by Marty Demarest

When the idea for a story on haunted houses around the Spokane area came up, it seemed like it would be easy enough. After all, what kid doesn't have memories of fumbling around in a dark maze, the sounds of a carnival barely audible behind the soundtrack of sinister music and artificial screams? Images of automated monsters popping out of the blackness and narrow escapes from imagined horrors must be part of the adolescent iconography of any childhood. Certainly that sort of thing still goes on.

Only it really doesn't. Sure there are a few "haunted houses," where half-hearted parents don half-hearted disguises and half-heartedly shock kids as they dutifully trudge through a dark room. but where is the freak in the hockey mask, jumping out from behind a corner as you approach, wielding a whirring chain saw? Where's the desire to really get the bejesus scared out of you? Perhaps we've been desensitized by all those mini-Snickers bars and rolled-up Smarties. These days, it seems, we want the treats, not the tricks.

Just when I was about to give up hope, however, someone told me about the house on Jackson Street. It turns out that tucked in among the residences just north of downtown Spokane, Scott Phillips has been spending a third of the year preparing his home for Halloween night. There's no missing the house as you approach it -- as a barrier to curious eyes, Phillips has surrounded his home's perimeter with tall stalks of corn. The only thing visible is the shape of a tomb, towering over the sidewalk.

Phillips himself, however, is more than inviting and polite. As he shows me through the main floor of his home, the 32-year-old is quick to let me enter the "graveyard" first, and never fails to tell me to watch my step because of "the bodies." When I stop and stare at an actual headstone that looks like it was lifted directly from a cemetery, Phillips laughs. "I've had a lot of friends freak out about that. They come over and tell me 'you've lost it... you're robbing graves.' It's actually a friend of my girlfriend's parents. It's a misprint, and they said that if I could move it, I could have it."

Phillips' enthusiasm for scaring people is infectious, and he says it has been with him his entire life. "When I was a kid, going through haunted houses, I would actually hide in them. My parents would get mad at me, because instead of running around like kids are supposed to do in a haunted house, I'd find a dark spot and hide there, and wait for some unsuspecting kid to come along. So when I bought this house, I decided to make it a haunted house. Twelve years ago, we sat around hoping that somebody would come. But now there's a huge line around the block.

"The first thing we do in July," he explains, straightening an electric chair, "is tack up butcher paper on the walls and decide what we're going to do." Phillips is assisted by his girlfriend and several friends who are part of what he calls "the Boo-Crew," who each year convert Phillips' house, in which the most disturbing d & eacute;cor is the orange kitchen countertops, into a mausoleum of terrors. Last year, the theme was vampires. "This year," he says, "it's zombies." Which would explain the enormous half-decayed figure lurching towards the door in the house's main room.

"All of this is totally new," he says, gesturing towards a pile of what look like corpses in the corner. "That's because of the kids. I've done this for 12 years, and the kids are the ones who will say, 'Oh that was here last year. I've seen that before. This sucks.' So we have to do new stuff -- try to get better and better.

"This year, my idea was to write a story relating to the theme of the haunted house. So even though I don't charge admission, with a donation you get a copy of the story about the tapping under the floor -- which really happened and inspired the theme. It was about four years ago when I felt a light tapping under my feet. And I didn't know what it was - I don't have a basement, so I thought I was having a muscle spasm. But a few days later, Rachel, my girlfriend, was sitting in the same place, and felt a tapping on her leg. So my friend Tim and I decided to tear up the floor, to see what was going on there." As he explains this, Phillips indicates a line running across the wooden planks beneath an enormous Grim Reaper. "When we tore up the floor there, what we found was an unopened door..."

The House on Jackson Street rises out of the earth at 714 W. Jackson. Admission on Halloween night is free.

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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