Couple resurrecting Scaregrounds attraction as home-based fundraiser

This week, as in Halloween seasons of yore, a sinister, supernatural and mysteriously menacing traveling carnival — run by a character known as the Timoniac — is preparing to haunt the hills, hollows and backyards of historic Lutherville.

It's part of a frightful — yet all in good fun — attraction called the Scaregrounds Haunted Trail that is scheduled to operate this Friday, Oct. 19, as a benefit for the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Department.

Lutherville resident Steve Bauer, along with his wife and fellow comedian/makeup artist/actor Marianne Wittelsberger, are the forces behind the creepy yard show, set up at their home on Seminary Avenue.

The two teach theatrical makeup classes at Towson University, and put that expertise to use for the haunted attraction.

This week, on a rainy afternoon a few days before the Scaregrounds event , the couple and a handful of their minions — part of some 50 actors, technicians and helpers involved in the Haunted Trail — were hard at work preparing for the Friday night event.

Many of the ghastly characters featured will be reprising their roles from Timonium Scaregrounds, a 2010 Halloween fundraiser that Bauer and Wittelsberger staged at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

This week, in preparation for a promo video shoot, Bauer was walking around the century-old home in Lutherville in the guise of his alter-ego Timoniac, a sinister clown with a sharp but nasty sense of humor. Wittelsberger put some finishing touches on his make-up in order to make him look even a bit more diabolic, depraved ... and a bit long in the tooth.

"For some reason older clowns are creepier," said Wittelsberger, who has for years performed with Bauer as comedy duo, The Jokesters.

She said they've played venues ranging from the White House (eight times) to New York City Renaissance festivals and IKEA store openings.

"And what also makes a creepy clown is when you don't apply makeup well, where it's kinda greasy and it kind of looks like it's peeling off," added Wittelsberger.

In addition to Timoniac, Friday's attraction also will feature a black-suited character with a shroud over his head, known as Slenderman.

"Slenderman is an urban legend," said his alter ego, Johnny Benson, of Parkville, who is also an accomplished violinist and composer who has performed at the Meyerhoff.

"Slenderman sometimes shows up in the background of photographs," said Benson, explaining the "back story" of his character. "He has no facial expression, but he's always wearing a black suit. Sometimes his hands are tentacles.

"He lives in the fourth dimension and only the people he kidnaps can see him," he said matter-of-factly. "Everybody else can't."

Benson, like many of Bauer's and Wittelsberger's helpers on the haunted trail, has acted in local horror films and has attended Bauer's and Wittelsberger's classes at Towson University.

Other characters that will appear at the attraction include a devious version of "Jack" (Phoenix resident Sam Lukowski) and "Jill" (Cotty Rasse, of Lutherville).

Slipping out of character, Bauer said the Haunted Yard Tour is really a labor of love for him and Wittelsberger.

In the past, the two have opened their house for historic homes tours that benefited the Lutherville Community Association and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In other words, they're used to having lots of company.

And after years of hosting over-the-top private Halloween parties, this latest fundraising scare fest just seemed like the natural thing to do.

"I went and knocked on my neighbors' doors and emailed to ask them if I could use their backyards for a charity event for the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Department, Bauer said. "And they were like, 'Sure you can use it.' I've really got the best neighbors. These people are wonderful."

The Halloween fright fest and fundraiser for the fire department will be held one night only, Friday, Oct. 19, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., at 206 West Seminary Ave., in historic Lutherville. Admission is $5 and there is free parking down the block, at St. John's Methodist Church, 216 W. Seminary Ave.

More information is available on line, at Timoniumscaregrounds.org. and at Jokesters.Org.

"So we want everybody to come and have a great time," Bauer said. "And if we make some money for the fire department, that's even better."

Things were taking shape early this week, with their front yard adorned with fake tombstones, a smoke machine running and a couple of giant (clothesline) cobwebs draped across the porch. A giant black spider, lurking in wait of prey, was clinging to upper reaches of the house, next to the second-story windows.

"It's gonna be a lot of fun," Wittelsberger said with a grin. "So come early ... and get scared."

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