Community theater is back in Mineral Wells. It isn't Shakespeare. It is more like shake and fear.
Though that all depends on your reactions to scary clowns, ghouls, masked characters wielding chainsaws, liberal use of fake blood, long dark mazes filled with things touching and jumping out at you and images that might stay with you awhile.
Welcome to Texas Scaregrounds' haunted house in the haunting old Nazareth hospital building on N.W. 4th Street. Owner Shawna Anderson, aka the "HallowQueen," has been scaring the bejeezus out of people for a quarter of a century, producing and operating haunted houses in Fort Worth (Hangman's House of Horrors), Richland Hills (Boneyard Haunted House), Arlington (at the Forum 303 Mall) and smaller community haunted houses in Kennedale and Alvarado.
"I've been doing them professionally for about 25 years," said Anderson. "I just love it, love it, love it. I decided to take a break. I came to Mineral Wells last year and did a real small one, not even under my real name, at the Haunted Hill House. The test market went great."
Then something unexpected happened.
"I fell in love with Mineral Wells," said Anderson. "I didn't expect to. I lived in Arlington my whole life. But I just literally fell in love with Mineral Wells."
Her son left home to attend Texas A&M University, so she and her husband of two years, Shayne, sold their Arlington home and moved to Mineral Wells in August. They have quickly become part of the community. This week the couple were accepted as new volunteers for the Brazos Volunteer Fire Department.
"The timing was just right," she said. "We came here not even having a location. We sold my big house and bought a little house, knowing that we wanted to do a haunted house here. I looked at a bunch of different buildings."
While searching for the location of her new haunted experience, she came into contact with Randy Nix, who had become owner of the old Nazareth Hospital property.
"He said before you make any decisions I would like to have you in the footprint of what is going on in Mineral Wells," Anderson said. "I looked at this building and, quite frankly, I was overwhelmed. You couldn't even walk in here, it was so full of debris."
The property had been shuttered for a over a decade after serving as the offices for Texas Neighborhood Services. Originally opened as the Mineral Wells Medical Clinic in 1927, the Holy Sisters of the Nazareth purchased the 46-bed facility for $135,000 in 1931. It closed in the mid-1960s and the hospital moved temporarily to the Crazy Water Hotel until Palo Pinto General Hospital was built and opened in 1968.
The six-story Nazareth Hospital building, as it is still commonly known, was left to vandals, some who started fires inside the building among the commissions of other acts of vandalism and mischief.
When they first sought permission and certification from the city to use the building, Anderson said they were denied. But she said in meeting with the fire chief and fire marshal, they were given an opportunity.
"The chief said, 'You all clean it out then I will come back and we will talk about it.' We worked for three solid months. There have been several fires here. The downstairs was just full of ash that we had to scoop out with wheelbarrows. We wore respirators. We did everything by the book."
She said they painted over graffiti – they are currently utilizing just the ground and main second floor – and have not removed or altered any walls or flooring tiles. They have had several inspections by the city and state and federal air and environmental quality inspectors and the building passed.
Responding to misinformation, rumors and allegations by some regarding exposure to lead paint or asbestos, City Manager Randy Criswell at this week's city council meeting said Anderson has fully complied with the city and other inspectors and is in good standing with a 30-day special events permit to operate the haunted house.
"We have worked with them very closely and we have no concerns," Criswell stated.
Anderson said there is asbestos over some upstairs ceiling tiles that she said will have to be properly remediated before they can hopefully expand their use of the building for future events. Most old buildings in use today contain asbestos – typically in floor tile mastics or wrapped around pipes for insulation – and lead paint but are considered harmless until they are disrupted or removed and become airborne.
She is currently leasing the building from Nix, who she said is otherwise uninvolved with their operation other than being supportive of their efforts.
"We want to make it into an events center, where everything has a theatrical flair," said Anderson. "It doesn't have to be horror."
She said she would like, for instance, to put on murder-mystery and escape room events.
"We are doing this as volunteers," Anderson said. "We said this is something we want to do because it's fun. We wanted to salvage this old building and breathe some life back into it. I can't explain it. Until you get involved with it you don't really get it. It is just like a family we are building."
There are 25 rooms haunted house patrons are led through and into, typically in groups of no more than six. There are rules given for those going through the house regarding the touching of props and actors.
There are safety measures in place, and in the event of an emergency lights come on and volunteer first responders are on site. There are two-way communications and controls at a command station inside.
Open Fridays and Saturdays in October and the first weekend in November, Anderson said they had a very successful two-day opening last weekend. She expects even bigger crowds with this weekend being Crazy Water Festival, followed in two weeks by Spooky Wells and then Halloween.
While Texas Scaregrounds is a for-profit organization, it is giving back to the community. Tickets sold at Spooky Wells are discounted to $12 each, and they keep 100% of the proceeds to support that event. The haunted house is an official attraction for the Oct. 26 Spooky Wells event.
Regular admission is $20 per person, but a canned food donation to Back Pack Buddies of Mineral Wells reduces the ticket cost to $15. Group discounts are available.
The haunted house opens at 7 p.m. and runs till midnight. There is no age limit, and children entering is left to the discretion of their parents.
Find more information at Texas Scaregrounds' Facebook page.