Darkness is a universal fear. Turning out the lights was the only thing the cast of the "Monson Chamber of Horror" had to do to make the Tunnel of Doom one of the scariest attractions in its haunted house.
"You crawl up and down ramps and around curves, but we don't have to do any special effects. Their imagination does more than we can ever do," said Colorado Mountain College astronomy professor and SKY Club sponsor Jimmy Westlake.
This is the fifth year the college's SKY Club has put on the Monson Chamber of Horror haunted dormitory on the campus of CMC. It is open from 6 to 10 p.m. tonight and is a great way to start the long list of Halloween activities in Steamboat, from the Depot Art Center to Ski Time Square.
Admission to the haunted dormitory is $7 per person. Proceeds go toward a SKY Club scholarship that is given to an entering science or engineering freshman.
"I did a haunted planetarium at Young Harris College (in Georgia) before coming to Steamboat," Westlake said. "We had a SKY Club there, as well. I got the idea of haunting the planetarium in 1986. We did it for seven years, and it grew into a major fund-raiser. It funded everything we did."
Westlake came to CMC in 1998 and started looking for a place on campus to haunt. He discovered the old, abandoned third floor of Monson Hall.
In the haunted dorm's first year, 200 people came through. It has grown steadily to last year's record number of 800 visitors.
Last year, the SKY Club decided to dedicate all money raised to a scholarship for an incoming science or engineering freshman. It raised $2,000, which was matched by Alpine Bank.
"When we reach $10,000, it will become endowed, and we can award the ($500) scholarship off the interest," Westlake said. "That is our goal."
"Monson Chamber of Horror" is created by a cast of 24 monsters and ghouls, CMC students, who take visitors on a frightening guided tour. Groups of 10 enter the haunted dormitory every 10 minutes. The tour takes about 35 minutes.
There are some returning highlights, such as the Tunnel of Doom, Westlake said. The Dining Room also returns, which features dinner and a Halloween-themed movie. "These are animated movies I made a few years ago featuring Gumby -- 'A Nightmare on Gumby Street' and 'Friday the 13th,' starring Gumby."
Visitors also will meet Mrs. Johnson, the sweet old English teacher who has been living in Monson Hall for many, many years, and Bob and Dave, students whose spirits have lived in a room since 1966.
New attractions this year are a couple of rooms based on the movie "The Ring" and "a live baby alien that was captured from a UFO crash," Westlake said.
"Not many people know this: In 1989, a UFO crashed into Monson, but the FBI and the military jumped on it immediately," Westlake said. "We call it Area 69."
This might be the last year for the "Monson Chamber of Horror," Westlake said.
"They are in the process of renovating. The third floor might be turned into classrooms, so we will have to find an off-campus sponsor. If anyone within the sound of the newspaper is interested, they should call me. I would hate to see Steamboat's best haunted house disappear."