SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s longest-running haunted house is much more than a spooky attraction. It’s a learning experience that benefits deaf students well after Halloween has passed.
“For me it’s more than just the scares,” said Ed Roberts, co-director of The Nightmare Factory. “It’s the reaction of the public not realizing that this is a school run fundraiser, that it’s on the campus of the deaf school.”
Roberts started the haunt 32 years ago at the Oregon School for the Deaf. He was looking for a haunted house to get involved with, but didn’t find anything else in the community.
So I went to the principal and director at the time and said let’s start something as a fundraiser and get the kids involved and it’s just grown from that,” he said.
The other co-director of The Nightmare Factory, Kivo LeFevre, was just a middle school student back then and said he’s been “fully involved ever since.”
t’s grown considerably in the last three decades, expanding to two attractions inside a 13,000 square foot building. Building and maintaining the haunt is a year-round endeavor. Around 60 people are involved, painting and designing sets, doing makeup, and of course, tormenting the nearly 15,000 people who walk through the maze each October.
“The haunted house is full of monsters and clowns, but mostly just a lot of things people are afraid of,” said Jamila Walker, one of the students behind the haunt. “Like what you would find in your nightmares.”
KOIN 6 met with some of the students behind the show. Some have been involved for as long as eight years.
“I’m a pretty shy person and when I’m in character and have a costume on, I can go ahead and be scary and I love to just see peoples’ reactions,” Izzy Zachary said.
From the little kid who got so scared he peed his pants, to the boyfriends who try to act tough, those reactions are what many of the students love best.
But Shyla Ferguson said she joined as a way to conquer her own fear. “I think that this has helped me to do that,” she said.
Others love the chance to make some noise.
“A long time ago in school I used to scream and yell a lot because I liked how it felt when I did that,” Jenna O’Day said. “And so doing this gives me a chance to be able to let all of that out and be loud.” The students are grateful for how The Nightmare Factory helps their school.
“It pays for the laptops that we have and for field trips that we take,” Jamila said.
LeFevre said working on the haunt also helps students gain practical experience.
“After this experience they become artists, makeup artists, designers, costume designers, all of these different skills that they can then apply to future career opportunities,” he said.
And for Roberts, who started it all, the impact on the hearing community is much more important than a few scares.
“To show the community that deaf can do anything except hear,” he said. “And to teach people to stop focusing on the ear … and focus on the person.”