In the Pipeline: Newland House gives Huntington Haunt a home

I'm guessing the Huntington and Newland families are turning over in their graves. Which is fitting given what's happening at the Newland House for Halloween.

Huntington Beach has many seasonal events, but nothing directly related to Halloween. This year, however, everything changes with the Huntington Haunt Experience.

One day at Slater's 50/50 restaurant, Jodi Clayton McKay and Joanne Simoni Norton (whose son Scott owns the restaurant and others) walked me through blueprints and other plans for the scary production coming soon to the Newland House, one of Huntington Beach's most venerable landmarks. The house on Beach Boulevard, built in 1898, once belonged to Huntington Beach pioneers William and Mary Newland, who lived there for more than 50 years.

The Huntington Haunt idea originated with Scott Smith, a local financial advisor and member of the Rotary Club of Huntington Beach.

"I grew up here," he told me, "and it's something I've always kind of dreamed about. With no major Halloween event in the city, this just seemed like the perfect thing to do. Once I got in touch with Jodi, who was so instrumental in helping to execute our Surfboards on Parade program, I knew I had the right woman for the job. Nobody can take a dream and make it a reality like her."

Listening to McKay explain her vision for the event, it's clear that Smith knows what he's talking about. She is riveting as she carefully, and with an artist's eye, describes what it will be like.

"This is not going to be blood and gore," she said. "It's going to be far more classic. Truly scary doesn't have to mean truly disgusting, and we're creating something here that we think will be unforgettable — genuine, classic horror from some of the best minds in this business."

McKay and Norton met after the city's Fourth of July parade, where actors dressed as ghouls. McKay was the organizer.

"I just had to get involved," Norton said. "I'm heavily into costuming and other kinds of theatrical projects. And I just love Halloween."

The two women connected, and today Norton is the vendor coordinator for Huntington Haunt and McKay is the event curator. They became friends, and their energies complement each other well. They seem to feed each other's excitement, finishing each other's sentences while clearly having a great time putting this together.

The Huntington Haunt Experience will take place after 7 p.m. Oct. 28 through 31. As they describe it, it's no ordinary haunted house but an interactive experience where you will literally become part of the story. The experience includes a chilling wedding of members of the feuding Hauntington and Oldland families and a wildly inventive maze spreading across two acres.

Alongside will be a Haunted Carnival featuring artisans, a Victorian psychic, henna painting, a costume contest, entertainment, food, wine and craft beers.

There's no charge for the carnival. Tickets for the Huntington Haunt are $25.

A daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. will be perfect for families. Children will get to experience friendly costumed characters, trick-or-treating in the maze, a pumpkin patch and other things. Tickets for that are $12.50.

Only a small portion of the Newland House interior will be used; the majority of the show will be on the grounds outside.

I think this idea works on many levels. First, Halloween is big enough for an event like this. Also, what a nice way to use the Newland House. We all know where it is, but when was the last time you went there? No doubt this will supercharge interest in that famous local residence, and I think that alone makes this is a success.

A few days after I spoke with McKay and Norton, open auditions were held for some of the parts to be played. Norton told me they were overwhelmed with the response and the quality of the performers who showed up. The more the word gets out about this event, the more excited people seem to get.

Another audition is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Newland House, 19820 Beach Blvd.

Money from ticket sales will help fund the first universally accessible playground in Huntington Beach and other worthy causes of the Rotary Club. Also, Slater's is offering a 20% discount on your bill if you show a ticket to the event.

For tickets and information about sponsorships and other opportunities, visit Huntingtonhaunt.org or its Facebook page. I wouldn't wait long to get tickets, which went on sale last week and are flying out like spirits released from a bottle.

McKay says the event is designed to become a Huntington Beach tradition.

"This is just year one," she said with a sly smile. "This is a brand we want to develop. We want this to be the ultimate Halloween experience right here in Huntington Beach, while also being something that generates a lot of good for the community."

And there's nothing scary about that.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 25 books, including "Legendary Locals of Huntington Beach." You can follow him on Twitter @chrisepting or at facebook.com/hbindependent.

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