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    Haunted houses tone down terror

    Organizers say fears of anthrax and terrorism attacks have caused them to change some plans. But that doesn't mean that all the ghouls will be gone.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published October 26, 2001


    This year's Halloween in the Park on Honeymoon Island will feature the usual ghoulish activities and displays: horse-drawn hayrides, a scavenger hunt, a haunted trail, pirates, scary witches and two spine-tingling graveyards.

    But one planned scene won't be there: a faked airplane crash, complete with a "dead" pilot and some passengers visible through the windows and a skeleton still in its parachute hanging from a nearby tree.

    Organizers of area haunted houses and other Halloween attractions say the true-life terror of Sept. 11, along with the fears of anthrax and further terrorism attacks, have caused them to change some plans.

    At Honeymoon Island, for instance, a plane will be there -- but no bodies, and no hanging skeleton.

    "I hanged something that said "Cargo box,' " Toby Brewer, assistant manager and head event decorator at Honeymoon Island, said. "I thought that would be in better taste."

    Mental health experts say such adjustments are smart moves.

    "When you have a traumatic event, there is a time when people are in shock," said Dr. George Warren, a Belleair psychiatrist. "Most people have felt that our world has changed. It's not as safe as it used to be."

    That means children, and adults for that matter, are simply not ready to face images that remind them of the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terrorism. Perhaps they never will be.

    Ron Folkman, who has designed a huge haunted house with themes from movies like The Exorcist, Hannibal, Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist and I Know What You Did Last Summer on the East Lake High School campus, said he didn't include a single reference to terror -- unless you count movie bad-guy Freddy Krueger. And he toned down the gore.

    Folkman was going to let students put epitaphs on tombstones. One wrote, "Here lies Tom blown up by a bomb." Folkman decided instead to turn the tombstone around so the message was angled away from public view.

    Organizers suspect that recent war-related events have caused people to avoid Fright Fest, Largo's annual Halloween event that began Oct. 12.

    Entertainment director Stephanie Moffett understands.

    "It's kind of hard to scare people," she said. "People are scared enough."

    Especially Denise Brooks-Wisse of Seminole, who doesn't even let her children, J.J., 8, or Jennifer, 10, watch horror movies.

    "I feel celebrating fear is not a good idea," she said.

    But Kevin Lewis of Palm Harbor, father of Stephanie, 11, and Sarabeth, 7, said his children won't confuse Halloween events with real terrorism.

    "It all has to be put into perspective," he said. "I don't think young children associate terrorist acts. They isolate that. It's very different what happened at the World Trade Center."

    Here's a list of North Pinellas Halloween celebrations:

    East Lake High School Haunted House fundraiser: Features scenes from your favorite horror movies including Nightmare on Elm Street and Psycho. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12. It will be at East Lake High School, 1300 Silver Eagle Drive, East Lake. Times are 7 p.m. to midnight today and Saturday.

    Halloween in the Park: The fourth annual event with hayrides, a nature trail, scavenger hunt, haunted graveyard and a ghostly storm will be from 6 to 10 p.m. today and Saturday on Honeymoon Island, 6 miles west of U.S. 19 (30 minutes west of Tampa) on State Road 56. The fee is $5 per carload.

    A Haunting Halloween: Dunedin Recreation Department's holiday event will be from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday at Dunedin Community Center, 1141 Michigan Blvd. It has hayrides, costume contests, a petting zoo, pony rides, a DJ and more. Tickets are 25 cents each.

    Fright Fest: This event featuring haunted child and adult trails, a "Boo Bash" for the kids, contests, storytelling, rides and entertainment began Oct. 12 and will continue until Halloween night. The hours are 6 to 11 p.m. Admission is $9.95 for adults and $4.95 for children. It is at 400 Central Park Drive, Largo.

    Halloween at the YMCA: A safe Halloween for adults and children with crafts, trick or treat bags, tattoos and costume contests will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Clearwater Branch YMCA, 1005 S Highland Ave. Admission is $1 for YMCA members, $2 for nonmembers.

    Nightmare on Second Street: Enjoy a scary Halloween celebration featuring the stuff of your worst nightmares from 6:30 to 10 tonight and Saturday at Rigsby Recreation Center, 605 Second St. N, Safety Harbor. Admission is $4.

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