The annual 4-H Realms of Darkness haunted house has been cancelled this year after organizers were unable to secure a location, but they’re holding out hope for one of Tuolumne County’s more popular Halloween destinations to return in October 2019.
Tuolumne County 4-H has hosted the haunted house, which serves as a fundraiser for the organization’s teen program, at the red barn behind Sonora Lumber on South Washington Street since the late 2000s.
This marks the second Halloween season in the past three years that the popular attraction will be on hiatus.
The haunted house didn’t happen in 2016 due to insurance liabilities and safety concerns by the Modesto branch of JS West, which held the lease on the barn at the time.
Some appeals to JS West’s local office as an intermediary to the Modesto branch allowed for return of the attraction last year, though the lease on the barn has since transferred to Sonora Lumber.
Jay Wallace, a 4-H leader and one of the chief organizer’s behind the haunted house since 2000, said he was told by Tuolumne County 4-H’s main office that Sonora Lumber’s insurance company wouldn’t let them host the haunted house at the barn this year because of liability concerns.
Andrew McGuirk, general manager of Sonora Lumber and Calaveras Lumber in Angels Camp, said he had not discussed using the barn this year with anyone at 4-H.
McGuirk said he contacted Mike Fullaway, owner of both lumber stores, for clarification and was told that the topic of hosting the event at the barn this year “never came up.”
McGuirk provided his personal phone number to Wallace because he said the company wants to be involved and help.
Wallace said he would reach out to McGuirk to sort out the confusion and discuss future plans, though it’s already too late to put together the haunted house for this year.
The barn is owned by the Irving J. Symons Foundation, though representatives say the foundation typically allows the lessee to work out such agreements and was not part of any discussions.
Rosemary Giannini, 4-H program representative for Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, said she could not comment on the issue because she was hired earlier this year and wasn’t involved in any talks.
Wallace said he ran into a number of roadblocks in trying to find another location while under the impression that they weren’t going to be allowed to use the barn this year.
The search was ultimately narrowed down to the former movie theater on Greenley Road that has sat vacant for years, but the organization was unable to use it due to the lack of fire sprinklers.
“We were trying really hard to find something,” Wallace said. “I looked at a bunch of different places … Some people didn’t want to let us do it for free, while other places that would didn’t have spaces available.”
Wallace said there was some talk about trying to find someone with a barn on their property, but then ran into issues about where people would park.
The first 4-H haunted house was organized in 1982, while the Realms of Darkness iteration started in 1999, according to published reports. Over the years, it has also been held at The Junction shopping center in East Sonora and Poverty Hill Schoolhouse in Stent.
Setting up the attraction typically requires dozens of volunteers and hundreds of man hours.
In addition to raising money, Wallace said the process of setting up and operating the haunted house also teaches kids real-life skills like learning how to work with others.
Wallace said anyone with ideas on a possible location for next year can contact him at (209) 768-8209, or the 4-H office at (209) 533-6990.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.