By Katy Savage
The Pittsford Haunted House, dubbed one of the biggest and scariest in the area, started humbly over a dinner conversation about 40 years ago.
A group of firefighters were brainstorming how to raise money for the department.
Tom Hooker, who was a captain at the time, suggested a haunted house.
“I said, ‘you know, there hasn’t been a haunted house for a long time,” Hooker said. “A haunted house on Main Street (in Rutland) had been closed for several years.”
A large abandoned house in the woods that dates back to the early 1900s became the ideal location. It was once the Caverly Preventorium, where children at risk of developing tuberculosis went to receive preventive care and treatment.
The first meeting for the haunted house was in June, leaving little time to prepare, but it was an instant success. The first year saw about 100 people.
Now, returning for its 40th anniversary, the Pittsford Haunted House sees up to 1,000 people a night on average and it raises up to $30,000 a year for the fire department.
“I want to think over the years we’ve raised a million dollars,” Hooker said. “It just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s actually gotten to the point sometimes that it’s too big. Our biggest night ever, I think, was like 1,700 people. We were there at three o’clock in the morning. Needless to say we were all dead by then.”
The money has been used to purchase trucks, radios and uniforms.
The old house is now owned by the town and maintained by the fire department.Some believe the building itself might be haunted itself. Hooker said a series of odd occurrences, like light bulbs falling from the ceiling and doors suddenly closing, has scared locals.
Joanne Gerbera, a psychic medium from Boston, visited the property about six years ago.
“She could feel the spirit of a young girl on the second floor. She just said she could see a girl white dress,” Hooker said, recalling stories of a child who died in the house. “I mean, these are things — she isn’t even from the area so she shouldn’t have known it.”
This will be the event’s first time back in three years since the pandemic.
Jamie Hamilton, a firefighter who’s organizing the event this year, is anticipating one of the largest crowds ever.
“A lot of people are talking about it knowing it hasn’t happened in a while,” he said.
More than 100 volunteers contribute every year. Medical personnel and police are also on scene.
Hamilton said volunteers have needed to do more upkeep and maintenance to the building this year. The roof was recently repaired.
“It’s been idle for so long,” he said.
The inside of the haunted house features 12 scenes while the exterior of the entire three-acre property becomes decked in all things Halloween at the end of October. The outside becomes similar to an old fashioned Western saloon. Over the years there have been hillbillies, pirates and monsters greeting people on the outside, complete with a band. There’s also a maze and fireplace to keep guests entertained while they wait to go inside the haunted house.
Hooker, 76, has been part of the fire department for 55 years. He was chief for 32 years until he retired four years ago. He remains an active member.
“I will be as long as I can,” Hooker said. “When I’m not able to, I’ll be on the veteran’s list.”
Hooker also remains part of the beloved haunted house.
“People don’t realize what it takes to run that thing,” he said. “The whole community gets involved, which is great.”
This year’s haunted house will take place Oct. 21-22 and Oct. 27-28. The cost of admission is $10 for adults, and $5 for kids under 12.