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'Mischief Manor' takes over old Victory School for Frightful fun

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 9:02 p.m.
Here's a scene inside Mischief Manor, the site of the former Victory Haunted House in in Elizabeth Township. Jim Ference/The Valley Independent
One of the ghoulish sites that await visitors to Mischief Manor in Elizabeth Township. Jim Ference/Valley Independent

After four years of silence, the ghosts and ghouls of Victory School's past are, once again, roaming the halls in search of mischief and a screaming good time.

The former Victory Haunted House at 2805 Douglas Run Road, Elizabeth Township, near Sutersville has been transformed this Halloween season into the Mischief Manor, a place where families can enjoy frightful fun without the horrific pranks that often accompany the bewitching holiday.

Owner John Vargo of Charleroi said visitors won't be chased or touched by any of the ghoulish actors, in an effort to make it less traumatic for younger visitors.

But beware, there is still mischievous — and scary fun — lurking in the shadows and corridors of the old schoolhouse, he says.

“We're here to scare you, not horrify you,” Vargo says. “We want families to enjoy the paranormal experience without all the bad stuff.”

Mischief Manor features 6-foot-tall popular animated characters such as Freddie, Jason, Frankenstein and Leatherface. Inside the haunted manor, free-roaming zombies stomp the grounds of the netherworld, while sinister spiders weave their webs and scurry about the schoolhouse. Blood-sucking bats dive at the unwanted visitors and eerie objects lunge at the passers-by.

“There's a surprise element in every box. We're going to startled you, but that's the thrill,” Vargo says. “It's a place where you can take a kid for his first haunted-house experience, yet it offers enough scary Halloween excitement so the older people can also enjoy it.”

What won't be there is much human interaction, the owner says.

“People don't like being chased by other people. When they're not afraid anymore, they just get angry,” he says.

Vargo owns and operates a Halloween store in Charleroi. As a district manager for the chain, he has amassed numerous Halloween costumes and paraphernalia as well as expertise in the traditions of the holiday.

According to Vargo, the Victory Volunteer Fire Co. took over the former school 38 years ago, and operated the haunted house, reportedly the longest running in Southwestern Pennsylvania, until 2008. He says the fire company used the school's parking lot for its vehicles, and nearby Victory Primitive Methodist Church also used it for its parking needs.

The church later rebuilt on part of the former school property. Vargo says the church's pastor, Paul Walters, purchased the property last year.

In light of its anti-satanic perspective, Vargo says the church has given Mischief Manor its blessings.

In order to bring the structure up to code, Vargo gutted the interior and renovated it with new electrical wiring, emergency and motion-sensitive lighting, exit signs and a handicap-accessible ramp.

He also took courses to learn the safety aspects of operating a haunted house in compliance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates for amusement facilities and rides.

Walters, he says, applied fresh coats of paint, repaired roof leaks and handled the outdoor maintenance and grass cutting. Vargo says the boarded up windows were left untouched for effect.

Vargo's wife, Lori, sons, Jonathan and Christopher, and other family members help with the business venture.

“I want to make sure it a safe place for families. I want it to be place where kids can come and instead of thinking Halloween is a bad thing with vicious pranks and devil-worshipping, they can have fun like the old All Hallow's Eve. It's about kids dressing up and having some good old-fashion fun.”

Mischief Manor also offers an outdoor area where guests can cook hot dogs, compliments of Victory PMC, over the four fire rings and exchange ghost stories, perchance under a full moon. Youngsters also can try their luck at various carnival games.

The owner says no profane language or inappropriate behavior will be tolerated.

Plans for next season include an outdoor movie theater with feature films such as “Beetlejuice,” “Snoopy's Halloween,” “Ghostbusters.”

Colleen Pollock is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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