2016-10-13 / Front Page

A haunted past

Funtown haunted mansion of 1980s to be profiled by filmmakers
By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer


A composite photo of the former Haunted Mansion near Funtown in Saco. Indie filmmakers Nick Steele and Ema Hutchins of Rochester, New Hampshire, are working on a documentary film about the attraction. (Courtesy photo) A composite photo of the former Haunted Mansion near Funtown in Saco. Indie filmmakers Nick Steele and Ema Hutchins of Rochester, New Hampshire, are working on a documentary film about the attraction. (Courtesy photo) SACO/NEW HAMPSHIRE – Two indie filmmakers have begun a documentary project exploring the life and history of the Haunted Mansion, an entertainment attraction that existed at Funtown from the early 1980s until 1996.

Of the few pages in the “History” section of Funtown’s website, two lines are dedicated to the Haunted Mansion:

“Cascade Water and Amusement Park opened the Haunted Mansion in 1986,” the page reads. “An extremely popular attraction, the Haunted Mansion was closed in 1996 due to the high-risk of operation.”

According to Nick Steele, 28, of Rochester, New Hampshire, who is making the documentary with Ema Hutchins, 21, also of Rochester, the Mansion was a “walkthrough,” where patrons were welcomed – often, challenged – to walk through the house to come out the other end with their wits about them.

Dave Libby, an actor at the Mansion, standing in costume at the entrance to the walk through. Libby operates a website dedicated to the former attraction, thehauntedmansion.org. (Courtesy photo)Dave Libby, an actor at the Mansion, standing in costume at the entrance to the walk through. Libby operates a website dedicated to the former attraction, thehauntedmansion.org. (Courtesy photo)
“One night, I was standing there and I had a touch on my shoulder,” said Ron Spiller, a former patron, in an interview with Steele and Hutchins. “I turned around and it was the grim reaper. He put me right out of my shoes.”

Steele started the project this past summer when he came across a website maintained by a former Mansion operator, thehauntedmansion.org.

“This literally stemmed from my passion to find out more about these guys,” Steele said. “I thought that their story was interesting. Telling all my friends, ‘Hey, I talked to this guy who was at this attraction you don’t remember,’ you know, how do I share that sort of nostalgia?”


The haunted mansion was destroyed in 1996 by a controlled burn. According to Funtown, its bad condition was an insurance liability. Fire departments from the area, around six of them, used the burn as a training exercise for firefighters. (Courtesy photo) The haunted mansion was destroyed in 1996 by a controlled burn. According to Funtown, its bad condition was an insurance liability. Fire departments from the area, around six of them, used the burn as a training exercise for firefighters. (Courtesy photo) Steele said that motivation combined with the fact that Hutchins, his girlfriend, is a filmmaker. Hutchins is currently a camera assistant and the two have produced short fiction films in the past. This is their first documentary. Steele said the documentary will include newly uncovered facts and history of the Mansion, and of the lives of the people who worked there, including some strange and interesting trivia.

“There’s gonna be a ton of new stuff. Like, stuff no one’s ever seen before,” Steele said. “Stuff like, Cory (Hutchinson, to be featured in the film) was telling us, the old gates of the Mansion are his bed posts now.”


A frightening prop inside the Haunted Mansion, called “Granny Bag-o- Bones.” (Courtesy photo) A frightening prop inside the Haunted Mansion, called “Granny Bag-o- Bones.” (Courtesy photo) The scale of the project is also exciting, Steele said. “What we thought was gonna be 10 or 12 interviews is looking more like 40 or 50,” Steele said.

Steele and Hutchins have already done interviews of former patrons and former actors at the mansion. They provided the Courier with some highlights of those interviews.

“At the beginning, you walk in and turn the corner, and it was pitch black,” said Ron Spiller. “They had a woman in a chair. And the chair would rock, and the guy in back of her would come over and put a knife through her. That’s the way it started.”

“The last time I went into that mansion I was like, 10 years old,” said Nicholas Gallant, a former patron, in an interview with Steele and Hutchins, “and I remember going down into the catacombs and they had these guys that jumped out at you. It looked like a prison inside there. It was probably the scariest thing I had ever seen at the time. I remember I went in and I came back out probably 10 minutes later the same way I went in ‘cause I was too scared to go the rest of the way through.”

“I kinda remember like a black and white checkered room, with a strobe light that really freaked you out, people moving around really quickly around you,” tells Hutchinson, a former patron. Hutchinson is now general manager of Funtown.

Spiller remembers the same room.

“A guy, he was in a corner, and the strobe lights were goin’ so bad it looked like he’d reach out to grab you,” Spiller said. “So I tried to block his arm, and realize that he’s not there.”

The interviewees, along with Steele, also recalled memories of seeing actors walking around Funtown outside the mansion.

“I avoided the employees in the park,” Steele said.

“I always avoided them,” said Judy Spiller, a former patron. “They scared the crap out of me, I’m sorry.”

“I saw a couple of the guys walking around, but they didn’t scare me,” Gallant said, “because they weren’t in the house. It was only when they were in the house, and it was in the park. It was scary.”

Steele and Hutchins have also interviewed actors who worked at the mansion.

“My favorite thing to do was the front door,” said Andy Davis, former actor. “You really got to interact with the people coming into the house.”

Davis recalled the creative freedom he had working at the mansion.

“I would do things like make latex appliances and put them on my face,” Davis said. “I was going kind of crazy with it. I was something different every day.”

“I used to have this leather whip,” Davis said. “I’d just slam it into the house. It would make this crazy noise. People would shit their pants.”

“The approval process for something like carrying a whip with the general public went like this: I didn’t see it in the handbook where it says I can’t use a whip – I must be able to use a whip. That’s how it worked.”

“Upper management never really came to the house while it was operating,” Davis continued. “They had bigger fish to fry at the water park.”

“Working at the mansion was the first time I was ever paid to scare people,” Davis recalled. “I was making a living scaring people. And, that to me was just, nirvana.”

The Haunted Mansion came to an end in 1996 when area fire departments used it for a controlled burn.

“The haunted house was a massive liability,” said Hutchinson, who was not in charge at the time. “There was no fixing that house. There was not enough exits, there was nothing set up for fire extinguishing, no sprinklers through the whole thing, and our insurance company basically looked at it and said, ‘Do a nice deed, give it to the community, let them burn it.’”

“I watched the fire departments light it up,” Hutchinson continued. “They started downstairs, started the fire there. Let’s say, Saco put that one out, and then they backed away, and then they started a fire in what would have been an upstairs bedroom, and Biddeford went and put that fire out and, I think it was six or seven local communities that we involved in that, and then at the end they just torched the whole thing.”

The story of the mansion is compelling, said Steele and Hutchins, because it was such a unique thing. It’s something that can never occur again,” Steele said. “It’s amazing that it occurred when it did, and, it’s a point in time in the ’90s and in the ’80s, the mansion and everything about the mansion kind of encapsulates not only the culture around horror at the time but also kind of the ’90’s/’80’s culture.”

“I look at these kids almost like ‘Clerks’ (a 1994 comedy film) in a haunted mansion,” Steele added.

“This is a time of huge freedom, that we get from everybody,” Hutchins said. “It was a real home for everybody that worked there. But it was also just, the nostalgia that comes out of these people when they talk about it is just unparalleled.”

“Talking to these guys, they were able to create a world that no kid nowadays could ever,” Hutchins added.

It’s this kind of environment that drew in unique personalities, said Steele and Hutchins. It’s a kind of environment that Steele can identify with; Steel works at a comic book store, Jetpack Comics, in Rochester.

“It’s a place where a lot of the people who didn’t necessarily have a group, or a place in the world, found this haven to give out their weirdness and their youth, I guess,” Hutchins said.

Steele and Hutchins will continue to make the documentary in the coming year. Readers who wish to contribute can contact Steele at nicksteeleuk@gmail.com.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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