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Haunted house a spirited place to visit

Ogden House home to real ghosts? | Alberta couple embrace a theme and create a thriving tourist attraction

STIRLING, Alta. — As Halloween approaches, the screams increase inside the haunted mansion in Stirling.

Groans, rattling chains, cobwebs and spine-tingling music combine with witches, monsters and mad scientists to scare thrill-seekers who visit the big, old brick house and pay the price of admission for frissons of fear.

But those seeking a good scare may not realize part of the ambiance comes from real ghosts.

Richard and Glory Reimer didn’t believe in ghosts when they bought the old Ogden House, built between 1910 and 1919 in this small village south of Lethbridge. They moved into the five-bedroom upstairs and opened a haunted house attraction in the spacious first floor and basement.

But Glory says she now knows the house is truly haunted and Richard, though skeptical, has seen one of the mansion’s more “spirited” members.

“We thought it was one (ghost) at first and then soon discovered there was at least two. But now we know there’s at least four,” says Glory.

Her research into the former residents of the house have given her clues about the ghosts’ identities, which include an older man, an older woman, a teenage girl and a younger girl.

“You can hear them,” she says. “The older man will come into the house at particular times of night and slam the door, but the door’s locked so it can’t be moved, but you can hear it. You can hear footsteps on the stairs.”

Their son has seen a ghost sitting on his dresser. Visitors have described the ghostly old man’s appearance in similar ways. Lights have flicked on and off for no reason. So has the radio.

Glory and Richard are matter-of-fact about the house’s co-habitants.

“We’re kind of undisturbable people,” says Richard.

The couple bought the house in 2000 and quickly decided to create an attraction. Glory has researched the Ogden House history and found that it has always been the site for social functions, including quilting bees and dance classes.

The 4,500 sq. foot home once served as a school when the village school burned down and has also been a rooming house.

Now looking forward to their 13th Halloween, the couple says the haunted mansion’s popularity grew gradually but has been especially busy in the last three years.

“On a busy night, we will get hundreds of people in a three or four hour window,” says Richard.

The visitors’ experience begins at arrival, when a hearse and ghostly driver squat in the yard and tombstones cast shadows on the lawn. A black cat may or may not greet visitors, depending on its inclinations.

Guests are greeted and ushered through the first floor, replete with skeletons, ghostly artifacts and various motion-activated forces.

“Welcome to our humble haunt,” intones a mannequin. “It’s been such a long time since we’ve had visitors, and an even longer time since we’ve had survivors.”

The first floor is enough to provide an edginess that grows as the tour descends the narrow staircase into the dark and clammy depths of the basement.

What happens in the catacombs and the torture chamber is best left undescribed for the benefit of future visitors. Suffice to say there are surprises waiting around many corners.

Glory says the tour can be tailored to the relative fright tolerance of the individual or group. But on special “fright nights,” all bets are off, and volunteers are conscripted to provide additional boosts to the scare quotient.

“The deeper you go, the scarier it gets,” says Glory. “But we have our way of making it fun for everybody.”

Visitors of all ages come to the mansion. Seniors in particular spend time looking at the antiques and bric a brac that Richard and Glory have collected over the years from garage sales, antique stores and auctions.

“The seniors are pretty much unscarable as a group,” observes Richard. “There might have been the odd one that you could startle, but not really.”

However, groups of young girls are a different story.

“When you get the 10- to 20-year-old groups of girls, hold onto your ears because when one screams, they all scream.”

Adds Glory: “And they kind of move like a school of fish.”

The Reimers believe the haunted mansion brings traffic and revenue to the village, but the venture hasn’t been a complete bed of dead roses.

Complaints about traffic arose this year and the matter is still before village council.

However, the peak traffic period is short-lived, occurring in the few weeks before Halloween.

Despite the scary stuff, Glory says no one has had a heart attack or health issue during a visit to the mansion, although one lady peed her pants and someone else stole an errant foot from one of the displays.

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