The nightmare they call home
Dark Carnival sets stakes down in Oconomowoc, will raise funds for OPEF

By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff

Sept. 25, 2014

The Dark Carnival haunt at 212 Wisconsin Ave. in Oconomowoc preys upon people's innate fear of clowns, dolls, darkness and disorientation. Doors to the attraction open Oct. 4, and it will continue to be open from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday until Oct. 31.
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

OCONOMOWOC - A dark carnival that has been picking up drifters, sinister clowns, zombies and other characters that go bump in the night will take up a month-long residence in the old Enterprise newspaper building at 212 Wisconsin Ave.

Beginning Oct. 4, the public can navigate the nightmare they call home.

“The actors take pride in how many customers exit early or cry.” - Brady Dorn

The terror-inducing opportunity, offered on the Fridays and Saturdays leading up to Halloween, is the sixth iteration of the annual haunted house fundraiser put on by the Oconomowoc Public Education Foundation. For four years, the event was Haunted High, staged at the old middle school building at 623 Summit Ave. Last year was the first year the event moved to the 212 address, where it became “Terror @ 212.”

The success of the big top portion of last year’s haunt spawned this year’s “Dark Carnival” theme, which taps into a growing fear of clowns and darker side of traveling carnivals said haunt volunteer Brad Worth.

“Generation X has finally grown up,” he said. “In the process, they decided that clowns are scary, not amusing. And that they need to be stopped.”

In the hall of masks, project manager Brady Dorn dons an expression quite different from the one he hopes customers will sport as they navigate the same area during showtimes.
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

The Dark Carnival doesn't rely on gore for its scares, says volunteer Brad Worth,
but doesn't shy away from it either.
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

The cast of other characters dreamed up by the likes of fellow volunteers Rick Leane, Russ Yost and Kim Foust is just as terrifying, he said.

“This is one one of those itty-bitty carnivals that travels from town to town, picking up drifters and other ne’er-do-wells,” Worth explained.

In addition to providing support for the actors in the haunt - whether it’s coaching them in their lines, doing makeup or applying prosthetics - Worth will be one among many sinister clowns dressed exactly the same, with the same makeup and the same moniker.

“It will be creepy to see all of us ‘Bartleby’s’ being exactly the same,” he said. “The goal of clowns is usually to be unique and stand out. There’s something not quite right about a group of clowns who are exactly alike.”

Scares in the haunt, which takes half an hour to navigate, will come from disorientation, darkness, sights and sounds, said project manager Brady Dorn.

“The actors take pride in how many customers exit early or cry,” he said.

“We have to scare the entire group,” Worth added by way of explanation. “We can’t leave anybody unscared.”

There is also a pride in haunt design and the sense of volunteerism that comes from putting on an award-winning experience each year, he said.

High school literature classes have an opportunity to write backstories for the cast of characters at the Dark Carnival, in addition to volunteering to create their own scary personas. 
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

Haunted High was voted the best haunt in the Midwest multiple times, and OPEF’s effort remains one of the top-rated haunts in southeastern Wisconsin - which Dorn said serves as a testament to the hard work and imaginations of more than 70 volunteers.

There are several instances where entire families are volunteering, Worth said, creating a one-of-a-kind bonding experience.

Customers should keep their eyes on the walls when navigating the Dark Carnival, say event organizers. It is full of creepy and vivid surprises. 
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

The Dark Carnival will be open from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday from Oct. 4 to Oct. 31. Ticketing opens at 6:30 p.m. The haunt is for those 14 years old and older, and 10-to-13 year-olds may be accompanied by an adult.

Tickets are $15 and fast passes may be purchased for $23. The carnival will also be open during downtown Oconomowoc’s trick-or-treat time, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 25. This version of the haunt will be geared to children 5 to 12 years old. The lights will be on and candy will be given out. Tickets to this version are $5.

Strange things will be afoot at the Dark Carnival all month-long. 
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

All proceeds from the Dark Carnival will go to OPEF, to be dispersed in grants for materials, equipment and projects within the school district.