National advocates for the mentally ill are asking Utah's governor to stop the "barbaric" and "dehumanizing" haunted house staged each year at the Utah State Mental Hospital in Provo.
In a letter dated Wednesday, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill told Gov. Mike Leavitt that while the haunted mansion has been a Utah institution for more than 25 years, "We know of no other such freak show in the country."Why is Utah reinforcing such negative stereotypes and perpetuating stigma against mental illness on an entire generation of children?" said the letter from Michael M. Malloy, director of the alliance's campaign to end discrimination.
The alliance also asked Leavitt to guarantee the state will replace the $100,000 the fund-raiser makes for the hospital's recreation programs each Halloween season.
"Certainly the points that are made here deserve serious review which we will ask the appropriate people in state government to do," said Leavitt's spokeswoman Vicki Varela. "The letter raises some legitimate concerns."
During last year's haunting season, hospital director Mark Payne said it could be the last for the Haunted Castle, which has drawn criticism in the past.
However, the castle's advocates said eliminating the holiday attraction could hurt the very people it is meant to help - the mentally ill.
The $100,000 raised over several nights is used to finance outings such as camping trips.
The castle originally was the idea of patients who wanted to run a spook alley to celebrate the holiday with the staff and fellow patients.
In time, it evolved into a public event and a fund-raiser for the hospital's recreational therapy program. Ten or 15 patients join up with the staff and community volunteers to create the castle.
Supporters say the castle allows patients to come out of their shells and that they have a good time.
The letter from Malloy called the Haunted Castle "appalling, insulting and injurious to people with severe mental illnesses and their families.
"I do not know which is more offensive - the fact that this horror show is allowed to continue or that the hospital administrators admitted to knowing that part of the draw each Halloween is the public's fear of mental illness."
In his letter, Malloy said he learned of Utah's Haunted Castle in a news story broadcast on National Public Radio.