Last Saturday I was rocking back and forth covered in dust and blood. People were staring at me. It was one of the best nights out I have ever had.
I volunteered at the House of Pain haunted house in Rochester. Volunteer work is always a rewarding experience, and I do not downplay its value to society. I will say, however, that I have never had an adrenaline high like this while volunteering.
The opportunity presented itself when a friend, Leah Stacy, the producer of Rochester's Metromix website, said I could shadow her while she volunteered at the House for an upcoming feature to appear on their site and in insider, a Rochester-area magazine.
It's worth saying right now that I don't really like being scared. Every year roller coasters and haunted houses pass by me unnoticed. If you have the constitution for it, though, House of Pain has everything you could want in a haunted house. Lindsay Dzwigal, daughter of House owner Joann, gave us a tour of the House while the lights were on. It was still creepy.
The House of Pain used to be a children's dentist office before anesthetics and laughing gas were introduced. Think about getting a tooth pulled today. Now think about being nine years old and getting a tooth pulled back then. OK, now consider being the next kid in the waiting room, hearing that first kid scream his lungs out. Lindsay said that the family has found patient cards, old chairs and drills, even a human tooth lying in the dust.
The place really is haunted. Several parties, ranging from supernatural professionals to regular volunteers, have consistently described seeing the same ghosts without any knowledge of previous encounters. Lindsay said the ghosts are children, a couple of boys and a girl who actually don't mind them using the House - they even get a kick out of it.
It's easy to see why. The dining room where we stood is supposedly the little girl's favorite. It may have always been a dining room; long smoked windows and an old pantry encircle a high ceiling. Sitting there between groups, I imagined dental scholars adorning the chairs, talking over the wails from down the hallway. With these images in mind, Leah and I took our places as living dead and settled in for the next four hours.
There is something about scaring people - something really powerful. In the second group, there was a boy of probably 14. I burst out of my hiding place and crawled, Gollum style, toward him. His eyes lit up like flashbulbs and he jumped over furniture to get away from me. He broke the leg off a table. Procuring such a high level of emotion so quickly gave me a tremendous high.
As the hours passed, I realized that the strength of my character was not in startling people, but in inflicting that crawling-skin, snakes-and-spiders effect. With each group I tuned my character more finely, realizing that rocking back and forth, hands clutching my sides staring wide-eyed into the dark was enough to reach my goal. People stared at me, not with judgment but with hesitancy. That feeling embedded in the visitors, the more startling aspects of the House were visibly fervent.
To anyone who loves to act or simply experience fear, I would recommend volunteering, or better yet, testing your mettle by touring the House. The 30-minute experience is more than worth the $15 dollar admission. Joann and her friends give meticulous attention to detail, and all profits go to charity.
The House of Pain is located at 800 East Main St. in Rochester and is open Thursdays and Sundays from 7 - 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 7 - 11:30 p.m. Look for the feature in Insider's Oct. 22 edition and at rochester.metromix.com.