out there scaring people, and we’re still getting people screaming,” Terebus said.

Preparing for the Halloween season required the team to meet several guidelines in order to be COVID-compliant, and there were moments when they weren’t sure they would open up this year, he says.

“We went back and forth. We talked to the city, the county, the state, the governor’s office,” Terebus said. “Some people weren't quite sure. The governor’s office was actually very, very helpful with giving us some guidelines of what we need to do.”

Erebus Haunted House outside of building
Credit Courtesy of Ed Terebus
A line stretches around the half-mile-long Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

After clearing their plans with the city, Terebus says, Erebus reopened in late September with a number of safety precautions in place: face masks, temperature checks, social distancing, sanitation stations, airbrushed makeup for actors, and increased cleaning each night.

He says that due to popularity and social distancing rules, the line to enter the attraction is a bit longer on Fridays and Saturdays. On opening weekend, one person was killed in a shooting near the haunted house, which allegedly occurred following a dispute about cutting in line. Terebus says his security team doesn’t patrol the parking lot where the incident took place, but “definitely, it’s something you don’t want to happen anywhere.”

After months of isolation and uncertainty amid the pandemic, many people are already experiencing increased tension or fear in their own lives without the influence of All Hallow’s Eve. But Terebus says Halloween isn’t just about horror—it’s also about fun, nostalgia, and becoming someone or something different from yourself.

“My daughter wants to be a dinosaur, and my son wants to be a superhero,” he said. “You’ve got to allow them to be that, and even if you’re going to do it on a limited basis, you’ve still got to do it. You’ve still got to carve the pumpkins. ... You’ve got to stick your hand in that goo and pull out those seeds, you know?”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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