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Haunted house featuring disabled veterans draws criticism

Westport man addresses concern about haunted house using disabled veterans

Haunted house featuring disabled veterans draws criticism

WESTPORT, Wis. - For the last 11 months, Guy Kitchell has been working to turn an empty building into a haunted house. 

Wisconsin Scaryland occupies approximately 1,500 square feet of a building at the corner of County Roads M and K in Westport.  The haunted house is made up of three different storylines. 

One has gotten the attention of neighbors.

"Our backstory talks about this being an abandoned military hospital," says Kitchell.

The Wisconsin Scaryland website tells the story of "the U.S. government discovered the site, and determined that it would be the perfect place to establish an amputee hospital for injured, returning soldiers. Since the hospital was underfunded, and overrun with patients, many of the procedures were done by resident doctors using rusty knives, dull scalpels and no anesthetic."

Soldiers often became agitated and delirious due to improperly sterilized tools and subsequent infections.  Some accounts indicate that patients even became violent toward themselves and others.

A photo of the "amputee hospital" carries a caption:  "Closed in 1968 due to what government officials called a disturbing "mass suicide", the hospital has sat vacant for more than 40 years, until reopening as a tourist attraction in 2014 – WISCONSIN SCARYLAND."

"I looked at it and was like, boy that doesn't seem right," says Christopher Gerg, a resident who lives near where Wisconsin Scaryland is being built.

Gerg, the son of a Vietnam War veteran, says he has no problem with the concept of a haunted house being built nearby.  He says he is supportive of people trying to run a business.  He takes issue with the use of disabled veterans as subjects for a haunted house.

"Where it rubbed my fur the wrong way was when it was kind of using veterans to make that dollar and using the suffering of veterans to make that dollar.  It just doesn't seem right," says Gerg.

Wisconsin Scaryland has employed 38 people to build the project, including several mentally disabled individuals.

"We didn't mean to offend the disabled vets.  In fact my wife is a disabled vet, an Army vet, and my lead fabricator is also a disabled vet.  We have other Army vets and Air Force vets who are either volunteers or have been working at the haunt for the last 10, 11 months," says Kitchell.

He says that haunted houses are not a reflection of the real world and provide people with an opportunity to step into a make-believe Halloween.

"It's a fantasy just like a video or a TV show or a movie," says Kitchell.  "Our goal is just to create a fun place for kids and adults to come and see."

Gerg believes fantasy in this case is getting too close to reality.

"By all accounts and by their own website it looks like they are using disabled veterans as a scary thing or people with post-traumatic stress disorder as a scary thing.  It is a scary thing, but it's not fun," says Gerg.

Wisconsin Scaryland plans to open for business on Sept. 19 and remain open through Halloween weekend.  Before doing so they face a rezoning hearing on Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Town of Westport.

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