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Welcome to the first installment of The HOUSE OF DOOM!!!'s Vintage Haunts From Cincinnati's Past section. We're starting off with the group that started it all (the WSAI-Sycamore-Deer Park Jaycees events) along with the best haunt ever put on in the area, the Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycess House On The Hill. Later installments will bring you more recent landmark events like the Night Of Fright (including rare shots of the interior in operation) and Nightmare On Glenway. You'll also see lesser known classic haunts like the Horseshoe Valley Haunted Trail, The Covington Community Resources House, The Comboni Mission Center Haunted Manor, The Middletown Haunted Hotel At City Center, The Asylum Of Terror, The Fairfield TD Club Haunted Woods, the Campbell County Jaycees, and more. 


Dark rides and walk through 'spook houses' have long been an accepted part of the amusement park and carnival scene. However, in 1970 the seasonal haunted house was something that was an unknown quantity. That year the nation's first "Halloween Haunted House" was put on at 108 St. Clair in Clifton (site shown above) by the Sycamore-Deer Park Jaycees/Cincinnati Recreation Commission and co-sponsored by then top rated radio station 1360 WSAI. This event was only open for one week (October 24-31) and on weekends ran from 1-5 PM as well as its daily 7-Midnight time. The first of 13 houses put on by the group set a high standard of excellence and in many ways was superior to most of today's haunted events.
In particular, the first seven events were masterpieces. Each was held in a different location, and was kept secret until the morning of opening day. WSAI tirelessly promoted the event, doing remotes almost every night of operation and going so far as to give 'virtual tours' of the houses on-air, giving detailed descriptions of each room one by one in between songs. The Sycamore-Deer Park Jaycees put on events that were deserving of all the attention. Most of these early houses were located in the Clifton area (1970, 73, 75, 76) with the 71 in Reading, the 72 in Price Hill, and the 74 by Xaiver University. The Clifton house in 1975 looked quite a bit like the Psycho mansion (and now houses apartments). The 1972 house on Grand Avenue in Price Hill was huge, with well over 30 rooms. While the 1971 house in Reading was unremarkable, it had a great location-located directly across from a huge, sprawling cemetery. The 1976 house was a creepy old huge building that has also since been renovated. Probably the best of the lot was the 1974 house on Victory Parkway by Xavier University (which is itself pretty scary-turning out career alcoholics by the score).  It was held in the old cancer research center and was located in the middle of some woods which were stocked with monsters and billed as the 'petrified forest'. It had some excellent effects, including an early attempt at using holograms, a huge spider, an animated dragon, and an Exorcist room complete with wildly bouncing bed.

This was well before the day of mass produced custom Halloween props, so the Jaycees built sets that were realistic down to the smallest detail. The first room in the first house set the tone for everything to follow-Dr. Frankenstein's lab. With the sparking electrical equipment, operating table, bubbling test tubes and flasks, the Monster and 'wax figure' Dr, Frankenstein, it was even more detailed than a Universal Monsters horror set. When they needed a 'human butcher shop', they moved in glass fronted meat display cases. A laundry room full of mutilated corpses had a multitude of industrial strength machines with corpses spilling out the front. Costumes, masks, lighting, sound, crowd control-everything was top notch. While the event generally concentrated on the classic monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, The Mummy, etc, they usually had a few gore rooms thrown in-a pack of zombies around a bone littered rock, a Helter Skelter room, a housewife with a severed head, a blood soaked bathroom, and more were on display at various times.

The event began a downward slide in 1977 when it moved into a mall (even one as deserted as Swifton Center). The amount of rooms was dramatically curtailed (going from well over 30 to 13) and the event was put together with rooms abutting on rooms with no passages in between. Things were worse in 1978 when WSAI changed its format to country-it did very little promotion of the event and was to be the last year the radio station sponsored the event. The event this year was held in Union Terminal. In 1979 it probably reached its lowest point when it moved into a small house on a former used car lot-there were only about 6 rooms. 1980 saw it move into Cincinnati Gardens. 1981 and 1982 were both held in Swifton Center (in a different location than 1977). These houses were much improved on the inside, featuring excellent set design (including an early vortex-like spinning tunnel) and makeup/costuming. The radio station sponsor was Yes! 95 with former WSAI disc jockey Jim Scott heavily promoting the event. The future looked bright again for the event, but 1982 was to be its last year. One can only presume that after doing 13 years of the event the creators were burnt out.

Newspaper Ad For The Nation's First Seasonal Haunted House-The WSAI-Sycamore-Deer Park Jaycees Haunted House

Featuring artwork ripped off from the Disney "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House" LP. Check out that admission price-$1.

The 1972 WSAI Haunted House

It was the dark color seen on the top floor while in operation, and many of the rooms still sported their decorated paint jobs years later.

The 1975 WSAI Haunted House

The 1976 WSAI Haunted House


The Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees jumped into the haunt fray in 1971. Their haunt that ran every year at the old naval reserve center was a major attraction and was so well received that they ran a two room preview of the event at the yearly Butler County Fair and had a Haunt Parade that saw their 'monsters' march from downtown Hamilton to the event on opening night. However, bigger things were in store in the form of the old building that looked down on the naval center from its perch on the densely wooded hill above...
The Butler County Home had been built in 1884 by Gibbs & Co of Cleveland and was used for the indigent elderly and other wards of the state. As you can see from the photos, the building was massive (a center tower and two wings, comprising 98 rooms-and some of those rooms were bigger than houses!). Its Victorian styling also made it an imposing edifice-it was such a landmark that several postcards featuring the building were issued in the early 1900's. Many reports of abuse to the inmates and residents were reported in newspapers of the 1930's and 1950's. It began to be shut down in the 1950's and as inspectors closed down floor after floor (due to structural concerns) a new County Home was built. This was opened and the old home sat vacant for some time before the Jaycees moved their annual haunt into it in 1978.
The Haunt that ran there from 1978 to 1982 (billed as the Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees House On The Hill and sponsored by radio stations WMOH & WSKS) was, simply put, the most impressive haunted event I have ever run across. The setting, the extremely long tour times, the multitudes of monsters, and very creative rooms added up to something the likes of which might never be seen again.

In the first couple of years of the event, you would park in the school lot at the base of the hill. A bus would then shuttle you up the steep, winding wooded road to the event. In later years, parking was provided by the church across the street and the hauntgoer would be immediately confronted by the size and macabre glory of the home. If there was ever a building that looked haunted, this was it. I've been to some other rather menacing looking buildings (the Waverly Sanitarium, the Mansfield Reformatory, the House Of Nightmares) but none of them even come close to the Butler County Home.

Outside, the Jaycees ran line entertainment that included such things as speakers in the Port-O-Lets and having DJ's buried alive in the front yard. There was also a continuously looping tape of sound fx running outside (the best I've ever heard)-somehow, the Jaycees even managed to get Vincent Price to provide the voice over for it (he mentions the event and HF Jaycees by name). Inside, more of the home was opened up every year and by 1981 the event had been split up into two haunts inside. It covered the entire basement along with the first and second floors-probably about 70 rooms in total. The sheer size of some of the rooms allowed the Jaycees to put up sprawling graveyards, mazes, caves, and forests. This was the time when mass produced props were unknown, so all of the rooms had a unique and fresh feel. The event never lacked for volunteers-there could be 50 monsters or more running around inside. Some of the better known repeating rooms were the Creature Cages, Amityville Red Room, Checkered Monster (an early version of today's dot room), Frankenstein's Lab, the Vampire Crypt, Werewolf Cemetery, Hell, and the Hospital Wards Of Death. Much was made of the house's past history as an infirmary and there were plenty of rooms drenched in blood and body parts with a medical setting. There were still cells in the basement complete with barred windows and doors used in part of the haunt. A typical tour ran about 40 minutes. There were even extras provided by the house-bats were nesting in the attic, and occasionally one would find its way downstairs-and some awfully realistic rats were spotted as well! The house itself, with its winding corridors and in a run down state, provided a unique and creepy atmosphere.
For 5 years it was the top attraction around-however, time marches on. In July of 1982 the structure was given a demolition order for late 1982 by the Butler County Commissioners. Many preservationists, led by the Commttee To Save The Old Butler County Home, attempted to have it declared a historical landmark in the Court Of Common Pleas and prevent this. The battle in court went back and forth, culminating in December with the awarding of a demolition contract to Steve Rauch Inc of Centreville (the real villains of our piece). Within half an hour, Rauch had a clamshell and front end loader chugging up the road to the house. They were stopped three hours later when David Garrison, Attorney for the Committee, received a restraining order from Richard N. Koehler of the 12th District Court Of Appeals in Middletown. Those 3 hours saw a corner off the southeast wing demolished, the stone steps in front ripped out, and a large hole appear in the side of the other wing.

For a while, it looked as if the preservationists would win. However, around 4 AM on February 17, 1983, a mysterious fire broke out in the evening and despite the best efforts of firefighters, the central tower and the south wing were heavily damaged. While it was speculated that the demolition company was 'trying to hurry the legal process along', nothing was ever proven. Fire Chief William Hieb declared the damaged sections as unsafe and ordered them razed, leaving only the north wing. With the majority of the house gone, the preservationists gave up and allowed the destruction of the north wing.

The Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees lost almost all of their haunt gear in the fire. They returned after a year's hiatus to do a 'Rent A Monster' program and later had a very successful run of seasonal haunts at Fantasy Farm (with an actual Dark Ride, a cave, and a regular haunt). They had a much less successful haunted Festival at Americana for a few years, and hit rock bottom with their Haunted Theater at the Dixie Drive In. They haven't been active in the haunting scene for a few years now, but they remain one of the legendary haunters in the Tri-State area.

1907 Postcard Of The 'House On The Hill'

The Rear Courtyard

The Forbidden Top Floor

Popular nesting spot for bats!

1981 & 1982 Newspaper Ads For The House On The Hill

Enquirer Photo Of Firefighters Combatting The Blaze

Enquirer Photo Of The North Wing After The Blaze