Fun Fact: 2013 marks the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War. We have all heard of Civil War reenactments where history buffs have their own history-infused version of cosplay. Everyone from rifleman to nurses dress up and try to recreate specific battles fought up and down the East Coast. However, one unique haunt in Hudson, Florida is celebrating the anniversary in their own special way.
Starting this fall, guests who visit the Haunted Angelus House’s Haunted Hayride will find themselves in a totally different kind of Civil War reenactment: Zombie style. Yes friends, the Battle of Gettysburg will be (semi) alive and well as hoards of the undead representing Billy Yank and Johnny Reb battle it out again. This time, it’s not about slave ownership… it’s about brains.
After writing about unique haunts around the United States like Blackout, Delusion, Schocktoberfest and more, you may think that a Civil War-themed hayride sounds tame in comparison. However, the theme isn’t what what makes the Haunted Angelus House truly unique. This event is run at the Angelus House, an assisted living facility for people affected by cerebral palsy.
Don Surenkamp started the event in 2006, but it wasn’t an easy journey. Several years earlier, Don hit rock bottom. He was a former drug addict, his wife had left him and he wanted a second chance at life. His brother Ron took him in, who happened to own a Halloween store with costumes and decorations in Indianapolis. On occasion, a school for the deaf would visit the shop and browse all the decorations and costumes.
Don paid particular attention to one girl in a wheelchair who didn’t understand the concept of Halloween at all, much less the store. He would personally push her wheelchair around and show her that the props weren’t real and it was all in good fun. After several visits, he picked up a “severed foot” and held it up to her foot… and something just clicked. This girl who was once scared by virtually everything in the store was now laughing at this plastic foot. From then on, she started to understand that it was all pretend and designed to be fun.
Something clicked for Don in that same moment. He knew that this second chance in life meant he was going to be involved with the community and he found his calling, to help the disabled. Treatment, medicine or therapy couldn’t give this young lady what she needed in that moment, it was simply to connect with another person and feel special.
Several years later, Don found himself living near Tampa, Florida and heard about the Angelus House. This assisted living facility provides housing, therapy, even recreation and schooling for those affected by cerebral palsy. A staff of volunteers and professionals keep the place running thanks to not only some government assistance, but donations from the public. Don was volunteering at the Angelus House and ran a crazy idea by the owner – why not do a haunted house as a fund raiser? With his brother owning a Halloween store, many of the props for the first year could be donated. The rest, as they say, is history.
Keep in mind, even though the entire event is designed to accommodate anyone in a wheelchair or a disability, anyone else is welcome. The community of Hudson has truly embraced the Haunted Angelus House and comes out every year to support it either through volunteering, donations or just buying a ticket to go through the attractions.
Some of these volunteers are actors within the haunted attractions and have a disability themselves. As Don explained to me, a scare is a scare. When that person with a disability scares someone who is healthy, it gives them a certain sense of pride. In that brief moment, the dynamic changes between those two people. For that person in any other circumstance, they wouldn’t necessarily have that same ability.
The entire event, including the haunted house, hayride and even a haunted trail, are all 100% wheelchair accessible. Instead of a haunt that has to figure out a way to make their attraction friendly to those with disabilities, this event caters to those people and understandably so.
The Haunted Angelus House is also extremely family friendly. If you arrive earlier in the evening, they hand out glow sticks for children who are not too sure about haunted houses. That glow stick tells the actors to not scare the child, who otherwise could have nightmares for weeks.
Needless to say, there are no express passes sold at this event. At The Haunted Angelus House, everyone is treated as an equal, no exceptions.
In 2012, Don told me that the haunt experienced a 62% increase in traffic, which is not only great news for the charity, but fans of the haunted attractions as well. Every year, they continue to invest more and more to make it stand up to the big theme park competition down the road.
Don Surenkamp isn’t a doctor or loaded with money. He’s just a regular guy who wanted to turn his life around by giving back to the community. After finding that spark, he has touched the lives of so many people who just need what we all crave in life: that human connection.
If you’re looking to get your haunted house fix this Halloween season, along with helping a truly worthy cause, I can think of no better place than Haunted Angelus. For more information about tickets, volunteering or donations visit www.HauntedAngelus.com.