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Home for a howl-o-day

San Carlos family opens homemade haunted house to collect canned food for charities

Blood-curdling screams will echo down the streets of a quiet subdivision not far from Florida Gulf Coast University — possibly your screams — if you dare to visit the Hingson Haunted House of Horrors.

“Oh, I just love scaring college students — that age is the best!” said Shar Hingson. “You can hear the girls screaming all the way to the corner. It gets really loud in here with all the screaming.”

Hingson, a grandmother, doesn’t like scary movies, but she delights in frightening other people. Her family celebrates Halloween by inviting the public to visit the haunted house they and student volunteers built in the backyard. Admission is free with the donation of a can of food for either of the Hingson’s charity partners, the Harry Chapin Food Bank or the Animal Refuge Center.

Students who enter the haunted house will wind through a maze taken over by jungle plants in which beasts, mummies, skeletons and zombies lurk in the fog and black lights. Eerie music blares and strobe lights fl ash, causing distraction until something leaps out to grab you.

Neighbor Rachel Berg, 35, of San Carlos Park, said, “It’s great for kids, with people jumping out of coffi ns. When we moved here, my daughter said, ‘Isn’t that the Halloween house?’”

Berg’s daughter Isabella Seifert, 8, said, “I love when the guys under the table grab your foot.”

Hingson has collected or constructed a head-spinning array of props over the last eight years. She said, “This is a real coffin — I bought it from a church.” Referring to her husband’s patience with her haunting hobby, she said, “Can you imagine being married to someone who wants to buy a real coffin? But he said he wants to be buried in it.” She chuckled and continued, “I told him to tell the kids so they don’t think I’m being cheap. But why not be buried in something that has good memories in it?”

Hingson’s younger brother Keith Beddow, 38, of San Carlos Park, moved back to the area after an absence of several years and is helping the sister he calls “the crazy Halloween lady” to prepare for the haunted open house.

Commenting on how his sister’s Halloween celebration has grown, he said, “It used to just look like the great pumpkin had barfed on the lawn, and now it’s grown to this,” Beddow said. “She just likes to see the kids happy, and this makes her happy,” he said.

Winding through while checking the switches on the animated characters, Hingson said, “You wouldn’t believe how many batteries we go through. Know a good animatronics repairman? We could use one.” She continued, “I’d like to learn electronics and pneumonics and make my own.”

The decorating process has involved a learning curve. One year, the fi rst decoration Hingson put up was the dummy in the hangman’s noose that she strung up in a tree near the mailbox.

“Within a half hour, the Lee County Sheriff’s car was out here with the spotlight,” Hingson said, “so now we put a bunch of decorations out and add him halfway through the month.”

Perhaps the most startling moment is when the Hingson family dog, Mickey, unexpectedly pops out of a display to greet visitors who didn’t notice him.

“I got him a costume once, but he ate it,” Hingson said. “We have to watch him,” she said. “He gives away [the hidden actors’] locations because he comes right up to them.” She continued, “He usually lies by the coffin since I used to do this mostly by myself, and he was the coffin dog. He likes to lie in the graveyard, too. At least I finally broke him of peeing on the headstones.”

So feel like you’re home for Halloween by accepting the Hingson family’s invitation to enjoy their macabre hospitality for the holiday. It will only cost you a donation to a good cause.

If You Go
Where: Hingson’s Haunted House of Horrors
Date: Friday-Saturday, October 25-26; Thursday, Oct. 31
When: 6p.m.-9:30p.m.
Price: Free with donation of canned food

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