Burlingame, California has a great legacy of terror. Why, did you know that it’s where Shirley Jackson spent her formative years? Well let me tell you about my own spook house experience.
I didn’t know I was in for.
Ahh, Halloween, I’m pretty sure it was 1972. I was in the first grade and got a cheap-ass Ben Cooper Devil costume … sans pitchfork, but it’s all good! Before the high-tech boom, the (SF Bay Area) peninsula was just another region with its share of derelict homes. And what happens to a derelict home during Halloween? Back then a charity group turns it into a Haunted House!! YEEAAH!! I didn’t know all if this of course; my six year-old brain thought that this was a REAL haunted house and it was on display for the public. I’m sure my older brothers helped me reinforce this belief. Maybe I’ll see Casper, Booberry y’know.
There it was, perched on the corner of El Camino and Broadway across from the ol’ Phillips 66; some old two-story is all I remember. I could smell the candy apples and other treats wafting from the back concession area. I was hypnotized by the white rope used by the usher before entry, it was glowing under a black light! In we go. We immediately go up a narrow stairway turn, turn, 2nd floor. First thing was the face inside a crystal ball, interesting but not scary. Down the hall was some witch scene or something medieval. By this time I realized this isn’t a real haunted house, this is more like “Frontier Village.” OK turn the corner… oh it’s a barber, with his back to the crowd, cutting some unknown guys hair behind a chair. Then it happened. In unison the chair turned around and the barber showed his face and growled! He was a WEREWOLF! And his customer was a mutilated corpse! It was a jolt of pure terror! I let out this high pitch shriek!
It must have been pretty terrifying because my memory erased the rest of the attraction. My next recollection was my brother, being the obnoxious punk that he was (and still is, ahem) throwing candy at someone in the concession area. I didn’t care, I felt like a survivor. And candy always cheered me up.
The terror’s not over yet! The following Sunday after Halloween, my sister and I had to walk to late mass at Our Lady of Angels. And guess what’s along the way? The Haunted House! every step I took brought me closer to that sepulchral lodging! And it was already dark! Upon arriving I saw a bunch of older kids were tearing up the place since it was going to be demolished anyway. So I felt pretty safe, just as long as I didn’t go in! My sister, pulling my arm, seeing all the fun being had with the destruction, said, “Let’s go in!” There was no way, and I pulled back with all my might. At that moment some kid in the ticket booth right next to us made a big roar and shook a piece of torn-up grass. That was it, my sister got the message, she knew I wasn’t up for it!