A new haunted house experience is making its presence felt across Western New York. EverHaunt, in Angola, is using scares to raise money for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Care, Kids Escaping Drugs, Operation Good Neighbor and more. EverHaunt founder Kevin Donovan took a haunted house in his garage and turned it in to a large, immersive experience with the goal of raising money for community partners.
EverHaunt's asylum begins with fumes in a rickety elevator. A distinct perfume of nostalgic haunted attractions are blown into your face.
It’s one of many set pieces that make up the immersive, detail-oriented haunts at Everhaunt.
“We traveled 160,000 miles. We went to 27 states. We found things nobody has ever seen before in Buffalo to create a unique experience and something different, but also to still have a heart piece behind it,” said EverHaunt founder Kevin Donovan.
Donovan started throwing Halloween parties six years ago to raise money for a friend who was battling cancer. He ran a haunted house out of his garage and it grew every year.
“The last one there was about 300 people,” Donovan said. “We had lots down the street that we were using for it. It was so cool because we were taking books to give to the Roswell patients and we were taking canned goods. We had a whole giant stack of stuff which was neat. I remember the next day just saying to my wife, ‘How did that happen last night? Like what did happen last night?’”
Several members of Donovan’s family, some now deceased, have been impacted by cancer. Donovan credits Roswell for saving his father, who was diagnosed with cancer. Now, his dad helps with EverHaunt.
“I think at those parties I looked back and realized, ‘Wow, we could do this on a bigger scale and help more folks.’ And we did help people. That first party we raised a ton of money for my friend who was fighting cancer then,” he said.
So Donovan and his wife decided to buy an old roller rink three miles from their house in Angola.
“When we took over this building (on) April 1. It’s been six months in the making even to get to this point. Long days, overnights, non-stop just to get it to the place where we wanted it to be and we’re really excited about it,” Donovan said.
While walking through the asylum and house areas, Donovan explained the nuts and bolts of the operation.
“There’s six different audios for both haunted houses in different areas to make that come to life. But it’s not only that. It’s the sights, the animations, the actors. We try to make it an immersive experience.”
When you walk through the haunts, it’s clear Donovan isn’t exaggerating when he says he amassed 15 semi-trucks full of Halloween items over the past half-decade.
“I remember the one time I flew in to Colorado, we picked up a 26-foot truck. I drove to Buffalo, drove back to Colorado, drove to Buffalo, drove back to Colorado, and drove back to Buffalo again,” he laughed. “Just because we found unique stuff that we thought was great.”
Some of that "stuff" is extremely rare.
“We get excited because a lot of the people who go through the haunt who are haunters I guess you could say, will see this and be like, ‘Whoa. We haven’t seen that in 20 years.’ And there’s only like two of them left in the whole country,” Donovan said. “You’ll see a prop out at the concessions, it’s the only one left in the whole country and it was made by a major company. So we tried to find unique items that, again when people walk through and they see it they’re just like, ‘Oh that’s cool.’”
Over the past six years, Donovan said he learned from some of the best haunt owners in the country.
“Pennhurst Asylum (in Pennsylvania), which is ranked number three in the whole country, I spent a lot of time there,” he said. “I spent a lot of time at Brighton Asylum (New Jersey) which is considered the top three. We went to haunts all over the country to learn.”
This includes some important tricks of the trade.
“We try to do scares that are different, but there is also a safety aspect to this,” Donovan said. “Jump scares are dangerous to actors. They really are because if you scare somebody so bad they might hit you they might do something else. So we put all of our jump scares behind the couches and like the bookshelf and two feet so it keeps them safe too,” Donovan said. “But jump scares are my favorite so that’s why they’re everywhere in this house.”
Outside of the haunted house and asylum, they boast a few other attractions including Western New York’s first ever Halloween motion simulator ride.
“It was custom made,” Donovan said. “I have friends in Chicago who fabricated it and then a guy out in California put the video together and then a local guy made it all come together but it was literally five years in the making to make it happen.”
There’s also a coffin ride.
“It takes you to your grave. Literally, you have the smells of the car and the roses from the funeral parlor."
A portion of every ticket sale goes to organizations like Operation Good Neighbor, Roswell, or Kids Escaping Drugs. Cancer isn’t the only thing that has impacted Donovan’s family.
“My wife lost her brother suddenly to addiction a year and a half ago and it was traumatic. For us to be able to help anybody who is going through that, that’s what we want to do,” Donovan said.
It helps they have the support of a dedicated staff. Donovan says normally when you start a haunted house you lose team members within the first couple of weeks. That hasn’t been the case for EverHaunt.
“We haven’t lost anybody. The team here is incredible. These people are awesome.”
Originally, Donovan wasn’t so sure if a haunted house in the Southtowns would work.
“We were worried about that. I thought about that a lot obviously before we pulled the trigger on the building was, you know you have your big haunted houses in the Northtowns,” he said. “By the way, they are awesome. Every person I tell, go and see these places because they are inspirations to what we do here. And I consider those places incredible. But we thought about that long and hard. Is there a market for this out here? Can we really make a difference and make this sustainable and make it a go? But there was nothing out here. And there was nothing for the kids. Even beyond a haunted house, there’s really not much out here.”
The suggested age for EverHaunt for their regular offerings is 13 and up, but there are also scheduled times for young children.
“We try to keep it as affordable as possible. The costume contests are free. The coloring contests are free. The face painting is a donation to Kids Escaping Drugs,” Donovan said. “To walk through the Haunted Houses, which we are lights on (for the kids) and they have no actors and there are no animations.”
It wasn’t long ago Donovan was developing his love for all things spooky.
“I remember when I made my first haunted house in my basement when I was five years old,” Donovan said. “I hung sheets in my basement and thought it was the coolest thing in the world and here it is 30 years later and now we’re actually, it’s just a little bit more wood and a little less sheets.”
Now he gets a chance to pass it on.
“There was an 8-year old that went through last week and I couldn’t believe it and I cautioned him against it,” Donovan said. “And he came out and he was like this little warrior and I was dying laughing and like, ‘Oh you’re going to be hired here in a couple of years.’”
Barley a month in to operations at this facility and Donovan already sees a future with the community standing behind them.
“We looked at a lot of the demographics and things like that. You have Fredonia and you have Eden and you have Hamburg and we thought we could make a difference in all of those areas. But I’m telling you, the pull from Angola has been incredible. We walked outside, even walking down the streets down here, I hear people saying, ‘I got scared last night!’” he said. “We walk outside and the people across the street are talking about how now they want to go to fright world because they went to this haunted house out in Angola and it was so neat.”
Donovan said he hired people who have heart, but also happen to love Halloween.
“We only hired four people that had any experience in haunted houses before. The main question I asked them was, ‘Tell me a time where you helped somebody before in your life?’ And if they could answer that the right way, like we have a whole bunch of people who are just great people. And they’re learning. We have a heck of a team,” he said.
It’s a team that could see a few members trade in their tattered and bloody clothing for some North Pole attire soon.
On November 2, EverHaunt will be shifting over and turning the location in to a Christmas walkthrough and breakfast with Santa. Donovan said they have already begun talking to charities who they can partner with.
“That will be fun. Not to the Halloween scale, because the Halloween scale obviously has always been I guess in our blood,” he said. “But we do want to do a Christmas thing because that’s going to be fun for kids.”
At the core of EverHaunt’s skeleton is a healthy beating heart that’s fueled by the blood of its own community. It’s alive—and it wants to help others stay that way too.