Haunted roller barn features cast of creepy characters

— Created October 27, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Shannon Bly

For those who may have missed it, the historic Roller Barn has made its annual transformation into a haunted barn for the month of October and this weekend is the last opportunity to enjoy it. Led by new owner James Croft, this year’s scare event takes brave thrill seekers inside a haunted mansion, the Morris House.

On arrival, visitors are given the history of the fictitious “Morris House,” which has been known to plague families for over 100 years with mysterious disappearances, sudden family illness, and unexplained paranormal activity. Participants are invited in and warned to beware or become another of the house’s many victims.

The Morris House journey begins at the front walk and porch, where the hideous and spooky victims of the past will greet you. Visitors will travel through every room of the mansion, including the parlor, kitchen, laundry room, and a basement that hasn’t been cleaned of cobwebs in a century. Eventually visitors will find the back door and journey out into the night, where a full moon has drawn dangerous creatures out to roam. The journey leads the way through a corn field, a swamp, and a graveyard before re-entering the house, but visitors won’t find safety there! Instead, they’ll make their way through the top floor bedrooms and nursery and the lucky few will find their way out of the house to safety.

The Haunted Roller Barn offers three experiences. A lights-on matinee takes younger and jumpier participants through the haunted house without the live action scares. There are plenty of creepy, bloody, spooky props to give a frightful and fun experience to kids and their caregivers.

The full haunted house experience is available each evening. Many of the scares are automated, or play on visitors’ fears using lights, noise, smoke, texture and confined space. Haunters are also waiting throughout the house to jump out and spook visitors, usually driving them into yet another scare.

Amanda Power plays the girl from “The Ring,” crawling out of a dark corner to scare her “victims.”

“I hear a lot of ‘nopes’ as they come around the corner and see me,” she said. “I don’t get too close to people because they are usually running away from me.”

The third experience visitors can have in the house is the interactive laser tag option. Visitors can enter the Morris House wearing headbands and armed with laser tag guns. They must traverse the mansion, defending themselves against the monsters inside. Haunters in the house slowly “suck” the life from the headbands, so visitors must defend themselves against the haunters and try to stay alive. There are different difficulty levels of life in the headbands.

“It turns the whole house into a big game” said Power. “It gives the players a sense of confidence and excitement going through, [and makes them] pay more attention to the details of the rooms.”

James Croft, owner of the Roller Barn, began working on his vision for the haunted house last month. His family and the Lujan family have worked long hours every day constructing the haunted mansion, decorating the rooms, and sourcing materials they needed that weren’t already in the Roller Barn basement. Croft “put his heart and soul into this project” said Power, referencing his vision for the haunted house and the amount of work he’s put in to make it happen.

The Roller Barn itself has “a very rich history and significance to the community, but the haunted house kind of has its own rich history,” said Power. For multiple decades, the Oak Harbor community has turned the basement of the Roller Barn into a haunted house, creating a devoted following of both visitors and volunteer haunters and earning top ratings among Washington State Haunted Houses. Each year, new rooms and props are built to keep visitors guessing and give them different scares. The haunted house even had well-known haunters, such as Mr. Giggles the clown, who Power remembers meeting for the first time when she volunteered as a haunter.

“He was known for his creepy clown costume and devotion to the house,” she said.

Proceeds from the haunted house will go to fixing up the Roller Barn, which is in need of major renovations. Nearly lost to a developer a few years ago, Croft purchased the barn and continued leasing it to the Boys and Girls Club while they remodeled their new clubhouse. Along with the haunted house, the Roller Barn is open for roller skating and parties, and will soon feature laser tag, arcade games, and black light mini golf.

A Washington Historic Building, the Roller Barn was built by Otto Van Dyke in 1912 for the Neil family dairy farm. It opened as a roller rink in 1950 and since then has been a memorable part of childhood for generations of Whidbey families.

“The kids in this community want somewhere fun and safe they can go and I think that’s incredibly important for them to have,” said Power. “I remember that when I went to the Boys and Girls Club [at the Roller Barn] and skating with my friends and then to scaring in the haunted house. So many happy and core memories and safety came from the barn.”

The rich history of the barn and its current vision can be read on the Roller Barn’s website, therollerbarn.com, which also features haunted house hours, reservations, prices.