Ghosts, Gouls And Goblins At Gesto’s Spookhouse, A 40-Year County Tradition
Saturday October 3rd, 2015
Posted at 10:00am
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What do canned goods and haunted houses have in common? Take a little trip to Gesto at the end of the month to find out.
Kathy Mailloux and her three partners in crime are taking the Gesto Spookhhouse for another go this year. Raising over 5,000 canned goods annually, and most recently donating $200 worth of hats, mittens, scarves and more to their local St. Vincent de Paul, the Gesto Spookhouse has been a staple in Essex County for more than 40 years.
“It’s surprising to see how many people say ‘I can’t believe you guys don’t charge for this,’ or that they went to another Spookhouse and paid $10, $12, and it wasn’t half as good as what we have,” said Mailloux. “I think a lot of people think ‘oh, it’s two canned goods, it can’t be any good,’ but the people who are in it put so much dedication and hard work in their own exhibits, they take pride in it and I think that’s what makes it good.”
Mailloux, along with her husband Philip Mailloux and his cousin Jason Mailloux have been putting on the Spookhouse as a team for approximately six years, with the most recent addition to their team, in her first year of officially running the event, being Jason’s fiancé Laurie Ewing. The team meets in June each year to lay the ground work, and then bring their volunteers on board in August to make sure they have enough bodies to make the Spookhouse happen. Mailloux said they have such committed volunteers who are always posting new ideas on their Facebook group and webpage throughout the year.
“We have quite a few people who have been in this longer than I can even remember and they’ve come back every year,” said Mailloux. “They’re willing to take these younger kids and help them, give them ideas and show them how to do things. You have an older generation helping out this newer generation coming in having no idea how to do it. Just a couple of weekends ago I had a couple people who didn’t know how to work a drill or a saw, they had never been taught.”
Mailloux’s own daughters, her youngest in the twelfth grade and oldest in college, began as volunteers with her when they were too young to volunteer inside the house. They started out as runners, collecting cans and running food to the crowd. Now, Mailloux said it’s exciting to see them running their own exhibits and even leading people through the Spookhouse. It’s a gradual step up as the volunteers commit year after year to the Spookhouse and it gives them something to achieve. More than 100 volunteers come out year after year and Mailloux said over 60 per cent are high school students looking for community hours.
“We usually have a decent amount at set up, we do have a couple of people who only come out for the weekend, we have some that just want to build,” said Mailloux. “But I would have to say our biggest struggle is always tear down. We always sign sheets on the last night, which we’ve always said we should sign them after tear down because usually it’s just five or six of us who are tearing down every year it seems. It’s hard, it’s always the hardest part to tear down those walls and stack everything up, it’s a lot of heavy lifting, but somebody’s got to do it. How can we say we aren’t signing their sheets until afterwards when it’s all volunteer? So we’re just grateful that the event goes on because without them, we wouldn’t be able to even run it for the weekend so I’ll take what I can get usually is what I tell everybody.”
To put such a big event on year after year can become overwhelming. It takes a lot of family time, personal time and it’s an exhausting task. Being able to hear the screams, seeing the smiles on people’s faces, hearing the laughter and the cheer of people when they go through the house, that’s rewarding for everyone who’s put in the effort to make sure the Gesto Spookhouse lives up to it’s reputation. Not to mention, Mailloux said they always make sure to feed their volunteers each night and even have some meals donated by people in the community who haven’t been a part of the Spookhouse for years. But there’s one thing that Mailloux looks forward to every year, a specific moment that shows her all their hard work was more than worth it.
“When I see somebody who’s worked with all of these families who are on hard times, get tears in their eyes, and a group of people being so thankful when they come and get the cans and everything else, that part to me makes it all worthwhile because it is a lot of hard work, but when you see that, what it benefits, it’s all worth it,” Mailloux said.
The Spookhouse has a deep history in Gesto and has popped around to a few different locations over the many, many years. Beginning with Randy Voakes, moving to the Sineave’s, and being station at the Edwards’ home for approximately the last 25 years. This year, due to the passing of the late Cecilia Edwards, the Spookhouse has made the move to 2594 County Rd. 12, remaining in Gesto along the same strip of road. Mailloux said it was hard to make the move, having to take all of their props, equipment, walls and more to the new location, but they’ve been able to make the transition as smooth as possible and have a number of pros at their new venue including a larger barn which allows the entire Spookhouse to remain indoors, and a shed where attendees can wait in a warm, sheltered area. The only thing working against them is perhaps the lack of parking.
“We used to have the school right across the street for parking and it was easy for us. But here, that’s a lot of cars to have parked on both sides of the road,” said Mailloux. “The Essex Fire Department is coming again this year, safety is a big thing for us so we do have the fire trucks come out with the volunteer firefighters giving their time and standing there, helping us make sure there’s no fighting and everybody is staying off the road.”
It’s still uncertain if the Spookhouse will live on. Mailloux said she knows she and her partners would like to see it go on, but it is a large amount of work. The food sold at the event from the prior year always kicks starts the purchasing of supplies, food to sell at the BBQ for this year, props and more, but there’s always some out of pocket costs and Mailloux said the biggest part of the Spookhouse has always been the not-for-profit part of it. It’s never been about making any money and they’ve always donated everything that’s been raised right back into the community, so the hardest part would be saying no and stopping that.
“We have thought about what we would do if it was our last year and obviously any of our volunteers who have been with us for so long, we will ask if they would like to take it on,” said Mailloux. “Then that would be our next step is donating to something that is on the same lines as what we do, passing down the tradition. It has been thought about, how this did sit for about 10 years so do we let it sit another couple years? Jason and Laurie’s kids, my kids, who knows, if they want to start it up again in a few years. But the hardest thing is always saying no, and because we know that St. Vincent de Paul is always looking forward to these cans so it’s hard to say no when you know they’re expecting something.”
Mailloux said any donations, volunteers and support are more than welcome, and that includes attendees to the event, which runs October 23 and 24 from 7pm – 11pm and October 25 from 7pm – 10pm, and anybody who’s in line at 11pm or 10pm goes through. It’s just two canned goods to go through and anyone can purchase food, hot or cold beverages, candies and plenty other things in line, and donations are always welcome. Mailloux recommends anyone who doesn’t want to wait too long in line to show up right at 7pm because the lines are always long, with their attendance record being upwards of 2,000 bodies.
“Everybody in here is almost like a family,” said Mailloux. “They all know each other and even people who didn’t know each other before, after a few weekends everybody seems to know each other, they all get along, they all help each other, they’re teaching, they’re learning, and it’s just unbelievable and I think that’s what’s made us so successful this many years.”