It originated two years ago as a family’s Beggars Night treat to the community, but Penney’s Carnival of Souls has grown so big that a second night is being added this year.
It’s basically a free haunted attraction located between 610 and 616 N. High St. in Hillsboro and will be open this year from 6 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, Oct. 27 and Saturday, Oct. 29.
“The whole reason we do this is because we’re selfish individuals. We do it because it makes us feel good,” said David Penney, the patriarch of the family that organizes the event. “We get a kick out of it and the more people that enjoy it, the more we like it. It’s our way of giving back to the community.”
After his family moved to Hillsboro from Kettering about five years ago, Penney said they originally wanted to open a youth community center, and even purchased the old Mother Thompson property to try to get one started. But when that didn’t work out – due to zoning issues, according to Penney – they turned to something else.
Actually, Penney said, the family never intended to open their Beggar’s Night event to the entire community. But after they moved to North High Street a couple years ago just a day or two before Beggars Night, then didn’t have many trick or treaters show up at their home, they decided to take a different approach.
“We had 21 kids show up that first year and that was such a disappointment that our daughter said, ‘That’s no good, we need to do something to get more kids and adults in here,’” Penney said.
So, Penney’s Carnival of Souls was born.
Penney estimated that last year 1,800 to 2,200 people went through the carnival-themed attraction. But he said there were hundreds of others that didn’t get to go through because time ran short. So this year – with the city of Hillsboro’s blessing, Penney said – they’re adding more hours and a second night.
“We’re going to try this year to cater to a little bit of everybody,” Penney said. “We’ll pull a little of the more scary things out on Thursday so it can be a little more family friendly, but we’ll crank it up a good bit on Saturday. It’s more of a psychological and visual attraction, lighting, sounds effects and things like that. Not a lot yelling, chainsaws and that kind of thing. There’s a lot of clowns. Maybe freak show situation would be the best way to describe it. It’s the kind of things you’d encounter at a carnival, but a little darker.”
Penney said it takes roughly 13 to 17 minutes to go through the attraction. It starts at a ticket booth in front of the home on North High Street, goes through a large clown’s mouth, then winds back between two properties before emptying out onto Collins Avenue.
Several people waited in line an hour or two last year, Penney said, but he said his actors try to keep those guests entertained. Anyone who comes dressed up gets a “goodie” bag at the end of the adventure.
Penney said his family and others will start working on the carnival site on Oct. 1 and will continue until just before Beggars Night. He said that last year they had 23 actors, but they would like more volunteers, both to help build the carnival site and to be actors. He said the family can outfit about 115 actors.
Anyone interested in helping can contact Penney through the Penney’s Carnival of Souls Facebook page. He said there’s a phone number on the page for anyone that would like to talk to him.
There is no parking at the site, but Penney said the nearby Turner & Son Funeral Home cooperates with the carnival, along with Stephanie’s Top Dog Pet Spa on North East Street.
Penney said that while the event costs several thousand dollars to put on, there is no charge for guests.
“We didn’t intend to the bring the whole community in when it first started. We just wanted to give away more treats and give the kids in the community something to do,” Penney said. “We just kind of tripped over it, but it’s fun for the community and fun for us.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.