Rick Pierce sets up his pop-up haunted house

Rick Pierce feverishly sets up his pop-up haunted house ahead of Saturday's storm on Union Street in Manchester on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.  

All kids who enter the “Blind Terror” haunted experience at 1170 Union Street this Halloween will be armed with protection.

“Kids can hold up a glow stick, which acts as a monster repellent, and the actors will scale back,” said Monique Pierce, who has helped her husband Rick design thrilling haunted experiences since 2009.

The events, called WITCHH Productions, started as a Halloween party morale booster at Rick’s job in Connecticut.

“Which turned into a haunted house, which turned into a bigger haunted house, and an even bigger one. Until they outgrew the company,” explained Monique, and they had to start hosting them in other venues.

WITCHH is an acronym for We Invent Terrifying Charity Haunted Houses. This will be the Pierces’ first big WITCHH event since they moved back home to New Hampshire after 19 years in Connecticut.

“It’s so wonderful to be back in Manchester, we’re very happy to be home,” said Monique.

The haunt opened last night. Unfortunately, the expected nasty weather means tonight’s planned tours will likely be a washout but they’re opening back up on Halloween night this Wednesday.

During Trick-or-Treat hours from 6 to 8 p.m. there will be a “Fright Lite” experience for the littler kids. The real deal “Blind Terror” will be held from 8 to 10 p.m.

I go by the Pierces’ home several times a day, and I’ve been intrigued by all the activity. Black tarps and strange signs have been going up since last weekend. Yesterday I finally knocked on the door to find out who was behind it all. Rick and Monique were busy setting up the 2,000-square-foot experience in their backyard for last night’s visitors.

It’s not your ordinary haunted house.

“What makes Rick’s unique is there’s a storyline,” said Monique. “The guests are guided through the haunt with a costumed actor.”

This year’s story, as well as photos from past WITCHH events, can be found at WITCHH.com.

Monique said visitors will be told the story as they are guided through several spooky scenes featuring costumed characters and hundreds of animatronics. Scenes include a haunted cornfield, pumpkin patch, swamp, spider cave, forest, cemetery and dungeon.

Back in Connecticut, WITCHH Productions raised money for charities there, including food pantries, YMCAs and women’s shelters.

“This year the charity is very dear to our hearts,” said Monique.

2020 VisionQuest was a nonprofit started by Rick’s brother Randy Pierce, who was stricken with a neurological disease rendering him blind at 22. Randy is now a motivational speaker who captivates audiences with stories of his remarkable achievements, including climbing all 48 of the 4,000-foot peaks in the White Mountains with his guide dog Quinn.

Money raised by 2020 VisionQuest goes to two organizations that benefit the visually impaired — Future in Sight and Guide Dogs for the Blind. So now you understand the “Blind Terror” theme of this year’s haunt. Randy will be among many of the Pierces’ family and friends helping at the haunt, some coming from as far away as Virginia.

Monique said she doesn’t dress up, but will be manning the front table to welcome guests and collect donations. It turns out she won’t even go into haunted houses, even though she spends so much time helping Rick with the logistics, buying new props, planning, marketing and feeding the volunteers.

“It’s brought us closer together in a shared activity,” Rick wrote in a guest blog on his brother’s www.2020visionquest.org website.

The couple has been working on this year’s haunt for six months. In addition to the building of sets and props, they’ve also worked with the city and Manchester police and fire departments to make sure they are offering a safe experience.

“We take safety really seriously,” said Monique.

It seems like a lot of work and a huge expense to scare a bunch of strangers, but this haunted house thing is definitely Rick’s calling.

“Studies show that people like to be scared. They enjoy the adrenaline rush. In cases like my haunts, they enjoy the story as well, because I like to build in a story with a scary climax. They scream. They jump. They shout expletives. Sometimes they laugh nervously because something got them that they weren’t expecting,” Rick wrote in the blog post.

“So why do I do it? Scary as it is to admit, I do it because I’ve found over the years that all the hard work pays for itself many times over in hearing the reactions of our audience. It’s worth it for spending time with family and friends working together to provide a fun and exciting experience for others.”

Do you have a passion you like to share with the people of Manchester? Tell Katie about it at scene@unionleader.com.