Walla Walla Sanitarium may scare you out of your mind

Aaron Rebhahn and Kimberly Gradwohl are scared by Maddie Koby at the Walla Walla Sanitarium.. The seasonal attraction at 419 Wellington Ave. covers 10,000 square feet filled with frightening surprises.

Aaron Rebhahn and Kimberly Gradwohl are scared by Maddie Koby at the Walla Walla Sanitarium.. The seasonal attraction at 419 Wellington Ave. covers 10,000 square feet filled with frightening surprises. Darren Ellis

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WALLA WALLA — The latest seasonal entertainment debuted Friday night and proved itself to be a good activity for a couple who doesn’t mind clutching each other in fear.

“It’s great for a date,” Aaron Rebhahn said about the Walla Walla Sanitarium, where he shared a scare or two with Kimberly Gradwohl.

“Will you hold my hand?” Gradwohl asked.

“You know I will,” Rebhahn answered.

“I’m am so scared,” Gradwohl said. She was dead serious as the two entered the temporary structure at 419 Wellington Ave.

Five minutes into their walk, there was no hand holding or clutching between the couple as Rebhahn led a full retreat from yet another scary-looking youth dressed up like a Hollywood serial killer.

“Oh my God. That was good. I was ready to run,” Rebhahn said, as he slowed down to a trot and then back to a walk through the maze-like structure that forms the haunted house.

Technically, the Walla Walla Sanitarium is not a house at all but a mass of connected eight-foot partitions that total 10,000 square feet.

Owner, developer and creator Sean Cunha said when he started on the business several months ago he had originally intended it to be built in a parking lot and include a roof.

Fire codes made the roof financially unfeasible.

“It wasn’t even the exits that were a problem, it was the sprinkler system,” Cunha said. “It was kind of a pain in the butt, but they worked with me on some of the codes.”

The result is that there are plenty of exits in the Walla Walla Sanitarium, as well as plenty of ghouls, zombies and famous Hollywood horror characters.

The scary staff is made up of volunteers, with the males provided by the Jubilee Youth Ranch outside of Prescott.

Jubilee Youth Ranch will also be awarded the profits from this year’s Sanitarium ticket sales, Cunha said.

“It is kind of a reward for them and it is good to see them having actual fun,” said James Estep, whose job it was to take the youths to the Sanitarium and bring them all back again.

“Each one, I looked in the eye and shook his hand. And they said they would be coming back with me,” Estep said.

As for the female volunteers — though it was hard to tell gender in some costumes — they were mostly from local middle schools, high schools and colleges.

“I am a really short and good smelling Jason. See. Smell my hair,” Kaitlynn Berentsen said after taking off her Jason mask to reveal her long straight blond hair that had just been washed.

Ironically, only minutes earlier that cute blond was wearing her Jason mask and scaring Rebhahn and Gradwohl. Then again, the couple were also scared by the ghouls, the dinosaur and even the clown.

“It was the haze and the smoke and all of the sudden you see someone coming at you ... And the clown guy and the shopping carts. Clowns are always creepy,” Gradwohl said

While the Sanitarium is all about a good scare, there are other facets to Cunha’s creation.

Energy drinks, glow sticks and other trinkets are sold at the ticket booth, a pumpkin patch operates off to the side and catered hot foot that includes everything from hot dogs to Thai food is available on site from the Doghouse Grill.

For younger audiences, Thursday nights will be less frightening, and Cunha added there will be limits on all nights.

“It is going to be really scary, but there is no blood and gore. And there will be nothing demonic like that. It will be a startling and good old-fashion scary,” Cunha said.

The Walla Walla Sanitarium is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 6 p.m. to midnight, with the last tickets going on sale around 10:30 p.m.

The Sanitarium will also be open Halloween night and the following three nights through Nov. 3.

The tour takes about five to 15 minutes, depending on how fast you walk or run.

Cost is $10 per person.

Groups of 10 can get in for $90.

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