Cody Harloff was caught clowning around Friday evening at Harvester Center.
Of course, the stark white face with black-rimmed eyes and deep red lips didn’t seem quite so jovial as you might expect from a clown, but that’s because Harloff was part of the haunted house on the first floor of 56 Harvester Ave., Batavia.
“I’m gonna give them the thrill and, kind of keep pushing and make them shake a little bit. It's been a mix of reactions. Some people have no reaction. Some people are screaming and running. We've had a bunch of people run through faster than they should be, going through. But it's been quite fun,” he said. “I feel like there's not enough organizations like this in Batavia that do stuff like this. So I think it's just good for them to come and get out. Whether it's, you know, the thrill of Halloween or just spending some quality time and having fun.”
Walk right up, and wait for the heavy metal door to open. An escort will wave you in by rapping his heavy wooden dowel on the door. Once inside, the door slams shut. It’s a first-time haunted house at Harvester Center sponsored by the Just Kings Social Club. It runs through this weekend.
Not to give anything away, but a group of girls just ahead screamed their heads off, albeit, not literally. With each flinch and movement of the key house inhabitants, the girls let out a whelp and scream until finally out the other end with some fluttered breathing. The Batavian asked Chloe Cullington, 13, what got to her during the walking tour of gravestones, creepy residents, corpses, and a very loud noise reminiscent of a massacre-esque movie.
“The clowns, they were the worst,” Chloe said while trying to catch her breath. “And the chain saw.”
Her friend Meki’ayla Vazquez, 15, agreed that the clowns were pretty scary, especially in the hazy darkness filled with fog. “I couldn’t see anything.”
They were in a group of about a half dozen girls, and each one let out a scream during various points throughout the haunted house.
The evening offered up a trunk or treat and hay rides earlier on the street, followed by the Halloween feature inside. Kristyn Thomas greeted visitors as they lined up, estimating toward the end that at least 100 people — youngsters, teens, and adults — came through.
“It’s been steady, with no break. It’s kind of cool because you have people who never had the opportunity to go to a haunted house, other than in Buffalo or Rochester,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting.”
She’s the wife of Victor Thomas, one of the chief organizers with Just Kings Social Club, a civic group that aims to give voice to the black community and raise money to then spread some kindness and cheer amongst local children. The Kings’ initiatives have included backpacks for school and, for this fundraiser, buying Christmas gifts again this season for kids.
“We’re hoping to raise a bunch more money so we can help a bunch more families. We just wanted to find a way that we could do something that we can raise money to really help out on Christmas,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we can, on top of doing what we usually do, by getting toys and donated items and giving that back to the community. Hopefully this year, we'll be able to start a little earlier and have kids actually write to us, and maybe we can grant that one wish. So like, say, if a kid had a specific wish, and he wanted an Xbox, well, this is gonna give us enough money that we can actually grant a wish instead of just donated gifts.”
More details will be publicized, probably after Thanksgiving, he said. Just Kings has a membership of 10 people, all of who work to raise money through activities including barbecues, and now the haunted house. A first-year event, Thomas believes it may be a yearly happening. For the moment, though, he was focused on this weekend.
“Tomorrow is going to be even bigger. There will be live music and different events, the scavenger hunt, so hopefully, it just gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “We really don't have a goal … just to help more kids than we had last year."
The nonprofit assisted nearly two dozen kids and 12 families last Christmas, he said.
He and three fellow members, Ray Williams, Terry Smith and Greg Munroe, worked every night after work to build the haunted house atmosphere. Harvester Center Manager Jared Clark offered the use of the Center, which has a perfect landscape for such a creation — a cemetery across the street and a cavernous building that certainly could stoke one’s imagination.
“Me and a couple of the other guys have been here every day, busting our butts to get this done. So I know our wives and our girlfriends are happy that this is the final weekend because they'll see a little more of us around the house. The way it's going now, it can definitely generate money for our Christmas drive. So if we can get this to go annually, that'd be awesome,” Thomas said. And bring something back to Batavia for Halloween, because there's really nothing other than trick-or-treating, so it’s a different idea.”
The guys had some fun developing ideas for the house, with a barbershop — just where is he going to use that razor? — and a creepy doll room, to name just two. Local companies stepped up to sponsor, including My Cut Barbershop, WNY Concrete Corporation, and Keith Roth Allstate Insurance.
Rob Credi, owner of Pub Coffee Hub, extended his shop’s hours to correlate with the haunted house, reaping him at least another 15 or more customers for the evening. He will be selling Thriller Pizza on Saturday as part of the spookfest.
Saturday’s line-up happens from 5 to 8 p.m., with hay rides for $2, and a scavenger hunt; and the haunted house goes from 7 to 11 p.m. Festivities on Sunday include a House of Bounce activity, hay rides and penny carnival from noon to 5 p.m., and the haunted house from 6 to 9 p.m. Admission for the haunted house is $12 a person.
“So we're just trying to continue something to give these little kids something to do on a Friday, Saturday night that they usually don't get to do,” Thomas said. “We just had a seven-year-old coming through here and he wasn't scared of anything. So if your parents are watching, if you're watching scary movies at home with your parents, and you're watching them with your little ones or whatever, and they're not scared, bring them on down. It's a good time.”
Top Photo: Haunted house occupants are waiting for your visit this weekend at Harvester Center, 56 Harvester Ave., Batavia; a group of visitors catch their breath after walking through the spooky exhibit; other creatures look forward to entertaining people on Saturday and Sunday. Photos by Howard Owens.