JEFFERSON — The wind shrieks in the treetops, and bare branches skitter across the windows like so many skeletal fingers trying to get in. Then, as you peer out, a hazy face appears in the reflection behind you.
For many, this circumstance is one to avoid at all costs. For others, a little scare provides a shiver of delight, especially at this time of year.
Larry Klietz is one of those people who delights in creating spooky effects and sharing them with others of like mind.
This is his special season.
The Fort Atkinson resident, who for many years worked on the “Dr. S. Cary’s” Haunted House at Jellystone and also constructed a Wishing Well Cemetery in his front yard that became a community destination at Halloween, now has opened a new attraction at Jefferson County Fair Park.
Skully’s Terror Haunted House, open weekends through the end of October, features two semi-trailers full of spooky scenes, complete with live actors and other moving parts.
The whole project has been a labor of love for Larry and his family, growing naturally out of the work he has done at Jellystone, at the Wishing Well Cemetery in their own yard and for friends who wanted to create a truly spooky destination for gatherings and/or trick-or-treaters.
“I’ve always enjoyed Halloween and scaring people,” Larry said. “Working at Dr. S. Cary’s for so long, it became so entrenched in me that there was no way I could just let go of it.
“We started setting up our yard as a Halloween display, and that got more and more elaborate each year,” he added.
After the owner of Dr. S.Cary’s sold that attraction in 2019, Larry helped set up a garage haunt at a friend’s house in town, dividing the garage into smaller themed rooms.
That whole experience served as the testing ground for an even bigger idea — creating their own full-size haunted house.
“For the past several years, Larry has been building things in our basement and garage,” said Mary Beth Klietz, Larry’s wife. “That was the beginning of Skully’s Terror Haunted House.”
Already last year, the Fort Atkinson couple was talking about setting up a full-fledged haunted house somewhere in the area.
With that goal in mind, the Klietzes purchased four semi trailers (two of which are in use this year) and Mary Beth stepped in to help file all of the necessary paperwork to create an LLC to run the haunted house as a business.
“Larry is the creator and builder,” Mary Beth said. “I’m the organized one.”
“Larry built pretty much everything here,” she noted.
As the different elements that would go into the haunted house were completed, they went into storage at the Klietzes’ nephew’s property in Whitewater.
Then it was time to look for a site for the new attraction.
“We were looking in Fort Atkinson to begin with and we found some good possibilities in the community — this was not one of them,” Mary Beth said of the current fairgrounds site, which was suggested later by a friend.
On a whim, Mary Beth drove to Jefferson to check it out, and she really was pleased with the amenities — electrical hookups, an outdoor shelter, lighting, parking, and the arranged loan of a couple of additional trailers, owned by the fair park, as office space.
She talked with Brian Bolan, events and operations manager for the fair park, to price out the possibilities.
“The Fair Park has been so wonderful to work with,” Mary Beth said.
Larry’s jobs working Jellystone maintenance and cooking at the Fireside (Dinner Theatre) helped finance the initial investment.
Once they had lined up all of the appropriate permits, it was time to recruit actors to help put on the spooky event. Larry serves as one, and the couple’s son, Marty, 23, serves as another.
Others are friends and co-workers, all of whom have a passion for performance and a high tolerance for the spooky, scary and gruesome — all in good fun, of course.
As the opening date of Saturday, Oct. 2, approached, Mary Beth made the final publicity push, putting up posters around the area and listing the event online on sites like Haunted Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Larry trained the actors, and Mary Beth helped with costuming and some set items like the curtains between “rooms.” Between them, they created the majority of the special effects.
The attraction opened Oct. 2 and has gotten a really good response so far.
The experience has visitors creep through darkened rooms, no more than two people going through at a time, brushed by filmy curtains and the occasional rubbery zombie part.
(Mary Beth noted that there is no actual touching by any actors at any time, and attendees are advised to stay away from the props.)
As visitors wind their way through the corridors, their sense of space and time is eroded through darkness and sudden blinding spotlights, spinning vortexes, unexpected noises, black light and fog.
There also are mazes, false doors that don’t open and hidden doors that pop open when one doesn’t expect it.
And, of course, the entire place its peopled with spooky personages — some which look alive are not, and some which seem at first to be dummies prove to be live actors who jump out at the haunted house attendees.
“It was quite a lot of work to set up everything at just the right angles for maximum effect,” Mary Beth said.
“I just enjoy scaring people so much,” Larry remarked. “It’s been a life-consuming passion for me. It’s not just during the month of October: it’s all year long.
“I’m always planning or thinking ahead of what else we can do,” he added. “How can we make this better? What other themes can we bring into the operation? Who else can we bring in?”
Larry said his enthusiasm has led to many new friendships with people who share the same passion and want to get involved.
“It has been a fun ride for all of us,” he said.
Larry said that many times he’s been asked where his love of scaring people originated.
“I really don’t know, because when I was young I was not into watching horror movies,” he said. “Everyone thinks that I watch them all. I don’t seek them out just to watch them, but when I see things, I think about how we could twist angles and have someone jump out from a spot that no one would ever expect.”
Larry said he always has been a bit of a prankster in his relations with co-workers, but the pranks he played were not necessarily “scary.”
He thinks he inherited that tendency from his dad and other family members, whom he remembers telling stories from when they worked at the Chrysler factory and the pranks they pulled on some of their co-workers.
The haunted house concept is a natural outgrowth of that love of tricking and surprising people and a way to share that enthusiasm with the community at large.