Meridian Star

October 13, 2013

Haunted Grove

EMSH to host haunted Halloween tour

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Promising a night of frightening surprises, employees of East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian are getting ready to host the hospital's very first Haunted Grove tour on the week of Halloween.

    Susie Broadhead, director of Public Relations, said it's the first time in approximately 40 years that the hospital, which serves individuals with mental illnesses, has hosted an event for the public.

    Haunted Grove will take place each evening, 6-8:30 p.m. on October 28, 29, and 30. On Halloween night, the event will be closed to the public so employees and their families can enjoy the fun.

    The tour of terrors will take place hay ride style, with three trailers pulling thrill-seekers through the rolling grounds of East Mississippi State Hospital. The facility is located at 4555 Highland Park Drive. Signs will point visitors to the appropriate gate; there will also be a parking area for the handicapped. Bleachers will be available so people can "sit in line" rather than "stand in line" while awaiting tours, Broadhead said.

    Banking on the element of surprise, organizers of the event aren't giving a lot of details about what is in store, but they have been working for months to create scary displays they hope will give visitors a few chills.

    Jeff Call, case manager; and Franklin Howse, IT system administrator, are spearheading creation of the displays with support from a 20-person committee.

    "I think that one thing that makes ours more appealing than others is that it's a ride," Call said. "You don't have anybody touching you or running up and grabbing you."    

    Call said inviting the public to the campus could help remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

    "We want people to see that it's not something you would avoid. We care about our patients and our patients care about us," Call said.

    Broadhead said the event will serve as a fundraiser for FRIENDS, which supports individuals who are treated by the hospital.

    “With our grounds being among the most historic venues in the East Central Mississippi area, they will come alive as a  fundraiser for FRIENDS, our community volunteer organization that does things for those we serve that state tax dollars cannot be used for,” Broadhead said.

    Items and events that can’t be paid for with state dollars include cookouts, purchasing individuals receiving services T-shirts for hospital events, an annual hospital Christmas parade, seasonal holiday parties on the units and in the nursing and group home; eye exams and the purchase of correct eye wear, Broadhead said. Those events and items are paid for by donations from FRIENDS.

    Other purchases that FRIENDS makes include summertime water events, band concerts on the hospital grounds, tickets to the Queen City Fair, and occasionally renting a mechanical bull for adolescent boys to ride.

    Travel through the Haunted Grove will be via $5 hay rides, with a kiddie run at 6 p.m. and, Broadhead said there is no need to stop for supper prior to coming as the Kreepy Kafe’ will be open, offering lots of food. T-shirts will be on sale for $12 and will be available in sizes from youth small to adult 5X.

    Dorothy’s Emerald City will be available for children 10 and under who are accompanied by someone 16 or older. The Emerald City will feature face painting, tattoos, and playtime with non-scary characters.

    Several youth social clubs and community organizations have volunteered to help.

    Broadhead said the Spirit of Halloween store, which opens seasonally, sells "Spirit of Children" stickers for $1 each to raise money for children's hospitals. In this case stickers will be sold to benefit children at Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital in Jackson.

    "It is to make scary situations unfearful in the children's hospitals in the states," Broadhead said.

    The Spirit of Halloween store donated a jumping spider which EMSH will award through a raffle. Those proceeds will go to the Batson hospital. Raffle tickets are $1 each.

    An electric chair, the result of some creative recycling, is in the works and a Christmas house, used in the annual Meridian Christmas parade, will be temporarily converted into a witch house for Halloween. There will be zombies and lots of other frightening features, but Howse and Call are keeping the nature of most of the displays a secret.

    "All of this is for the patients," Howse said. "The money that we raise through this is going strictly to them."