Community members out on a weekend walk during the nighttime hours may have noticed St. Joseph Plaza transformed by screams and blood.
“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” echoing in the night has attracted brave souls to the doors of terror.
Logistically speaking, it was not an easy transformation for event coordinators owing to a late start and COVID restrictions. However, with support from the community the novel event was quite prosperous.
The establishment was originally the St. Joseph Hospital, though closed in late 2014 after CHI St. Alexius moved their location to a new facility. Since April of last year the building has been operated to manage a setting for a wide variety of local businesses as a “one stop shop.”
“There is an Alaskan town where it's a full winter most of the time and they have their whole town in one building,” Enne Un, event coordinator, said. “We have Food Riot here now, a massage therapist, bringing in a spa, two daycares … basically it's like a little city, so as business keeps coming in, the plaza will be a one stop shop for all your business needs.”
While only in its first year, the haunted hospital event witnessed a huge following from the community. According to event organizers, the weekend scares have sold out every night despite North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum declaring Stark County “Orange,” or high risk, on the state’s coronavirus alert system.
“We want to benefit the community, we don't want to be damaging to the community… If the State or the city thinks we need to space people out, then that is what we are gonna do,” Brannan Chisholm, the building manager, said.
In keeping with coronavirus restrictions, Chisholm has permitted less than 15 volunteers to each floor.
“The restriction changed everything, as soon as orange level hit we closed the public lines, scheduled groups less than ten, required face masks and hand sanitizer wipes near pens and whatever people would be in contact with,” he said.
While the restrictions placed added pressures on the event and organizers, the community has rallied to support the novel attraction by continuing to sign up and volunteer as actors — including hosting birthday party tours for kids.
“The community came here for entertainment and they were entertained,” Un said. “The restrictions did limit our time to get this together, but we want to make this a yearly event. Next time we will have a whole year to prepare.”
On opening night, the Haunted Hospital drew 37 actors who took their turn scaring more than 300 visitors. A portion of these volunteers came from the The Crypt Keepers Haunted House, who normally host events in Belfield. While the Crypt Keepers didn’t have a haunted house this year, members wanted to maintain the spirit of All Hallows Eve by bringing their talents to Dickinson.
“This place has always been a pipe dream — like, ‘maybe someday,’ but when it did happen it was real short notice and it's coming together better and better every night,” Darcie Dennis, seasoned haunted house actor, said. “When we used to do it in the past years we would start roughly in the beginning of September, but with this separate group we started at the beginning of October… it's been really cool to see them stepping up and wanting to make this what it is now.“
Un expressed his gratitude towards the volunteers and community that has made this event as popular as it has been.
“When we were done Saturday night, you can tell everyone had done an amazing job. With the actors who scared us, it was like they won the NBA championship. We have a meeting at the end of the night and they all stayed after to talk about their stories and of how much fun they had,” Un said. “The long-term goal is to have a mental health facility here. So all the funds are gonna go right back into the building.”
Un and Chisholm shared that this event was meant to bring attention to the building, but that the idea came from larger and more pressing efforts to help the community and southwest North Dakota achieve a mental health facility.
“The main purpose is to bring more attention to the building, to get more tenants here in order to have more cash flow, to get the North Dakota Mental health facility. But we have to generate money in order to upgrade the facility to make it where the State will come in,” said Chisholm.
Chisholm also explained that having the haunted hospital is a good opportunity for the community to come and see how this once great hospital has transformed into a hub for local business.
“This is an open and running facility and we want to help reduce crime happening here because teenagers keep trying to get in here thinking it's vacant. And that's okay we want them to come inside and see for themselves that businesses are here and it's not just some vacant building to vandalize,” Chisholm said. “There is still 100,000 square feet available for rent here at St. Joe’s Plaza. Be wonderful for someone who wants a single office or someone who wants a 8,000 square foot wing.”