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Hangman’s House of Horrors closing after Halloween season

Posted 8:23pm on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013

The boos could turn to boo-hoos this year at Hangman’s House of Horrors.

The longest-running haunted attraction in Fort Worth will close for good after its 25th year in the fright game, president D’Ann Dagen said Thursday.

The institution, at North Forest Park Boulevard and Interstate 30 next to the Magic Etc. costume shop, will open for its final season on Sept. 13 and close on Nov 2.

The decision to shutter the show was not made lightly, said Dagen, president of La-De-Da Productions, which produces Hangman’s and gives 100 percent of the profits to local charities. There are several factors involved, including declining profits and the probability that the land that the aging building sits on is becoming more desirable to developers.

But the biggest reason is personal: Dagen is ready to devote more of her time to her personal life —and whatever opportunity is next for her (what that is, she’s not sure yet).

“Nothing would thrill me more for someone to come aboard who could take this and run with it,” she said in a phone conversation in which she sometimes spoke through tears. “I have scouted quietly around for several years, someone who I could groom, who could take it on from an operational standpoint. Honestly, nobody has ever come aboard who has been willing to put in this amount of time.

“It’s best to close it.”

Hangman’s started in 1989. Dagen, who had been involved with charitable fund-raising and volunteer coordination for several corporations, started working with the organization in her spare time, and that soon grew into a full-time job.

For much of its history, proceeds went to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Tarrant County. In 2005, it expanded to include other charities such as the American Cancer Society, Rocky Top Therapy Center, SafeHaven of Tarrant County, Cenikor Foundation and A Wish With Wings.

It has been featured on Travel Channel’s America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions, been named one of the top 10 haunted attractions in the country by Yahoo! Travel (in 2012), and won numerous “best of” awards in local polls.

Until the economy went bust in 2008, Dagen said, about $100,000 went to charity each year. But in the past few years, the amount has been considerably less. That’s due to lower attendance, she said, partly because of the economy and partly because of the stream of entertainment options, and the raised expectations for high-tech effects that the large, for-profit haunted attractions have brought to the game.

Also, she said, the target demographic, ages 16 to 24, has become numb to graphic violence.

“Hangman’s has always been more light-hearted and theatrical and campy,” Dagen says. “It wasn’t so much about shock, it was about a playful, fun, jump-out-of-the-dark kind of scary. As Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘There is no terror in the bang, but in the anticipation of it.’ ”

Hangman’s uses more than 1,000 volunteers each year — from the actors to ticket-takers and concession workers to security personnel. For Dagen, working with them has been the highlight of the job.

“The element I’m so passionate about is the people, the volunteers,” she says. “Some of them, it has changed their life. It gave them opportunities to grow and build skill sets and be part of this fraternity of love that’s hard to match.”

The theme for the final Hangman’s is “Unhappily Ever After,” and returns to one of the most popular themes in Hangman’s history: “scary tales.”

There will be riffs on Pinocchio, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Wizard of Oz, Hansel and Gretel and other classic tales. And of course perennial favorites, such as the black-and-white checkered room, the scary clowns and the spinning tunnel, will remain. So will the 3-D Wonderland attraction and the Labyrinth maze. The attraction previously inhabited by scary hillbillies in “McDagenville” will change to an on-trend zombie theme of “outbreak.”

Sounds fitting for what will be “The End” of a Fort Worth institution.

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