Haunted Sawmill is named as 2017 Volunteer Organization of the Year

We are very proud to announce that the Haunted Sawmill, LLC, was named as the 2017 Volunteer Organization of the Year by the Merrill Chamber of Commerce.

We would like to say thank you on behalf of all the Haunted Sawmill partners, families who volunteer each and every season and the altruistic members of the LLC.

These brave souls came together in 2016 to ensure that this incredible fundraiser would continue for Boy Scouts in Merrill and our surrounding communities.

Without their time, commitment and selfless giving the Haunted Sawmill would never have come back from the dead. But thanks to them the Haunted Sawmill opens for its 7th season, Friday, October 13th.

Come check us out. We believe you will have a scary good time.

Merrill's Haunted Sawmill prepares for summer haunts

Original Article - Wausau Daily Herald

MERRILL - You can't keep a ghoul down. 

At least that's what Jerry Hersil, the chair of Haunted Sawmill committee, and the team behind the Haunted Sawmill believe. 

After a year-long hiatus from scares, the team is ready to pick up where they left off, scaring the pants off of visitors to the haunted house not far from downtown Merrill. 

The Haunted Sawmill was closed for the 2016 season. The volunteers who help make the spooky dream a reality were simply burned out from the months of planning and execution, Hersil said. But this year, the team has regrouped, and the Sawmill will be back and better than ever. And it won't just open in October in time for Halloween, but even sooner in August for some mid-summer scares.

"There's a whole new level of enthusiasm," Hersil said.

Hersil has been involved with the Sawmill since the very beginning while his son was in Boy Scouts. Though his son is no longer involved, Hersil came to love working on the spooky attraction and has stuck with it through the years.

The Haunted Sawmill opened for the first time in 2010, as a way to raise money for Boy Scout Troop 599. It quickly became one of central Wisconsin's top Halloween attractions. One-hundred percent of the proceeds raised each year go to the Boy Scouts who help out at the haunted house, helping to pay for gear, camping trips and other expenses related to the troop. 

Boy Scouts will still benefit from the haunted house this year, and some of the boys are even assembling their own rooms. In all, about 60 people will contribute to the project this year in a variety of roles, building sets, acting in the scenes or selling concessions and tickets to visitors. But they all do it for the fun, and out of their love of giving people a good scare, Hersil said. 

There will be plenty of spooky props at the Haunted Sawmill when it returns for one weekend in August and for the month of October. (Photo: Laura Schulte/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

The crew behind the Sawmill plans to make up for the lost time on August 12, opening the doors to the public for one night only. It will be a celebration of the "lost year" Hersil said. 

There will also be several other events leading up to the summer haunt, including a scavenger hunt on Aug. 10, as a part of Merrill's "Crazy Days" and a masquerade ball on Aug. 11. The regular season of haunts will return on the evening of Friday, Oct. 13, and continue each weekend through the end of the month, with a special showing on Halloween evening. 

The Sawmill crew are expecting the turnout to be even bigger than in years past, surpassing the 8,000 people that visited in 2015, Hersil said. 

Kristin Woller adds a layer of fake blood to Luke Stenberg's zombie makeup. The two practiced for the Haunted Sawmill's return in August on July 6. (Photo: Laura Schulte/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

"We're really excited about it. The energy level is going to be really high here," Hersil said. "And not only that, we want to go with a much scarier version. We're going to be amping it up several nights, where it's probably more terrifying than it's ever been before." 

For more information on the Haunted Sawmill and upcoming events, visit the Haunted Sawmill Facebook page

Contact Going Out reporter Laura Schulte at 715-297-7532 or leschulte@gannett.com; on Twitter @schultelaura

Haunted Sawmill Reopens for 2017

Original article Merrill Photo News

By: Collin Lueck, Editor

After taking a hiatus in 2016, Vincent Mudgett has pulled on his mask, picked up his axe and trudged back to work at the Haunted Sawmill.

As of last summer, Vincent’s future looked uncertain. The LLC that owned the Haunted Sawmill building at Seventh and Hendricks streets in Merrill had decided to call it quits and the building was put up for sale.

“There was an incredibly committed core group of people who had been very involved in the Haunted Sawmill since its inception, and over five years, that was a lot of investment of time and energy and money,” said Jerry Hersil, one of the original LLC members. “I think people just naturally get to the point where they suffer some burnout. Unfortunately, since all of us had been working on it for the same amount of time, we all kind of suffered that at the same point.”

They had hoped to find a buyer who wanted to keep the building as a haunted attraction. The facility garnered some interest from potential buyers, but the owners weren’t going to sell to just anybody. The Haunted Sawmill event was initially created as a Boy Scout fundraiser. Since Boy Scout troops can’t own property, the LLC had to be created to purchase the former millwork factory building. Once the building was secured, the then-sponsoring Boy Scout unit used the space to actually put on the show itself.

“The Haunted Sawmill has always been a fundraiser for scouts in Merrill and we did not want to see any of that go away,” Hersil said. “Despite the burnout, I think it got some of us thinking that it’s a shame that this incredible fundraiser may not be around to help families pay for scouting.”

The Haunted Sawmill’s business is scaring people, and business had been good. The haunted house was gaining notoriety in its five years of existence, drawing over 8,000 visits in 2015. The Haunted Sawmill has been consistently ranked as one of the best in Wisconsin by various haunter websites.
The busiest night in 2015 drew 1,600 people. People came from Minneapolis, Green Bay, Madison and Chicago, as well as surrounding towns like Antigo, Wausau, Medford and Tomahawk.

“When those people come into Merrill, they spend money in town, they go to the gas stations and go to the restaurants,” Hersil said. “Not only that, but we’re getting word out that there’s this great attraction in Merrill, so it promotes Merrill too.”

After the Haunted Sawmill lay dormant during the 2016 Halloween season, some of the original LLC members came back together to reconsider the future of their haunt. Stepping back from the Sawmill for a bit, it seemed, had rekindled their passion for creating scary stuff.

The public had responded with a “tremendous amount of disappointment,” Hersil noted, when word spread that the Sawmill would not open in 2016.

During the latter part of 2016, a few of the original LLC members regrouped and were joined by new members interested in stepping up to help keep the project in place as a fundraiser for scouts.

“We have put together a new group of people who have come in and helped keep the LLC going that owns the building,” Hersil said. “There have been a lot of people that have expressed interest in keeping the Sawmill running and they didn’t want to see it fold, so they stepped forward. We have people that don’t even have children in scouting but they wanted to be part of something that is so great for Merrill.”

LLC members don’t benefit financially from the Haunted Sawmill, Hersil said. Rent paid by the sponsoring Scout units helps to cover the costs, taxes and utilities for the building, he added.

“Everybody in the LLC does it because they’re altruistic,” Hersil said. “Nobody in the LLC makes any money off of this. We invest money into it and quite honestly it’s a liability for all of us. I don’t want there to be this misconception that the LLC members are making money off of this, because we don’t. Everything is set up for the betterment of the Boy Scouts and 100 percent of the money ends up going to the scouts that work there.”

The machinery of the Haunted Sawmill is creaking back to life and will be in full motion this fall, Hersil promises.

“Come spring time when the weather warms up, we’ll be there working and getting things ready for this year,” he said.

In keeping with the Sawmill’s original mission, Cub Scout Pack 502 of Merrill has signed on as the sponsoring unit this year. Scouts from any other units that want to help out are also welcome.

Hersil is excited about the energy and enthusiasm among the reformed LLC and the volunteers that are coming forward to help put on the event through scouting.

“With the new people that are coming in there is a new level of excitement,” he said. “Some of the ideas that are being thrown around are absolutely crazy, and crazy is good for the Haunted Sawmill. I think the shows this year are going to be really exciting. I know that the Haunted Sawmill Committee wants to make things even more scary than they’ve been in the past.”

As word has leaked out about Vincent’s return, the public response has been positive.

“Vincent Mudgett, our main character, is still out there on Facebook and he’s got quite a long friend list,” Hersil said. “From the conversations I’ve had with people, nobody’s forgotten about it. They’re very excited to see it back.”

To make up for the lost year, a summer show will be added to coincide with Merrill’s Crazy Daze and the following weekend. The theme will be centering around the “The 6th Annual Haunted Sawmill – the Lost Year” and “Where’s Vincent?”

“We are going to have some kind of scavenger hunt to promote the summer show,” Hersil teased.

Show dates for the fall aren’t nailed down yet, but tentatively will be starting the weekend of Oct. 13 and 14 and running every weekend through Halloween. The fall theme will be the “7th Annual Haunted Sawmill – Vincent Resurrected.”

In 2015, the Haunted Sawmill upped the scare factor with a lights-out night. Those types of ideas will return in 2017, Hersil promises.

“I think it is going to be really exciting this year,” he said. “There are a lot of things people are going to want to come and check out, things we’ve never done before.”

The Haunted Sawmill will continue to support local causes such as the food pantry, and expand to benefit additional organizations. By offering discounted prices for families that bring canned food items, the Sawmill has been able to donate thousands of non-perishable food items each year to the local pantries.

“We’re going to continue to reach out to these groups and see if they want to be part of what we’re doing,” Hersil said. “Over the years it’s grown and become something bigger than I think most people ever anticipated. But I love the fact that we can help scouting, promote something exciting in Merrill, and help out other good causes at the same time.”

Hersil said he’s thankful for all those who put time and effort into the Sawmill over the years.

“If we did not have those people from the very start, this never would have happened,” he said. “From the people who first got together to form the LLC, to the scouting organizations, to the scout families, the scouts themselves and all of our incredible volunteers, it is truly a group effort. This is definitely an operation that requires multiple people. Everyone that has been involved in this project has done so to help making scouting better and to create a lasting legacy for Merrill.”