Haunterview: The Abandoned
Sept. 9, 2015
We had a chance to kick it with Ken Pollisse, one of the creators of "The Abandoned", a non-profit haunted house benefitting the Canastota Fire Department.
A past Scarycuse award winner in the Non-profit category, our secret-shoppers found the Abandoned to be lots of fun, and longer than expected, with some very creative costumes...
You mentioned 6 core people who have played important roles in bringing the
haunt to life... Who are those main-crew members?
The six core people are firemen Mark Polisse, Mike Dwyer; and volunteers Bonnie
Dwyer, Ken Polisse, Mike Rapasadi, Laki Terzidis. Mark Polisse introduced the idea of the haunted attractions as a fundraiser back in 2002 (when the Canastota Volunteer Fire Department Haunted House originally began). He remained President of the fire department committee for the haunted house for the first 6 years while it ran, and upon its return in 2013, 2014. This year Mike Dwyer has stepped into the role of president. Bonnie Dwyer handles all of our front-end duties and manages our team of volunteers working ticket sales, concessions, while coordinating with area non-profits for weekly bake sales, which have included local school sports teams, and dance teams. Mike Rapasadi has been with the haunt since its re-opening as one of our head prop builders. The last two seasons we haven’t been really heavy on our props after working to get back up and running, but this year we are looking to introduce some
new things that those attending haven’t seen from us before. Mike will play a huge role in bringing these pieces of Phobia to life for us. Laki Terzidis and myself tackle scene design and costume ideas. Throughout the year the two of us discuss characters, scenes and detail work for the upcoming haunts. I create the floor plan, which changes every year so the walk through doesn’t get stale, while Laki focuses on more the detail items that go into the scenes.
Who comes up with concepts for most of the scares & startles?
This year we’ve taken on a slight change in our approach. For years, Laki and I would be the main volunteers creating the scares and scenes, while walking our characters through the variations they can work their given scene. This year, we took our core group along with Chris Hannan, and Jesse Polisse, two other firemen who play key roles in the haunted house and discussed our themes this year, as well as for the next season as well. Once this committee voted, Laki and I started to put ideas together for scenes, and there actually have been a few that were changed
during building the walkthroughs thanks to ideas from some of our volunteers who have been with us for a few years now. Many of our volunteers have been apart of our haunt family for the 8 years we have done the haunted house; some came on board when we brought it back in 2013. Working that long together with such a
close knit group allows for everyone to start envisioning things that fit our style so
they offer up those ideas, many of them have gone into this year’s attractions.
What made you decide to get into "haunting"?
I got into haunting in 1997 with Laki Terzidis as freshman at SUNY Oswego. It was
our dorms Spirit Week and as the floors battled for first place, we wanted to do
something unique. What we came up with was a haunted hallway. The hallway may
have stretched 100 feet, but from the reactions that we received with that college
student budget haunt we were hooked. The two of us proceeded to design a haunted
house in our dorm for the remainder of college, for the campus and surrounding
A year after graduating college, my uncle, Mark Polisse, presented the haunted
house idea to the fire department as a fundraiser. One of my other uncles, Lyle
Chafee, who is also a firemen knew of the haunted houses I had been a part of while
at college and told Mark about them. The first Canastota Volunteer Firemen’s
Haunted House opened its doors to the surrounding communities in 2002 with
great success. In our early days, many of our volunteers consisted of friends and
family of the firemen. We saw them grow up with us and move on to college, but
many returned every year to be a part of the haunted house. When the haunted
house stopped in 2008 for a hiatus it was a sad time for many involved. But in 2013
when we announced it was coming back, we saw many of those early volunteers
jump at the chance to be a part of the haunt family again.
Are there any haunts you remember visiting as a kid that may have inspired
you down this path?
I remember as a young kid going to a couple haunted houses in the area. I remember
going to the original pumpkin farm in Camden, attending a haunted attraction that
was put on in a tent in the old Penn Can mall parking lot. And as a wrestler through
high school going to Niagara Falls for tournaments and venturing through some of
the haunted attractions on the Canadian strip with a group of teenagers.
Who came up with the idea for "The Abandoned"?
The Abandoned was a joint idea in 2013. One of our last haunts before we took the
break was a themed haunt where we introduced the family. They were a family of
misfits whose motto was “a family who kills together, stays together.” The family
was a hit back then and really had people talking about our haunt and characters. So
when it was announced we would be opening back up the decision to bring the
family back came about twofold: 1. They were characters that many of our loyal
customers already knew so seeing them again after 7 years would show we were the
same group that was terrifying patrons in previous years. 2. From a budget
standpoint, the cost would be minimal as the characters were already developed
with full costumes.
The one thing that we needed was a new name that would become our identity in
the haunt community. Laki and I bounced around many haunted house sites from
across the country and the area seeing what was out there – as we didn’t want to
duplicate anyone. We came up with a list of potential names The Abandoned was the
one that stood out to everyone involved with the process. The initial logos that were
created by Stacy Cihocki, a talented graphic artist, artist and photographer and Laki
were put up for a vote. Stacy has continued to design our logos, posters, tickets, and
any other marketing material for us along with being our in house photographer.
When did you begin working on this years haunt?
The last couple of years we’ve had a late start compared to normal with our planning and building process due to a lot of outside items but can all be summed up with one word – Life. We had general ideas floating around following the wrap up of last year’s haunt but didn’t really start working on designing and planning this year until mid-February. This late start is one of the reasons we sat down as a committee and made the decisions to not only decide this year’s theme, but also next year’s so we can begin on that one come September 25 – when this year’s opens.
Anything new and different we can expect for 2015?
Definitely. Our demented family has since been retired. Though they may make an
appearance sometime in the future, but you’ll just have to wait and see for sure. In
their place this year we will be presenting Phobia. As the name suggests, we’re
tapping into the human fears and ready to torture your senses. Our pitch-black maze
The Devious World of Mr. Black is back this year in what may be its last run. As a
team we try not to run the same haunt or theme more than a couple years in a row
so as not to wear it out. We may at times bring them back a couple years later as a
fresh concept for a new group of haunt fanatics though.
And as I mentioned before, we’re stepping up our prop work as well. We operate on
a very limited budget compared to many of the haunts in our area, so we try to
introduce a couple bigger things each year when we can.
One other item that I can share, that won’t give away much of our haunt is our photo
area. Last year, we had multiple requests for pictures with the characters, that this
year we are building a designated photo area, where these requests can be met
without our characters venturing outside of the haunt zone and giving much away.
We’ll also be able to print the pictures in postcard size right there at a small cost for
How many people usually work on the crew on a typical Saturday?
We operate our two haunts and our front end with a crew of around 25 – 30
individuals. Many of them have caught the haunt bug. These volunteers include
those inside the haunts, as well as the ones out from, plus our EMTs and fixers for
when things breakdown – because it’s always bound to happen.
I love the surveillance camera images used in your marketing, are those of real visitors to the haunt?
Those images are from inside the haunts. Our Haunt Photographer Stacy does an amazing job capturing these images from all corners of the attractions. Us as characters oftentimes don’t even know where she is which allows for much more fluid and natural reactions from everyone. We also decided the green tint; giving the images the night vision security feel added to the aspect and really made the reactions stand out. Another thing we’ve hinted at doing, and might see in the near future is offering these images to anyone who is interested in purchasing them as a print. We’ve chatted about it a few times, and just need to work out all the details before
Some of the imagery you've used in the past, both video and graphics is really
creepy and awesome. Who is responsible for that?
Thank you for those kind words. We have a pretty demented group of individuals
that work with us, and everyone brings a little addition to the table. Many of the
videos though can be credited to Laki Terzidis. Oftentimes I’ll have a thought pop in
my head that I think is a great idea, and I’ll bounce it off him and it usually turns into
this totally new, yet creepy addition to what we are about. There are definitely times
where we all bump heads with ideas, but overall and at the end of the day the final
concepts and presentation falls into something we all like. But the ideas also come
Do you have a YouTube page I can share with readers?
We do, it’s very bare right now but there will definitely be more content added to it
in the near future. We want to add some of our previous commercials from our
2002-2008 seasons as well as fresh new content going forward. Our YouTube
channel is: CFHauntedHouse.
How many visitors do you get through the door on a busy Saturday?
We’re still a very small operation, compared to a lot of the great haunts in the area.
Definitely see us as that attraction that you happen to stumble upon, but after going
through, know you’ll be coming back next year. Last season we only had a total of
just about 700 people venture through our haunts. We had some slow nights, but
overall the season was a success for us. Our limited budget that is under $3,000 a
year to cover everything from advertising to walls and props has allowed us to
remain humble and build slowly. Most of our advertising is done through word of
mouth, our Facebook page and on this site. As much as we’d love to do radio, it just
isn’t in our cards right now. Going off our numbers of attendees last year, we’ve
tracked all the attendees that came through the door, the nights that were our
biggest, and those that weren’t which led us to change up some of our approach this
year. For instance we’re only open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Halloween this year, rather
than doing a 7 – 11 p.m. showing. The numbers just didn’t lead us to think doing the
later hours was a viable option. This way attendees can come through just before
they head out to trick or treat or before going to their parties.
Is there a "best day" you'd recommend people visit?
There is actually – everyday we’re open. LOL. But in all reality our third week of
being open every year seems to be our busiest. That’s usually the second weekend in
October and probably about the time many are really gearing up for Halloween. As
for certain nights, our show is ready every night. Saturdays we usually end up with a
fuller crew due to a few of our volunteers working night shifts through the week, but
we make sure the show goes on even if we are short staffed. Last year we had one
night where our crew of actors had to work both attractions in a true iron man
fashion. It was a great experience for those there as throughout the season the
attractions had created a friendly competition into which one was better. This really
allowed our actors to see what went on in the other maze.
Thanks for the info Ken. We look forward to seeing what's in store for 2015!
Please leave your comments below.
*All images are credit Stacy Cihocki, except for the image labeled Front Butcher. That is courtesy Laki Terzidis.