Realms of Darkness

The annual 4-H haunted house has been cancelled this year because of COVID-19.

There will be no Realms of Darkness haunted house hosted by Tuolumne County 4-H this Halloween due to COVID-19 restrictions, Jay Wallace, organizer of the annual attraction in Sonora from 1999 to 2017, said Wednesday in a phone interview.

This is the fourth consecutive year Tuolumne County 4-H has been unable to organize and host a haunted house for Halloween.

The last time Tuolumne County 4-H successfully staged the Realms of Darkness haunted house was in October 2017 at the red barn building off South Washington Street behind Sonora Lumber. 

New ownership at Sonora Lumber, safety concerns, and lack of insurance meant there was no Tuolumne County 4-H haunted house in 2018 and 2019, then Tuolumne County 4-H had to cancel plans to resurrect the Realms of Darkness in 2020 and this year because of the pandemic.

“We are not having a haunted house again this year due to COVID,” Wallace said. “That comes from UC Regents, the head of California 4-H. We can’t have the event. UC Regents is the governing entity for 4-H in California.”

Staff with the California State 4-H office with the University of California, Davis, could not be reached for comment.

Wallace said he and other 4-H organizers “have plans and hopes” to organize and host a haunted house next year, though it’s not clear where the attraction can be set up.

Tuolumne County 4-H organizers first set up their haunted house at The Junction shopping center in 1999 and staged it there until 2007, when they moved the attraction to the red barn building behind what was then JS Lumber, Wallace said. 

In 2016, the haunted house was canceled due to safety and insurance concerns from the Modesto branch of JS West, which previously leased the property.

Appeals to JS West’s local office allowed the attraction to return to the barn in October 2017. The lease transferred to Sonora Lumber the following year, and the current four-year run with no Tuolumne County 4-H haunted house began in October 2018.

In September 2019, the general manager of Sonora Lumber and Calaveras Lumber in Angels Camp told The Union Democrat that the reason they could no longer host the haunted house at the barn was because their insurance company wouldn’t let them.

The history of 4-H clubs date back to the 1910s in midwestern ag states like Wisconsin and Ohio. Today in the U.S., there are more than 6.5 million 4-H members, ages 5 to 21. The 4-H four leaf clover motto stands for head, heart, hands, and health.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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