Popular Halloween haunt will be closed this year

PHOENIX — Darkwing Manor, which for six years has attracted thousands of visitors to Tina and Tim Reuwsaat's home each Halloween, will remain silent this year in honor of their late son.

The Reuwsaats announced Monday they are taking a year off in memory of their oldest son, Robert Cody Reuwsaat, who died Feb. 25 from smoke inhalation during a fire at his home in Portland.

A special-effects professional, the 28-year-old "cut his teeth" on creating special effects and performing at various haunts from a young age, his mother said.

The Reuwsaats began their extensive haunted house on Camp Baker Road in 2002 when the family moved to the Rogue Valley. The number of visitors grew from about 700 to nearly 4,000 last year.

Tina Reuwsaat said several fellow Halloween haunters have agreed to sponsor events in lieu of Darkwing.

"It's going to be a hard season this year," she said. "Cody was a Halloween special effects artist, so all that we did here was tied up with him. I really felt like I couldn't face doing it this year."

Reuwsaat said she had begun to remove Web listings pertaining to the haunt and wanted to let locals know it likely will be back next year.

The family plans to be out of town — the property will be locked and inaccessible — to visit other haunts along the West Coast and glean ideas, she said.

"It will be strange to not be doing it. My husband and other son (Jarad) were disappointed so it took some time to convince them it wasn't a good idea," she said.

"For me, I've been pretty ill emotionally since my son died, so just the additional stress would have been really bad for me. The event is always stressful anyway, and I'd considered taking a break, but now I just can't handle it at all."

Friends and volunteers of the Darkwing attraction are working on a handful of other projects to entertain Halloween lovers this year.

Family friend Cliff Allen is organizing a performance of "Sweeney Todd" at Rogue Community College Sept. 12-14 in honor of Cody.

"Due to the circumstances of stuff it's best that we take a year off in memory of Cody," Allen said.

"It just seems more appropriate that way. Everybody within the cast and crew of Darkwing Manor has been in mourning ever since it happened. It was just a great loss."

Ruch resident Mark Dennison will put on a haunted tractor ride at his China Gulch Road property. More details will be available closer to Halloween.

Reuwsaat said she will use her time to contemplate speaking to addiction counseling groups about the family's loss — the fire was caused when an alcoholic roommate fell asleep — and to remember Halloweens past with her family.

"We'll bring it back but even then it won't ever be the same. Our dream was to do this professionally -— that was always the plan," she said.

"My husband and I and our two boys were going to go into business and do a pro haunt together. "¦ But we've kind of lost the star of our show."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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