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Saturday, October 30, 2021

Weekend Special By Matt Surtel of DN:
A Halloween house: Castile couple goes all-out for the spooky season
CASTILE — A telephone rings with a ghostly message. Witches and skulls take their place beside bowls of candy, while push-buttons activate a small army of zany and spooky devices. Jan Wiseley’s house has been transformed into a Halloween extravaganza called Ravenwood Manor. And we do mean transformed.

It started as an activity for Jan’s daughter Heidi and friends. And though it’s generally not open to the public, it’s absolutely immersive for those who experience it.

“I just love it,” Wisely said Thursday. “I love Halloween and all the colors, and the people coming and the kids coming. They have so much fun.”

Wiseley and her husband Jay Cavins started their haunted house about 35 years ago, when Heidi was young. Family and friends were invited for the experience, which at the time was more similar to a Halloween themed scavenger hunt.

It has expanded, becoming more and more elaborate every year since, with skeletons and witches taking up residence throughout. Press a button and a ghoul might ask your fortune. Phantom eyes pop open unexpectedly in everyday objects, while spooky music plays and ghostly faces appear.

Besides the decorations and devices — and there are hundreds — young participants are invited to participate in an “I spy” activity. Each display leads to another and another. They’re grouped around themes such as eyes, clocks, witches and werewolves.

The emphasis is on whimsical and spooky, not scary. Wiseley said she doesn’t like scary things or gore, and Cavins said they essentially designed it for young children and their parents.

“We started in this room, and this room alone, with a witch and several other things,” Wisely said in the couple’s living room. “And then we expanded into other rooms, because I love it. People bring me stuff all the time, and I collect it throughout the year. If I see something, it will go into the room.”

And the collection is vast. The oldest, a witch named Zelda, dates back to 65 years ago. It was bought by Wiseley’s mother when their family was stationed with the Air Force in Weisbaden, Germany.

Many, many others were given as gifts. Wiseley said some of the best came from stores like the now-defunct Big M supermarket in Warsaw.

Others were purchased as far away as Massachusetts and Oklahoma, such as an etching of a Salem tombstone and a Vaudeville-style advertisement of a psychic medium known as “Alexander the Crystal Seer.”

The collection now takes up 75 plastic totes and the couple needs to relocate some of their furniture out of the house when it’s time for the displays. Bowls of candy, fortune cookies and other treats are disbursed throughout.

“I don’t like the scary and the gory,” Wiseley said. “But there’s so many cute things you can do. So many kids like all this stiff, like the wizards. There’s nothing really scary or gory I’ll ever do ... I don’t want them to be scared. I want them to come and not be scared.”

“This is Halloween for small children and adults,” Cavins added. “It’s a little bit of an undertaking to take the house you live in, and take the stuff out, and transform it into this for the month of October. And then after October we put this all back up (into storage) and go back to our regular house.”

How does such a mammoth undertaking come to life? Organization is one of the keys. Storage and planning are meticulous, and Cavins uses his extensive experience as a construction manager in the process.

A wide group of friends is another huge factor. Wiseley and Cavins thanked their friends Jane Eliasz, John Peterson, and Linda Bush. The friends actively help set up the displays, and Heidi, now grown, helps too.

Why isn’t it generally open to the public?

There are practical aspects — to host large numbers of strangers with the candy and treats involved would be enormously expensive, and it is, after all, Wiseley and Cavins’ home where they live. Halloween night is itself already very busy for them.

They invite friends and family throughout the month, and host their routine trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. Then comes the task of converting their house back to its normal — if a bit more plain — appearance.

Wiseley and Cavins are getting a bit older, and Wiseley wants to see the haunted house continue if they can’t do it anymore in a few years. Those seriously interested in taking it on are encouraged to reach out to her.

Heidi and her friends are now grown, and Wiseley and Cavins are now hosting Heidi and friends’ children.

“I think this stuff is just so cute at Halloween time,” Wiseley said. (msurtel@batavianews.com)

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