The Haunted Castle at the Utah State Hospital has been closed, dismaying patients at the hospital, as well as patrons, who are saddened that the Halloween tradition has come to an end.
State officials have ordered that the popular haunted house - set up in the aging castle on the east Provo hillside for the past 25 years - cease operations."It was the scariest!" said Lisa Liberatore, who lives in Alpine. "It's really dark, and the whole setup is really effective. People were willing to wait in line for hours to go through it."
Part of the reason it was so effective is also the reason for its demise.
"It was so scary because the people that were there were the patients," Liberatore said.
That's exactly why the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill wanted the Haunted Castle shut down.
"People have attended this activity because they make an association, consciously or unconsciously, with fear, violence and mental illness," said Meredith Alden, director of mental health.
The decision to close the Haunted Castle came prior to the latest public announcement from the national alliance, said Janina Chilton, hospital spokeswoman. The Board of Mental Health had already decided this would be the final year for the event. Given the negative publicity that started last Halloween, the board decided it wouldn't be worth continuing.
With the new push to end the tradition, however, state officials have decided the Haunted Castle won't have a farewell year.
"I think people have been anticipating this," Chilton said. "We knew it was coming. And even the hospital has mixed emotions about it. It's sad, but it was very time consuming. The staff had to be involved every single night. It got very wearing sometimes."
The Haunted Castle brought in about $100,000 each year, money that will have to be replaced by local advocates and partnerships.
"It is unfortunate that the hospital will have to replace a significant amount of revenue which it has used for patient recreational programs," Alden said. "But no amount of money is worth the perpetuation of misperception and prejudice against people who struggle courageously with serious mental illness."
Randy Ripplinger, Department of Human Services public information officer, said patients who worked as staff for the Haunted Castle are as disappointed as those who regularly came to be spooked.
"It was the patients who initiated the event," Ripplinger said.
Chilton said the patients planned their costumes and roles months in advance. She said the castle lent itself to an atmosphere of spookiness, located against the hillside and generally abandoned. She did not think the hospital would agree to rent the facility out to another group.
"That would still be playing on the same sort of thinking," she said. "We knew that was part of the draw."
She said every effort was made to educate the public about mental illness but understands the advocates' concern over the stigma being perpetrated.
"We need our advocates, so we'll go along with their wishes," Chilton said.