Follow a purple light through the deep, dark recesses of Fort Casey State Park and watch out for any vampires, bloody killers or monsters waiting to greet you.
For the past seven years, the park’s military fort, built in the 1800s, has turned into something sinister every October.
Sharon Young-Hale manages and directs the event and is the programs specialist for Fort Casey State Park. Turning the fort into a haunted house was her idea. She thought it would be the perfect locale. Eerie during any time of the year, the underground batteries at the big gun encampment are dark and cool on the brightest and hottest days of summer.
Now the experience is incredibly popular. According to a zip code survey Young-Hale conducted, about half of the visitors last year came from off island. This past Saturday, she said there were just under 500 people in attendance. On Sunday, there were over 625.
Outdoor games are located outside of the fort, including junkyard golf, played with a club that has a skeleton hand on the end of it.
“This year, for the haunted fort, it’s more about the experience of going into the battery and it being dark,” Young-Hale said.
Fifteen costumed volunteer actors provide jump scares for those brave enough to walk through. There are about 50 volunteers in total who run the event, which is sponsored by the Keepers of Admiralty Head Lighthouse, an organization that supports restoration projects of Whidbey Island’s only lighthouse, also located at the park. All proceeds from the haunted fort go toward those restoration projects.
Wayne Clark, a member of the Keepers and volunteer docent at the park, said that many of the upcoming projects are to make the lighthouse and park more accessible for those with physical disabilities.
“The lighthouse was built in 1903,” he said. “The doors aren’t really compatible for wheelchairs.”
There are also steps leading up to the lighthouse. There is a plan to construct something that allows more access to the lighthouse and to build areas outside of the lighthouse to explain and show the history of the structure.
Clark recalled how popular the haunted fort was even in its early years and how the park frequently ran out of parking spaces.
The first year it was a smaller event at the lighthouse and the battery next to it. There were four haunted rooms and ghost stories were told inside the lighthouse. It later moved to the fort and has changed a little bit each year. Most of the events are inside in order to prepare for rainy weather.
During the pandemic, organizers had to dramatically regulate the number of people allowed to walk through at the same time.
“It just got bigger and bigger and bigger until COVID and now we’re starting over again,” Clark said, adding that he is usually directing traffic and parking or selling tickets.
For the first five years, the haunted house took place at night in complete darkness. After taking a year off due to the pandemic, in 2021 Young-Hale decided to try running the event during daylight hours.
“Our thought was, the batteries are still dark during the day and it would certainly make things a whole lot easier for safety and security and all of that,” she said.
Young-Hale recommended the experience for those aged 12 and older.
While she doesn’t think the fort is haunted in real life, she did admit that she’s had some spooky experiences there.
“When you go through the fort in the dark, it definitely causes your mind to wander and think about the possibilities that it could be haunted,” she said.