ROSSBURG — For the past six years, residents of northern Darke County have been treated to a free haunted house.
Dana Widener and her husband, Denny, are truckers, which means they’re only home on the weekends. So from 8 to 11 p.m. every Saturday in October, they like to make sure the kids in their hometown have something fun and spooky to occupy their time.
“We started because the kids in town didn’t have anything to do,” Dana Widener said. “Just walking around from 2 to 4 getting candy. I thought, ‘That’s no fun! It’s like they got rid of Halloween.’”
Widener said moving to Ohio left her family surprised at the limited nature of the area’s Halloween-related activities.
“We’re from California,” Widener said, “where they have all sorts of free stuff going on around town and in the parks. They don’t have that out here. They have a lot of restrictions.”
According to Widener, people in rural areas like Rossburg can have an especially hard time finding fun seasonal attractions to enjoy.
“Out here you can’t always afford to go to a haunted house,” Widener said. “It’s too expensive or they’re like an hour and a half away.”
Widener and her family decided they were going to do something about that. Their haunted house started out in a garage, but they’ve added a series of canopies that encircle the property, forming a sort of “haunted tunnel.” They’ve recently added a 12-by-28-foot addition to their garage, as well, while also trying to add to their collection of scary props steadily over the years.
“We hit the Halloween stores in November, when you can get everything cheap,” Denny Widener said. “We try to add a few new things every year.”
The nearby Rossburg Acres campground offers campers hayrides to the local haunted house. At least 200 people came through last weekend, according to Widener, prompting them to hire seasonal workers to help out with the attraction for the first time.
“Adults from the campground were coming by the truckload,” Widener said. “They come in with their drinks in their hand, and they go on through.”
The Wideners run the haunted house along with Dana’s sons, Mark Rodriguez and Trenton Kessell, who also help out with the attraction’s Facebook page. Each family member loves being part of the haunted house for different reasons.
“I like to make people happy,” Dana Widener said. “I like to hear everybody say, ‘This is better than the ones we pay for.’ The kids we pay say, “We’d do this for free.’ That makes my day. These kids are going to remember this for the rest of their lives.”
“I just love all the compliments,” Denny Widener said. “The kids enjoy it, and we’ve had a few adults come through and say it’s a good thing for the community.”
“I like setting everything up,” Kessell said. “There’s always a surprise. It’s something different every year.”
Meanwhile, Rodriguez, Dana’s oldest son, had a much simpler reason.
“I just like scaring people,” he said.