Displays such as these had participants wondering if they were just mannequins or if they were real —  ready to jump out and scare them.
Displays such as these had participants wondering if they were just mannequins or if they were real — ready to jump out and scare them.
Shrieks and giggles filled the Harmony Community Center's gym for the 13 nights prior to and including Halloween where a host of community spirits created an elaborate Haunted House as a fundraiser for the Fillmore Central High School's Music Department.

The First Annual Monster Bash Haunted House was a huge success in many ways, organizers reported. The money raised exceeded the funding goal while garnering a high level of community support from students, parents, community members and businesses from throughout the entire Fillmore Central School District.

Once the project was announced, people stepped forward and shared their time, talents and resources to pull together a final project that far surpassed original expectations.

The true "Mastermind" behind the event was Harmony resident, Jay Masters.

He explained that he has enjoyed the dramatic side of Halloween for most of his life and dabbled with creating a haunted house at his home at Halloween the past few years.

Recognizing the popularity and fundraising possibilities of Halloween Haunted Houses, Masters approached Fillmore Central's band director, Lane Powell, to promote the concept.

The timing was right as the Fillmore Central Band and Chorus had recently been chosen to perform at Disney World at Orlando, Fla., in June of 2014. This trip will require a large fundraising effort.

Masters and Lane Powell, along with the other music department teachers, Jessica Powell and Sarah Holton, formed a leadership group to explore the concept.

Masters was inspired and spent hours gathering ideas from friends and researching online for more inspiration. Ideas were written down and then reviewed carefully for appropriateness. These ideas were then put into three piles: yes, maybe and no.

Once the no pile was cleared, Lane and Masters once again reviewed the maybe pile and after more careful consideration re-categorized these additional ideas.

Masters took these mutually approved ideas and carefully designed on graph paper the best flow pattern for walking through the haunted house. Once approval for use of the community center's gym space was obtained, the haunted house project was ready to take off.

Masters' house design was based on rooms and hallway concepts. Lane reviewed the plans for the electrical needs of each space. Design, implementation concepts and suggested material lists were created for each space and placed into manila envelopes to distribute among volunteers.

It was time to take the fundraising project to the music parents so a meeting was called. By the time the ambitious project was explained to the parents, the envelopes for the sections of the haunted house were quickly claimed. The ball started really rolling as more people heard about the project and offered their skills.

Solicitation letters were sent out to businesses within the school district for monetary donations to cover needed start-up costs and over 80 local businesses, groups and individuals contributed. Those sponsors were honored on signage at the haunted house and on the back of t-shirts.

Originally designed t-shirts were ordered and their sales were another funding source. The shirts rapidly became the local fashion must-have. Businesses ordered shirts for all their employees to wear to help promote the event. Harmony Telephone Company helped out by selling early tickets and shirts in the weeks before. The Harmony Telephone Company also printed up flyers to promote the event in the local phone bills as well as providing enough to be placed all over the region to advertise.

A system of record keeping was developed to track the hours of work the students contributed, which will be converted into monetary credit towards their individual trip costs.

Artistry is said to be found in the details and the details of this event were amazing. Crews of people put in hours and hours of painting, construction and finishing of the structure. There were 100 pieces needed just to form the wooden walls.

The Haunted House included a large cemetery with comical headstones and a roaming ghost, tilt floors, a live werewolf in a cage, an endless hallway created with mirrors, the "Mad Scientist," the electric chair and guillotine, the "Splatter Room," a portrait wall, a ghost car, a visit with Frankenstein's Monster and many other details.

More people came forward to help sell the tickets and shirts at the door. Baked goods were donated for the concessions at the end of the haunted house tour. Actors committed to performing during the run of the fundraiser, a few appeared all 13 nights of the event!

Chris Skaalen, president of First Southeast Bank, portrayed a convincing mad scientist all 13 nights!

Marketing efforts through all free sources were pursued. A Facebook page and webpage were created. Television, newspaper and radio community calendars were tapped and word of mouth invites brought visitors from all over the region. People traveled from La Crosse, Winona, Rochester, St Charles, Decorah and Waukon.

Visitors who toured were impressed with the haunted house. Many commented on how elaborate and well made it was.

Masters was told by one visitor, "Yours is better than the others."

Even though the haunted house is gone now, quickly taken apart and stored for next year, next year's plan includes new displays and new surprises that will be worth waiting for.

The materials will be reused and repurposed in a different manner for the 2013 Monster Bash.

While it was a huge effort, most of the participants said they really enjoyed volunteering and enjoyed seeing the reactions of those who came through the scary displays.

The total money raised is still to be determined as there are a few bills still outstanding. Masters conservatively puts the current estimated total at over $8,000.

When asked if he was glad they did it, Lane Powell stated, "Very much so! I hope to make it an annual event. The parent and student involvement was incredible... the whole community involvement was amazing!"

Masters was deeply moved by the level of support. He said "...Absolutely enjoyed it. So many people helped out! I just want to thank everybody who was involved."