In the appropriately creepy setting of an old factory building, Merrill’s Boy Scout Troop 599 will present The Haunted Sawmill in the days leading up to Halloween.
The Haunted Sawmill will be open for scares Oct. 21-23 and Oct. 27-31. Weekday hours will be 6-10 p.m. and weekend hours will be 6:30-11 p.m. The evening tours are geared toward adults and teens. A much milder version of the haunted house will be offered for younger children in the afternoons from 2-4 p.m. on both Saturdays.
Advance tickets are $5, or $6 at the door. With the donation of a non-perishable food item, $1 will be knocked of the price of the at-the-door ticket.
Since April, the leaders and scouts of Troop 599 have been busy transforming the former factory building at the corner of 8th & Hendricks streets into a house of horrors.
The Haunted Sawmill theme fits perfectly with the building’s history and creates a spooky storyline around a local legend that has given bad dreams to generations of Merrill children.
This gruesome tale begins innocently enough, with a group of Boy Scout leaders trying to think up a new fund raiser for their troop. One of those leaders happened to be Jerry Hersil, a Merrill attorney well known for his love of all things Halloween. Hersil’s elaborate displays of homemade monsters have graced his front lawn every fall.
But don’t look for monsters at the Hersil home this year – he and his crew of enthusiastic accomplices are far too busy assembling the Haunted Sawmill.
Hersil had long been pushing for a Boy Scout haunted house, but a suitable location eluded the troop until they discovered a connection to the new owner of the former Northern Specialty building. The facility was more than suitably spooky and the owner was willing to give the Boy Scouts the run of the place.
“Once we had the building, it was game on,” Hersil said.
The planning for the Haunted Sawmill began in earnest last fall, and work began in the spring. Since then, adults and scouts have been working three nights a week to get everything in place.
“We’re really fortunate to have incredible parents and kids in our troop,” Hersil said. “The time they’ve put in has been amazing.”
Scout Nathaniel Stenberg, whose parents are on the Haunted Sawmill committee, has spent a lot of time working in the old factory over the past several months. He said he’s learned about teamwork while being involved in the project.
“We have a lot of fun when we’re here,” Nathaniel said.
The Haunted Sawmill project has been headed by a committee that includes Hersil, David & Sarah Stenberg, and Derek Krzanowski.
“The people on the committee share creativity and enthusiasm,” Hersil said. “The energy level has stayed high.”
As the work has progressed, the Haunted Sawmill has fulfilled the original concept and then some.
“We kind of knew what we were getting into,” Krzanowski said. “It’s definitely grown since the beginning.”
While some of the work involves skills and experience provided by the adult leaders, the boys have helped with many aspects of the project.
“The Boy Scouts have been involved in helping to build, and some of them will be acting in the shows,” Hersil said. “We also have the boys help come up with ideas for the theme rooms.”
Inspiration for the theme rooms sometimes came from items found around the old factory or from items donated by scout families or local businesses.
“A lot of Scout families donated a lot besides their time,” Hersil said.
The Haunted Sawmill received sponsorship from Associated Bank, Agra, Wisconsin Public Service, Ament, Wolf, Frokjer & Hersil Law Office, Ministry Good Samaritan Health Center, Pine Crest Nursing Home, Cosmo Theatre and Merrill Federal Savings & Loan.
“We scavanged whatever we could,” Hersil said. “You become very creative when you don’t have a big budget.”
That creativity, mixed with the skills and enthusiasm of those involved should add up to big thrills for those who dare enter the Haunted Sawmill this Halloween season.
Hersil expects The Haunted Sawmill to rival the best haunted houses in the area and become the biggest annual fund raiser for Troop 599.
“A lot of the money we raise is going to help us with the projects we do,” Hersil said. “It will benefit the troop and the community. We do lots of community service projects.”
When the door creaks open on opening night, 30-40 people will be involved in running the show, from taking tickets and food donations to acting in the haunted house.
Troop 599 is still accepting donations toward the Haunted Sawmill. To see the wish list or to follow the progress of The Haunted Sawmill, check out the Facebook page at facebook.com/HauntedSawmill.