The long-forgotten old west town of El Dorado predated El Dorado Hills by a century and a half and thrived until a humble miner accidentally unleashed a vortex of evil that turned the town’s inhabitants into zombie-like spooks that live on in a preternatural afterlife. Hard working Hands4Hope volunteers have recreated old El Dorado and opened a vortex of evil in Town Center.
That’s both the premise and promise of this year’s Hands4Hope Halloween haunted house, a major fundraiser for the nonprofit’s numerous community outreach programs.
Last year’s haunted hotel, also hosted by Town Center, scared the bejesus out of an estimated 2,500 visitors, according to Jennifer Bassett, H4H founder and executive director.
The ghost town of El Dorado is located in the Town Center “New Orleans” building, north of Target. Tickets for the frightening tour cost $8.
Organizers Alisa Smith and Kristin Beale promise even better scares this year, but are adamant that the haunted house remains suitable for young children, thanks to spook-repelling “good fairies” that hover about protecting little ones from any and all zombies and demons. There’s also a side exit for a quick out, just in case.
A team of more than 25 volunteers have spent six months designing and creating old El Dorado and its denizens, a ghostly mix of animatronics and actors visitors meet during the tour. A saloon, jail, gallows, graveyard, slaughter house and the crumbling mine shaft are all creations of ghost town builders Doug Bush and Grant Wells, with lots of help from their friends.
The host and narrator is an old miner named Bowen Hollow. We’re left to guess whether he’s dead, alive or somewhere between.
At the entrance he warns us of the terrible evil he unknowingly set free in the mine. “The only way to get where you’re going is through the town of El Dorado,” says Bowen. “Try to keep your head.”
One of his neighbors apparently failed to heed his advice.
Bowen also tells us, “You wouldn’t know it to look at it now, but this was once about the prettiest place you’ve ever seen.” He apparently missed the home and garden tour this year.
We learn that the original settlers were a “ragtag bunch of schemers and fugitives of the law,” drawn to the place by the promise of El Dorado gold, which the old mine dispensed plenty of, at first. But it started giving folks a “creepy, hair-pricklin’ feeling at the base of your skull that warns you to get away,” according to Bowen.
At first glance, the center of old El Dorado looks like any old west mining town. It’s got a butcher, a blacksmith, a sheriff’s office and a really authentic Wells Fargo Bank.
There’s also a boiling cauldron, a sort of overheated, undersized hot tub.
But don’t jump in unless you want a full-body waxing. What stands before you is the butcher’s “pig scalder,” used to boil the bristly hair from the squealer.
Customers in the bustling saloon seem less concerned with hair of the hog than hair of the dog, and provide the first tangible clue that all is not right in old El Dorado. Several of the good citizens of old El Dorado appear to be in various stages of decay. Don’t let them ooze on you.
The barflies are a friendly bunch, more or less, almost as nice as patrons of another legendary Gold Country watering hole — Poor Red’s, located 12 miles due east in modern day El Dorado.
Like Poor Red’s, the flesh-and-blood characters in old El Dorado can be difficult to discern from animatronics … especially after midnight.
The animatronics, all donated, have upped the dramatic ante in this year’s ghost town, and also allow old El Dorado to function with a “skeleton” crew of just 15 volunteers.
A full 24 actors are required to fill all the roles, including the pesky “spooks” that pop up for a cheap scare when you least expect it.
Old El Dorado’s jail is conveniently located next to the saloon. The lockup is a claustrophobic maze. The woebegone prisoners make the saloon’s clientele look like they just returned from a week at the spa.
Out back, the cemetery and its ghoulish undertaker await your arrival.
The gallows is a grim reminder of what happens to ner’ do wells in old El Dorado, although many are still up and about in the old ghost town.
One of them is adorned in a black robe and carries a sickle. Chances are he’s not reaping wheat … more likely souls. That shack he’s inviting you into is full of dark corners and sharp objects. Welcome to the slaughter house.
Every fiber of your being screams “don’t go,” but there’ll be no retreat. Forces you can’t understand now pull you forward.
Watch out for sudden thunderstorms rolling through Rattlesnake Gulch, and guess how it got its name.
The abandoned mine is your last stop. It’s time to confront the unspeakable evil unleashed on old El Dorado. Your experience in old El Dorado ends right here.
Opening night is Oct. 13. The El Dorado Dance Academy will perform at 6:30 p.m. No word yet on whether any of the inhabitants of old El Dorado will accompany the troupe.
Old El Dorado is open Thursday through Sunday evenings from Oct. 13 through Halloween.
On weekends a family carnival with games and concessions will be set up in the parking lot on the Target side of the haunted house. Show your high school ID for a free order of nachos — Oct. 13: St. Francis/Jesuit, Oct. 20: Ponderosa, Oct. 27: Oak Ridge.
All proceeds benefit Hands4Hope, a non-profit, non-denominational, youth driven outreach organization based in El Dorado Hills. The organization’s mission is to grow the next generation of socially responsible citizens by engaging youth in community outreach.
Let the haunting begin
What: Hands 4 Hope haunted house
Where: New Orleans building in Town Center, 4370 Town Center Blvd. in El Dorado Hills
When: Oct. 13-31
Hours: Thursdays: 6 to 9 p.m.; Fridays: 6 to 10 p.m.; Saturdays: 6 to 10 p.m.*; Sundays: 5 to 8 p.m.; Halloween: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
*On Saturday, Oct. 15, Hands4Hope is holding a costume ball in Town Center. The haunted house is reserved from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the revelers, after which it opens to the public.
Tickets: $8 per person; purchase at the door.
Info: Visit hands4hopeyouth.org.