Winnetka, Community

Winnetka sixth-graders’ haunted house scares up major funds for children’s hospital

A child’s attention span is fleeting — at best.

The world offers a lot of interesting things to learn, see and do, but none of it compared to a second year of the Haunted Forest for the 10 children who make up the Asbury Halloween crew. 

“Right when we finished last year (2020), they started talking about next year,” said Sarah Plahn, one of the organizer’s mothers and host of the event. “I didn’t know how interested they would actually still be, but throughout the year they kept talking about it and come August or September it started to pick up steam.”

The Annual Haunted Forest, dubbed the Cemetery on Asbury, went bigger and badder in its second year, thanks to more preparation, marketing and personnel.

The kid-led campaign turned the Plahns’ backyard into a nightmare, but in a good way — so good, that it raised more than $10,000 for Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. 

And that is so far. The fundraiser continues through the weekend (Sunday, Oct. 31) and donations are accepted online

One of the many frightening scenes of the haunted house in the Plahns’ backyard in Winnetka.

In the fall of 2020, COVID-19 precautions limited events and other opportunities to gather with friends and family. Plahn said her son, Oliver, and his friends brought her an idea to create a haunted house. 

With help from parents, the children mapped out a plan to build the terror in the Plahns’ backyard. Part of the plan was to charge admission, with proceeds benefiting a local charity. Plahn said Lurie, which had done so much for her son and family, was an easy choice. 

“Kids love Halloween. But not every child can spend Halloween as they’d like. That’s why we — a group of sixth-graders — created a fun way to celebrate Halloween while also raising funds for Lurie Children’s,” it reads in part on the event’s fundraising page. 

The first year the haunted forest raised almost $5,000 for the hospital. For Year 2, the Asbury crew set a modest goal of raising more funds — and crushed it. 

“There had to be nearly 1,000 people who came through here,” Plahn said. “We asked for $5 at the door, there also was a QR code you could scan and donate on the phone. It was really incredible.”

The Winnetka moms who supported their children’s efforts to run the fundraising haunted house.

Plahn was particularly struck by how Lurie had impacted so many local families.

“We heard so many stories of why Lurie was important to them,” she said. “It was really phenomenal to see how that particular cause touched so many people’s lives.”

The haunted backyard, which operated on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 22-23, featured everything you could imagine, from murderous clowns to possessed dolls to masked menaces.

While the adults helped build the structures (and run security), the hair-raising fundraiser and all the ghouls and goblins that came along with it were designed by the children of the Asbury Halloween crew: Max Chudgar, Kip Farrell, Ben Gold, Cormac Healy, Myles Jenkins, Kellan Mazur, Charlotte Moore, Oliver Plahn, Theo Sanderson and Dylan Sears.

The creative crew will head downtown in November to present a check to Lurie. You can still affect that check by donating through Sunday, Oct. 31.


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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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