BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Old Fort Commission met in special session Tuesday night to decide whether or not to let ghouls and zombies inhabit the Old Fort for three weekends in October and on Halloween.
The commission held the special session to iron out issues such as dates, hours, insurance, and hear about the details of the event.
As a result, the commission unanimously approved to sponsor the “Dead Zone” at the Old Fort on October 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28, and then open on from 5 to 7 p.m. on Halloween for Trick or Treating. The haunted Fort would be open from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. to allow volunteers to close The Fort down and be out of Riverview Park before the park closes at 11 p.m. Tickets would be $10 per person.
At a previous commission meeting, the commission voted to consider using the Old Fort from 5 to 8 p.m. for three weekends in October for a haunted house.
But City Tourism Director Jean Peiton who has helped organize the event along with Jadi Zioui, said she couldn’t get behind the project if the hours weren’t changed.
“I’ll be honest, I have no desire to try to do a haunted house from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It would be very limited in its audience and you wouldn’t draw the people you’re looking for,” Peiton said.
Zioui said 11 p.m. would be a good compromise even though you are losing an hour of fundraising.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Zioui said. “People are going to talk about it. This year we’re not in it for the money but to show our chops and see what we can do. It’s going to be the best $10 they’ve ever spent, I promise you.”
The haunted house would take groups of five to seven with a spirit leader who will guide visitors through the ground areas and ground level buildings. The concept would be a scary take on the history of the fort in a 12-15 minute tour.
“Once this is up and running, money in the future would be funneled back into the Old Fort. We need to replace uniforms, make sure we have period specific displays when the Fort’s open. When I talked with David and had meetings about these concepts, what bothered me is we need to think outside the box of what we’ve been doing with the Old Fort to come up with ideas to make sure it has some longevity with the community. It tends to cost more with city funding than what revenue it creates. I don’t know if we kept doing things the same if we’ll ever get a different outcome,” Peiton said.
The group had originally planned to start the haunted tours on Oct. 7 and 8th, but with the prison having tours those days, the commission thought it would be better to have the Fort open on those days.
Costumes are being made by volunteers and seamstresses who have offered to help create them.
The other sticking point was insurance for the event. John Luna, the city’s Management Analyst, said a policy could cost the group between $400 and $500 unless the Old Fort Commission itself sponsored the event. If that were to happen then the event would be covered under the city’s policy since a city commission was sponsoring the event.
The commission also said no pyrotechnics or smoking would be allowed on the grounds of the Fort.
On Halloween night, the group would offer a more kid-friendly experience and work in conjunction with the city’s Trick-or-Treat times which are from 5 to 7 p.m.
Peiton said she is also considering using an independent contractor to manage the event and paying that person or group 10% of the ticket unless expenses of the event exceed revenues. A contract is being drawn up for those who may be interested in managing the event.