Bruce Olson got a kick out of scaring trick-or-treaters in San Francisco by jumping out of a pine box coffin he built and set up in the yard.
When the family moved to Minnesota in 2005, he continued the tradition — and went even bigger.
The Olson Haunted House fills the family’s three-car garage and spills out into a labyrinth through their Chanhassen yard. There are hay bales, coffins, an electric chair and an assortment of spooky characters. Of course, as in horror movies, some of them wield chainsaws.
The Halloween tradition is now in its 16th year, drawing thrill seekers from near and far for the frightening affair at 2432 Lake Lucy Road. Olson’s wife, Holly, and sons Anders, Mac and Parker, help pull it off.
“When we moved here, we weren’t so sure whether it would be as big,” Anders Olson, 20, said. “But slowly and slowly it grew.”
Admission is free, but the family gathers donations for charity. Proceeds from this year’s haunted house, which is open from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Halloween, will go to Special Olympics Minnesota. Cash donations are welcome or people can fill out an online form at the door.
Last year, about 755 people steeled their nerves and passed through the haunted garage, bringing in more than $1,000 in donations for the nonprofit Loaves and Fishes.
This year, the Olsons are expecting even more people. They have enlisted 18 volunteers to act in different scenes and tend to visitors. They’ve added new acts over the years, including a ghoulish funeral scene, an evil dentist scene and a clown room.
Planning for the haunted house starts midsummer at the Olsons’ home and by early October setup begins.
Walking through the haunted garage takes about 10 minutes — or less, depending on how quickly you find the exit, Anders Olson said.
The haunted house is meant to be scary, and the website notes the “maze of horror,” but there is no age restriction for visitors.
“We have seen all ages come through. I think the youngest I’ve seen come through must have been five or six,” Anders said.
Cami Swanson, who lives two blocks away, has been taking her two boys to the Olson Haunted House for 12 years. She said they’ve never been disappointed. As they’ve gotten older, they’re getting involved in the act.
One of her sons has played a scary waiter and the other helped with staging scenes. It’s a camaraderie-building activity in the neighborhood, Swanson said, and the children squeal with excitement.
As for memorable frightening characters, she watches out for the butcher, covered in blood and carrying a chainsaw.
“The butcher is pretty good,” Swanson said, laughing. “It’s just that sound [of the chain saw] that can invoke a little fright there.”