Could this be the ultimate haunted house for an elementary school fundraiser?

Dorothy's House , Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Dorothy’s House , Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

Several months of planning. Several days of building. And several hours of fun.

My kids were lucky to go to a really good public elementary school here in Austin. Every Autumn, just before Halloween, they have their very elaborate and profitable fund-raising carnival called the Hoot. This is not just some random collection of inflatable rides. The school, the PTA and a huge crew of volunteers go all out. One of the most popular attractions is the Haunted House, put on by the 5th grade parents.

We had an architect, interior designers and other creative parents planning this for months. They transformed a portable building, usually the music classroom, in the Haunted House in a matter of days. I helped out too this year, doing the photography inside the attraction. I came up with a fairly elaborate system which I will discuss in an upcoming post (here’s the post). My involvement though pales in comparison to all the hard work that went into this place. Today, I wanted to share the inside of this Wizard of Oz themed Haunted House.

I shot these photos in the short window just after it was completed and before the first kids started going through. This year’s design was particularly sophisticated and, dare I say, artistic in many ways. Keep in mind that this was all built for a 4 hour event. At the end, it would be torn down and converted back into a regular elementary school classroom. The amount of effort put into this project was truly impressive.

As the first photograph shows, we start in Kansas in Dorothy’s house. This is the first room, where the kids enter. Pushing past the working screen door and you get to the tornado room. You are outside in the field with the storm cellar to the right and the twister visible front and center. There are fans blowing in here create that stormy and windy feeling.

Tornado Room, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas
Tornado Room, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Tornado Room, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

This was my favorite room. It had a minimalist, “art installation in a museum” kind of feel. I wish I could have shot this from a higher angle looking downwards instead of the other way around. My main tripod was already pressed into service for my photo project so I had to use this old short tripod that just happened to be in my car. At eye level, the white ceiling fades from view and you see the simple, artistic details in this room.

Incidentally, as you might have guessed, I used HDR, shooting 3 images at 2 stops apart. Most of the rooms were very dark and I needed a tripod to keep everything aligned and steady. I used my usual Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm and wide-angle adapter.

The Good Witch, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

The Good Witch, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

After going through a dark hallway decorated with corn stalks, you arrive in the land of Oz. You can see the good witch off in the distance. There are several more rooms and hallways until you get to the yellow brick road that leads through the forest. After, you pass through a room where you can see the Emerald City in the distance, projected from the back via a computer controlled projector. Next you get to the witch’s castle.

Yellow Brick Road, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Yellow Brick Road, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

The castle is where I shot the photo of the kids that passed through. The objective was to get candid shots of them being frightened by the Wicked Witch that pops out of the window. Then, there is a final dark passage that has closing doors on either end, where the zombified Dorothy appears (we took liberties with the original story line).

Witch's Castle, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Witch’s Castle, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

Hidden from view, and located in the center of the building is the control center where all the technology and actors resided. Throughout the entire experience, there were sounds of screams, dialog and music that added to the mood. The 5th graders, wearing costumes, slipped in and out of hidden passageways to both scare the kids and get to their pre-set positions. Beyond all the designing and building it was a momentous scheduling job as the actors changed shifts every 30 minutes or so.

Once it started, I was too busy to take it all in. I was manning the photography which kept me busy. As usual, the line for the Haunted House was long and wrapped around the corner. The kids and older folks seem to enjoy it. I’m glad I was a part of this creative crew and truly impressed with the teamwork.

Here’s the followup post about how I did the photography in the Haunted House.


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11 thoughts on “Could this be the ultimate haunted house for an elementary school fundraiser?

    1. Great question and we did. I tend to think along those lines….The only room that made me nervous was the one with corn stalks – but the fire extinguisher was 12 feet away. And we didn’t use any candles, hot lights, or even a fog machine (air quality). We had exits marked and ’emergency/I’m too scared’ exits that led directly to the entrance or exit. We also had parents everywhere in the hidden passages. Now that I think about it – we should have reinforced with everyone a plan and double checked that everyone knew where extinguishers were. You can never be too careful.

  1. I’d love to do something this elaborate with my nursery school kids. Our school is in desperate need of funds and holding a Haunted House could be just the way to raise some money. Love the photos – the E-PM2 delivers some very nice colours. Do you think you’ll update it with an E-P5/E-M5 for the stabilisation? Heather

    1. Heather, maybe someday, but I’m in no hurry. For these photos, it was taken on a tripod so the better 5-axis stabilizer would not help. The image sensor and processor is basically the same as the E-PM2 so the newer cameras won’t improve image quality either.

  2. Hi I am in student council in high school and in charge of the service activities and projects we do at the school. i was really wanting to do a haunted house fundraiser in which the money we earned from doing the haunted house would go to charity. I was just wondering how the funds were earned to create this amazing decor in the haunted house. Or if the school paid for it ?? thanks!!

    1. Hi Jami. The funds were all paid by the PTA which puts on these events to raise even more funds. The school has a very active and successful PTA and this autumn carnival is its largest money maker.

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