Halloween attraction in Arbutus a family tradition

The number 13 is a good thing for Robert and Melinda Vaccaro this year as the Arbutus couple prepares for the final weekend of their "Nightmares from Elmridge" Halloween attraction on East Drive.

"I think our scares this year are our best in 13 years," said Robert Vaccaro. "Everything really came together this year.

"It's tough, coming up with scares. We try every year to change every scene," he said of the scary tradition, which began 13 years ago on Leeds Avenue and is now a mainstay in the center of downtown Arbutus.

Vaccaro said while scenes and characters vary, one popular figure will return for a fifth year.

"The biggest thing is the Pig Man. He's really developed into our best character, I think because he's half human and half animal. People don't know what facet he will assume," he said.

Vaccaro said eight main characters, supported by eight additional characters, will greet visitors at the attraction, which is open Oct. 26 and 27, 7-11 p.m., and Oct. 28 through 31, 7-10 p.m.

Their sons, Joe and Frank Vaccaro, are among 20 volunteers with years of experience in frightening young and old at the attraction.

The group also includes Charlie and Chris Shek, Scott Scandra, Matt Kane, Ryan Murphy, Joe Rottman and Dominic Robinson

Not all the characters are male. Casey Shek, 21, who has been with Nightmares since she was 8, Stephanie Leutke, Katelyn Meyers and Abby Marketti also have roles in startling visitors, as does Melinda Vaccaro.

Vaccaro said planning for the annual event, building sets and story lines begins in the summer.

"We attempt to throw people's perceptions off through the use of darkness and sound, not just with the actors," he said.

"We try to stay away from the blood and gore," he said, adding that his research, and talking with others who host haunted houses, indicated that violence is not a crowd favorite. "People like to be startled scared."

Admission is $9 for ages 11 and older and $5 for those 10 and younger.

Again this year, proceeds go to Our Little Jewels, a Howard County nonprofit that provides financial support to programs offering activities for children with physical and mental disabilities as well as funding for research to find a cure for spinal muscular atrophy and other forms of muscular dystrophy.

Vaccaro said the connection with the nonprofit began four years ago when the grandson of good friends of his parents was stricken with the disease.

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