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‘A Lasting Haunt’

Last year, she could hear the screams from her house.

     Melissa Meredith lives in Wesson, and those screams were coming from the Wesson Chamber of Commerce’s haunted house tours more than five blocks away.

     An officer with the chamber, Meredith helped organize the tours, and the screams told her they were doing something right.

     But like any good horror movie series, the chamber’s haunted house is back for a third year, and Meredith and other organizers promise it will be better than ever.

     “We thought we knew how to scare people,” said Stephen Ashley, president of the Wesson chamber. “But we have learned so much.”

     Billed this year as “The Chamber of Horrors,” the doors open for visitors this Friday for the inaugural weekend of Oct. 12 and 13. The scares continue on Oct. 19 and 20, and Oct. 26 and 27.

     Each evening, tours begin at 7 p.m. and are given until midnight. A complete tour should last approximately 10 minutes.

     Admission will be $7 per person. The chamber saw about 3,800 people pass through the doors last year, and is hoping for 5,000 this year.

     The event is moving to its third location in three years, setting up shop this year at the old Sunflower building at 2134 Highway 51.

     New venue aside, some other things will be different this year.

     There won’t be any guides walking visitors through the buildings. Groups will be responsible for finding their way through the maze of frights by themselves.

     Tour designers built a more unified story – tying everything together – rather than a series of stand-alone rooms, Meredith said. Tours start at the waiting room of a hospital gone wrong and spiral downward from there.

     “It’s just going to be wild this year,” Meredith said.

     This year also features an additional attraction alongside the main tours. An animatronics show featuring singing skeletal pirates will be offered for a $4 admission fee.

     Billed as “The Lost Pirates of the Caribbean,” designer Brian King was inspired by his love of Disney theme parks.

     “It’s a dream come true to build an animatronics show like at Disney,” King said.

     A small engine mechanic, King built the entire show from the ground up. That includes everything from cannons fashioned out of PVC pipe and scrap wood to the skeletons’ movements, controlled by RC car servos and custom software. He also recorded the audio and dialogue used in the show himself.

     “My hands are on every part of this,” King said. “Everything here is homemade.”

     To make Wesson’s haunted house a premiere horror-themed attraction, organizers traveled to Baton Rouge this year to visit The 13th Gate, considered one of the top haunted houses in the country.

     The Wesson chamber relies only on volunteers, more than 50 this year, but Ashley has hopes that the haunted house will continue to expand.

     “We hope to be one of the lasting haunts,” he said.