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Patrick Kelaher has been volunteering at the Haunted Isle for more than 10 years, starring in recent years as Happy the Clown. The Haunted Isle is running Friday and Saturday nights (except Halloween) through October at the Shore Line Trolley Museum. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Kelaher )
Growing up, Patrick Kelaher was “terrified of everything.” It didn’t help that his sister and grandmother jumped at every chance they could to give him a scare. That all changed in middle school, though. Patrick remembers watching Creepshow 2 and being intrigued instead of terrified.
“I remember thinking it was really fascinating,” says Patrick. “Once you realize it’s just a guy in costume, you can really enjoy it.”
Ever since then, Patrick has been obsessed with all things horror. About 12 years ago, Patrick heard that his cousin was working at The Haunted Isle at the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven. He messaged her and she encouraged him to join her.
“The rest is history—I’ve been there ever since,” Patrick says. “It’s fun. It’s like a homegrown haunt; the people are fun, and it’s something to do during the holiday season.”
Word to the wise, though, that The Haunted Isle isn’t for everyone.
According to www.shorelinetrolley.org, The Haunted Isle is rated S for “spooky” and is not recommended for children under 10, those who are pregnant, or who have a heart condition, asthma, or are prone to seizures. The attraction consists of flashing strobe lights, loud noises, fog machines, small places, dark places, actors who jump out, props that spring out, and many other scary things.
The warning continues: “The trail is located in the woods and is lit but still very dark with uneven ground. Do not enter the attraction if you cannot easily make it through this type of terrain. We will not refund your money if you have to leave.”
The Haunted Isle is run by volunteers and this year there are approximately 50 involved between the actors and those working behind the scenes. Though few people have volunteered for as long as Patrick, he notes that by volunteering, he has met many people over the years with whom he remains in touch.
“The haunt world is a tight-knit community and I have friends at other haunts in the area,” says Patrick, who works at Barnes & Noble as well as at the West Haven Center for Coastal Ecology as a counselor in the summer. “Sometimes we’ll go help at other haunts, too. We have a common love of horror, things that are dark, scary, macabre, and creepy. Horror isn’t just a movie genre, it’s a lifestyle.”
Patrick’s role has evolved over the years. This year and last year, Patrick plays Happy the Clown in his own scene. In previous year, he was a line actor, which meant he was the first actor people interacted with on the haunt, giving people the first scare either on the trolley or as they exited.
This year, Patrick and the other volunteers have—like most event organizers—faced unique challenges due to COVID-19. During the summer, when most of the major sets building takes place, volunteers weren’t allowed to gather to build.
Even though the opening of The Haunted Isle was delayed, the volunteers quickly resolved the issues in order to run The Haunted Isle on most Fridays and Saturdays throughout October. The Haunted Isle will be held on Fridays, Oct. 16, 23, and 30 and Saturday, Oct. 17 and 24.
Tickets ($20) must be purchased in advance online for specific time slots. Tickets for late arrivals are non-refundable. All guests are required to wear face masks and must remain with their group. Hand sanitizer is available in select locations.
Once inside, those who have visited before will notice that hanging props and other set dressings were removed and all doors are open. All characters will also wear face coverings and maintain social distance.
“Before we open, we do a thorough cleaning of the whole haunt and then once we close, we do another and we also clean between each group that comes through,” says Patrick. “There’s nothing in there that customers touch and no doors to open. We had to shut down one whole scene because it was a pitch black room where people would have to touch walls.
“It is a little difficult for me because in the past, my character could get within six inches of someone and they wouldn’t know I was there,” adds Patrick. “One good thing about this year is that because people are going through in smaller, more spaced out groups, you really get the whole experience because all of the actors in each scene are focused on your group.”
Over the years, Patrick has heard from people who come back every year to see the new scenes and characters. He also says there are groups that come more than once each season.
Though Patrick grew up in West Haven where he still lives, his childhood summers were spent by the shore in East Haven where his family has a beach cottage. He remembers days spent running around the neighborhood, going home only to eat and sleep.
Now Patrick enjoys running around a different East Haven neighborhood as he and other volunteers roam the woods behind the Shore Line Trolley Museum with a goal of scaring those who attend the Haunted Isle.
“It’s different than other ones because you’re set back in the woods. You get on the trolley and are going into the unknown,” says Patrick. “I’d definitely recommend volunteering because it’s fun and you get to let yourself be who you are. Everyone knows your name—they know me as ‘Happy.’ It feels like a family there and everyone takes care of everyone and is so friendly.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .