WHEATON – A local Halloween staple that has been a source of screams and giggles for more than a decade will be shutting its doors after this year.
Well, shutting its garage door.
Wheaton resident Larry Hunka and his family have created a haunted house in their garage every Halloween for the past 13 years.
It’s grown from a small event with friends to a tradition that has spooked more than 200 folks of all ages each year.
Hunka said he was originally inspired during a childhood family vacation to Disney Land when he went on the Haunted Mansion ride.
“I really liked the Disney concept – scary and fun, without being bloody,” he said. “I was impressed with the approach they took and I started trying to replicate that in my own home growing up.”
For years, he ran a small haunted house out of his basement, accumulating or building props to scare those closest to him. After a short stint haunting his local church, Hunka quit the craft when he went away to college.
“When I got married, I had to break it to my wife that I just had boxes of Halloween stuff that we would have to move,” he said.
At a previous house, Hunka and his wife, Liz, scared at a smaller scale, with a haunted walkway.
But when they moved to Wheaton, they decided to take all the props out of storage.
The Hunkas have six separate rooms set up in their garage. While each has varying themes from year-to-year such as creepy TV repairman, circus and zombie fallout shelter, the family consistently relies on misdirection and creepiness, instead of blood and gore.
“There’s always a tour guide, usually me, who wanders from room to room with a little spiel for each room,” Hunka said. “You don’t walk into the room and know what the gag is, there’s always some kind of payoff.”
That approach has proved popular with fans around the area, including an elderly couple who visited from Schaumburg after hearing about the Hunka’s ghoulish set-up.
Hunka said that he, his son, Jeremy, and his son’s friends, who play the characters in the haunted house, adjust their scare factor depending on the perceived constitution of the people in line.
He said they feel terrible whenever someone becomes too afraid at their garage.
“It’s heart-wrenching,” Hunka said. “It’s the exact opposite of what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m trying to give people a good, healthy, fun scare – I have no desire to send anybody home with a nightmare.”
The haunted garage has been so well-received that the Hunka’s host a party for the adults in the neighborhood the weekend before Halloween so that they too can enjoy a good fright. They have also taken up a collection every year to support Alzheimer’s research in honor of Liz’s mother, who suffered from the disease.
But despite the popularity, they said, this year will be the last for the Hunka haunted house. With Jeremy going off to college next year, Hunka said, they won’t have any ghosts and without his son to help, Hunka said he would just, “become a creepy old man with a garage.”
Nevertheless, Liz said they wanted to go out with a bang.
“People are really disappointed. They just can’t believe we’re not doing it,” she said. “We’re going to have to get away next year or suffer from withdrawal.”
But to keep with the spooky tradition, Liz suggested the family visit Salem, home of the infamous witch trials.
“Maybe we’ll go to Boston and see some spooky stuff,” Hunka said. “It’s still in our blood.”
If you go
What: Hunka Haunted House When: 3 to 7 p.m. Oct. 31 Where: 1951 Chatham Drive, Wheaton Cost: Free