A hall of spiders. A bridge over live rats. A room of bats. A tomb. A treasure chest. A spooky library.
All of these delights, and many more, await visitors of the Green Center Haunted School House in Albion, a popular Halloween attraction for more than three decades.
Although a tradition for many who visit, even repeat visitors find new thrills and chills each year, thanks to the spooky obsession of one man who has been at the heart of the Haunted School House from the very beginning.
Bill Pappe spends much of his time dreaming up new adventures for the building, which actually was a school house for many years. It was in 1982 that the school left the premises, and the township had a choice: to bulldoze the building or turn it into a community center.
“They decided to accept the building, and to make it all legal, they paid a dollar for it,” Pappe said. “At that time, we’d have a fall festival every year and a fish fry, maybe the end of September until the beginning of October. Once the school became a community center, some of us got together and decided to have a haunted house as part of the festival.”
Although Pappe’s wife is a native of the area, it was in his home state of Michigan where they met while they were in school in Grand Rapids.
Pappe had fond memories of the haunted houses of his youth and decided to take advantage of those experiences in putting together a fun haunted house adventure of his own. For a few years, the community center was also the home of a local archery club, which required Pappe to move out his haunted rooms during the off-months.
“When the archery club was in here, I’d have to set up our haunted house and then tear it down so they could have the space in the winter,” Pappe said. “But after a couple of years, the archery club quit, and I approached the board — I wasn’t on the board yet at that time — and asked if we could keep it up. It’s a lot of work to have to take it down and set it back up every year. We’d have to store the big walls in the storage room and the kitchen.
“They gave me the OK to keep it up, and I was able to start building some permanent rooms. Two of the ones I built then are still up today — the Principal’s Office and the Upside Down Room, where I wired the table and chairs to the ceiling to feel like you’re actually walking on the ceiling since everything in the room is upside down.”
That ability to design permanent rooms meant not only less set up but the ability to keep adding to the rooms. With the help of some other volunteers, Pappe’s original scheme took only two classrooms in the back of the building, rooms attached to a storeroom and a kitchen which formerly served as the school’s faculty lounge.
Pretty soon, they needed to move to a larger segment of the building so the mayhem could grow both out and up.
“We’ve made a lot of improvements over the years,” Pappe said. “Pretty soon we were running out of room but still had some ideas in our heads and decided, ‘Let’s go upstairs.’ So we started punching holes in the ceiling and moving things into the second floor, and that’s when we built the Vortex Room. Pro Systems built the vortex for us, and it’s been a great addition.”
Pappe is dedicated to the haunted cause and is constantly on the lookout for ways to spice up the atmosphere. Trips to antique shops and stores like Hobby Lobby have added nice touches to the different rooms. After the death of an Albion doctor, he even stocked up at an auction on some of the estate’s supplies to provide some creepy medical jars and effects to the scenery. And the cage of live rats stay with him during the offseason as beloved pets he refers to as “my boys.” He also looks for new attractions as funds permit.
“This year, we’re going to have a meat locker, a wolf den, and a spark room with a fence that gives off sparks,” Pappe said. “I’m just thinking about it all the time and coming up with new ways to do it.”
His partners in crime in recent years have been neighbors Rick and Gary McDowell, and Pappe says the three have been a team ever since they first expressed interest in helping out around 15 years ago. After 36 years of spooking people, Pappe is obviously pretty good at it.
“Every year, we bring in 2,000-plus people, and they come from all over the place. They’ll tell us that it’s the best they’ve seen anywhere.”
In addition to the rooms, Pappe gets to play some characters in the rooms where he can see the fear firsthand. Even much of the promotion comes thanks to his own old-school cut-and-paste process.
“Our posters show an old school house that I took a picture of,” Pappe said. “Then one day, my wife and I were on our way to church and saw this tree that was filled with birds, and I knew I had to get a picture of it. It was just like that old Alfred Hitchcock film where the birds are right next to that school house.
“We went back to get our camera, and the birds were cooperating because they were still sitting there. But the grass around the tree was mowed and didn’t look very scary so I found a place where the grass was taller, took a picture, and I blew it up and put it together with the school house and the tree with the birds, and, voila! I think you have to have a mad mind to come up with some of these things.”
The Green Center Haunted School House, located at 2768 East 300 South in Albion, is open Fridays and Saturdays through the end of October, serving up the scares from 7-11 p.m. each night.
And if the night is chilly or rainy, it might warm those who dare visit to know that the building provides large hallways for those in line to take the nearly one-hour tour through the creepy imagination of Bill Pappe.