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Nick Keppler for The Incline

Guts, electric chair, even the kitchen sink auctioned off at this Pittsburgh haunted house

“We got the skeleton clown on the gurney!” auctioneer John Peters said. “Do I have $20?”

The skeleton clown on the gurney, wrapped in an outfit of multicolor polka dots on one side and rainbow stripes on the other, went for $40. The crowd moved to a corpse covered in blood and clothed in ripped rags, strapped to a table.

“Where else in America are you going to find this today, folks?” asked John Peters.

John Peters and his dad, auctioneer Fred Peters who wore a Navy College ball cap, took over for one another as the crowd made its way through the maze of a basement, its walls covered in red splatters and crimson handprints. “I don’t think anywhere else.”

The corpse and the table went for $50.

When businesses cease operations, they call auction houses to liquidate the remaining fixtures and recoup some cash. This is also true of haunted houses, and that’s why about 50 people toured Terror Town on Tuesday. It’s the defunct Halloween attraction in the 30,000-square-foot basement beneath the Cruze Bar/Club Zoo complex in the Strip District.

The space was once a discount grocery. The Firman family, which owns the building, opened a “haunt” (as they’re known in the scare business) in 2011, one full of faux gore and automated ghouls that leapt from beds and coffins. After four years of eliciting screams and whitening hairs, a water line break sidelined Terror Town for the 2016 Halloween season, according to John Peters. The Firmans decided to close for good and called Fred Peters Auctioneers in the fall to liquidate.

The Peters men, who usually clear out defunct restaurants and grocery stores, advertised the sale both locally and in specialty websites and magazines. Forty-seven buyers came from as far as Georgia and Florida to bid from an auction catalog that included such entries like dragon prop, mummy, asst [assorted] skeletons, jail cell, rack w/ shackles, spider hallway w/ strobe lights, bat demon and asst guts.

Many in the crowd came in T-shirts bearing the names of the haunts they hope to stock: Spooky Ranch, Demon House, Netherworld, Fear Forrest. One young woman wore spider-web fishnets and a necklace with a single charm that read “haunt.”

“People don’t understand it’s a year-round business or how expensive it is. They think we do it two months of the year,” said Steve Guild, who was visiting from Newnan, Ga. with Maloree Bruce. They work at the 13 Stories Haunted House there. Planning for next year begins when a haunt is operational, and Guild and his colleagues are on a never-ending search for eye-popping devices.

“People expect a lot more tech and a lot more eye candy,” he said.

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Nick Keppler for The Incline

They were in the crowd that moved through a faux insane asylum of figures tied to beds with dried splashes of red on the walls. They entered a clown room of corpse jesters and rainbow-colored barrels stacked to the ceiling. They passed into a children’s bedroom of broken toys stacked in piles, a six-foot gumball machine currently full of rotting candies gaining a sandy texture, and zombie-fied children that would have popped up from the beds were Terror Town still in operation.

It still looked like a haunted house — save for the lights. Before the sale, John Peters spent three hours putting in bright overheads.  

The bidders moved through a literal maze. But the layout of twists, turns and narrow hallways that made it a good haunt was less than ideal for an auction. The Peters men lead everyone single file from scene to scene. As soon as they entered an expansive room, they started the bidding on items they just passed, with the two Peters men rattling off numbers and bidders raising their numbered cards.

It was a four-hour process and, at one point, a white-bearded guy in an Alice Cooper T-shirt took a load off on the steps leading to a metal electric chair. (It was one of the top-selling items of the day at $1,000).

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Courtesy of Katy Nevinsky

Some of the items were sold as single props, like a dragon that lays limp on a push cart ($50) or an octagon-shaped cage, tall and wide enough to captivate a family of four ($110).

The auctioneers also sold entire scenes. The “alien room” included two replicas of the sleek black terror from the saga starring Sigourney Weaver, one grey X-Files-style alien, and two brain-like organs hanging from the ceiling. The whole shebang sold for $375. A spider room of arachnids, webbing and strobe lights went for $135. A pub set up with a bar, a two-way mirror and an assortment of empty wine and liquor bottles netted $50.

Though they seem adaptable to any grimy scene, piles of miscellaneous plastic guts raked in just $5 or $10 each. Complicated set-ups that’d be difficult to transport intact also fared poorly. A bald figure in pajamas hanging by a noose from a decrepit shower with red-splattered curtains nets? Just $10. A murder-scene kitchen went for just $5, even with Fred Peters’ blustery auctioneer routine. “You got the cabinets! You got the brains! You got the baby head! You got toasters! You got all the stuff!”

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Nick Keppler for The Incline

Derek Vitas, owner of the Cleveland area’s Spooky Ranch, spent almost $10,000 — most of it on pneumonic equipment, figures that shake and pop up. He said he would have spent more than $50,000 for it at trade shows and from specialty manufacturers. “It’s pennies on the dollar,” he said.

Bruce and Guild are heading back to Georgia with a coffin, corpse clown and fog machine, among other items.

At the end of the twisting journey, Fred Peters led the bidders into the final scene from hell, that of banal grunt work: the space that had been Terror Town’s supply room. The business was also liquidating every pedestrian fixture needed to run a haunted house: extension cords, mops and brooms, air compressors, floodlights, fire extinguishers, filing cabinets — everything including the kitchen sink.

Literally. The metal kitchen sink sold for $45.

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