Exclusive look at 3rd Street Asylum

Local haunted house gives a behind the scenes look at production

By Photo by Margaret Mellott
Actors at the 3rd Street Asylum spend hours before the house opens to prepare to scare customers.

Video by Brady Rolig

Margaret Mellott, Adri Talavera, Grace Van Inwegen, JagWire reporter

Hearts race and palms sweat as bloodcurdling screams echo through the narrow corridor. Psychotic doctors, deranged clowns and animalistic pig men lurk around the building, seeking out new victims. Like most haunted houses, 3rd Street Asylum provides scares that exploit one’s deepest psychological fears. However, their history is nearly as chilling as their production.

In the late 1800s, bodies were laid to rest at it’s location at 3rd and Cedar in Bonner Springs, as it was originally the location of a cemetery. When the cemetery was relocated, those who could not afford to move their deceased loved ones to the new cemetery didn’t, and a one-room schoolhouse was built on top of the remaining bodies. After a fire destroyed the school, it was rebuilt and later replaced by a high school in 1918. After another 65 years of use as a school, the building was abandoned and sat empty for a quarter of a century.

Co-owner Steve Hoffine and his business partners leased the building from the city and officially began operating it as a haunted house in 2009.

To this day, Hoffine said the presence of the spirits of those left behind is still felt by those who frequent the building.

“Our actors all swear they’ve been touched, they get pinched, they get hair pulls,” Hoffine said. “People have seen things in here. [There is] stuff that moves [when] there’s nobody in [the] room.”

Whether or not the spirits

mentioned exist, it is undeniable that the 3rd Street Asylum is terrifying. The slogan this year “What are you afraid of?” focuses on fears such as darkness, claustrophobia, snakes, spiders and, oddly enough, pigs.

“The … really weird thing we found this year was that people don’t like pigs,” Hoffine said. “No idea why. Well, people in pig costumes, not just pig-pigs. People that look like pigs freak people out.”

By utilizing the senses, violating personal space and identifying the ideal victim, Hoffine and his cast have garnered rave reviews.

“Instead of somebody just scaring you [visually], it’s [the] smell, and that triggers emotion,” Hoffine said. “It’s sound, noise, it’s scratchy … So you’ve put people in a very uncomfortable position and they’re already nervous and they’re edgy – that’s when you can really get them.”

There are rules in place to keep actors from actually touching haunted house goers as part of 3rd Street Asylum’s policy for maintaining the safety of both the actors and guests.

“Our policy is typically not to touch people … That’s not to say [guests] won’t get bumped or [ran] into or [an actor] gets really close … for some of us that’s how you get the best scare, you get right up in somebody’s face,” Hoffine said. “There’s a pretty good chance [an actor is] going to get hit … Not because somebody wants to hit you, but just because [the actor] has done their job and [the actor] has scared [the guest] and the [guest’s] reaction is to swing.”

Hoffine and his staff take pleasure in scaring their guests to extreme extents.

“Last year we had a group that ran out [of the haunted house] bawling, tears coming out their eyes … The line was all the way out the door and down the street … people are just watching these girls scream and run and cry,” Hoffine said. “The actors take pride in listening to people say they peed. We’ve had [guests who have had] panic attacks … [We’ve] had at least two people throw up … they were so terrified they threw up.”

After surviving the entirety of the haunted house, guests often share their experiences with Hoffine.

“I really enjoy just talking to the people outside after they’ve gone through the house,” Hoffine said. “It’s really rewarding seeing how much fun they had despite how scared they were.”

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