Piercing screams echoed through Friday evening’s biting cold air and star-studded night sky, as students and Charlottesville residents hurriedly ran out of Brown College’s annual Hauntings on the Hill.
A thrilling and eerie start to Halloween festivities around Grounds, Brown College’s annual haunted house took place Friday and Saturday at night on Monroe Hill. Brown College residents transformed the grassy area under a large white tent into a haunted house for the weekend.
Renee Erickson, co-chair of Brown College’s Hauntings and third-year Architecture student, and her fellow co-chairs — third-year Engineering student Stephen Branch and third-year College student Kendal Williams — were elected by the larger Brown College community to be in charge of organizing this year’s Hauntings.
The executive board is in charge of executing the theme that all Brown College residents are welcome to contribute to. Accordingly, the theme dictates how guides, Brown College residents who lead participants through the haunted experience, frame the experience.
“So the overall theme is currently haunted forest, traditional monsters and cryptids,” Williams said. “So, a lot of guides, their story is [either], ‘I’m going to either hunt the monsters,’ [or] ‘I'm going to become the hunted.’”
Though it began as a casual haunted house for Brown College residents and their friends in 1989, Hauntings grew to become a charitable, Halloween staple on Grounds. The two-day event now normally receives a little over 1,000 visitors in total raising over $5,000.
Open to both students and Charlottesville residents, Hauntings costs $5 to enter and the proceeds go towards a local charity, which has yet to be selected this year. Last year’s charity was the Charlottesville Climate Collaborative, a local Charlottesville nonprofit dedicated to combating climate change.
Within the haunted house, rooms featured creatures such as werewolves, the loch ness monster, vampires, bigfoot, the chupacabra and more. The thrilling experience culminated in the final room that showcased cults and murders, during which the group’s guide was captured by the cult members and the attendees quickly ran out of the tent before they became the next victims.
Kiki McLaughlin, Brown College resident and third-year College student, acted as a room leader and actor in Hauntings’ vampire room. While the actors prepare a loose script, rehearse blocking and coordinate props, what happens on the day of is mainly improvised.
“We had a loose, loose [idea] of what was going to happen,” McLaughlin said. “I think the improvisational element is really fun — everyone gets something a little bit different.”
Second-year College student Leo Duran attended the event with second-year College student Nia Marshall. While Marshall loves Halloween and is a fan of all things horror, Duran is the opposite.
“I don't like horror. I can do true crime but I can't do horror … I've never been to a haunted house, so I felt like it would be a cool experience,” Duran said.
Even though Duran expressed an aversion to jump scares and horror stories, she was still able to enjoy and appreciate what Hauntings had to offer.
“I mean it was definitely more fun and funny than scary but I still really enjoyed it,” Duran said. “I would definitely recommend it. I really enjoyed the different rooms. The variety was really nice.”
Some students, such as second-year College student Katia Ramirez, attended last year’s Hauntings and came back this year. Ramirez first went to Hauntings in 2021 to support her friends in Brown College and for the allure of an exciting night. This year, Ramirez came back in to relive the thrilling experience with friends.
“Now I feel like it's a really good bonding experience because I'm more happy about being scared together as a group than the actual scary experience,” Ramirez said.
One new addition to Hauntings this year is that Brown College is holding a competition between Greek organizations on Grounds, including the Inter-Fraternity Council, Inter-Sorority Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council, Multicultural Greek Council and professional fraternities. When attendees check in and pay the entrance fee, they can indicate if they’re involved in these organizations. The group with the most attendees will get 15 percent of the total proceeds donated to a philanthropic organization of their choice.
Erickson said this competition aims to expand the Hauntings’ reach on Grounds.
“That's also a really great way to diversify who is coming to Hauntings and also make sure that we're spreading this really great resource that we have among multiple organizations,” Erickson said.
While Hauntings is a haunted house intended to kick off the Halloween season at the University with a charitable outcome, at its core, it is an event that brings the Brown College community together.
“I know I made a lot of really close upperclassmen friends I still have to this day at my first year Hauntings because that was the first time there was a huge community event that all of us were involved in,” Erickson said. “I think that has been really important to how I perceive Brown College and my entire university experience, and also, it's just so much fun.”