While Demons Howl, Folks in a Florida Nursing Home Scare Kids Every Witch Way but Loose

updated 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

The cook in the bloody apron, whipping up the bat kebabs and the popular skull-and-snake combo, is former chef Wilhelm Schmidt, 85. That mummy limping around menacingly is visiting attorney John Winkle, 63, and Winkle's cellmate, Count Dracula, is ex-furrier Herman Spencer, 92. And who's that on the gurney, with her hospital gown all gory and horrible? Why, it's occupational therapist Mary Schneider, 32, lying there patiently while a mad scientist—student intern Bill Cummings, 36—performs really hideous acts on her brain. "There are some things," Cummings observes gleefully as he whips out a saw, "that they don't teach you in occupational therapy school." Exit Brigitte Schutz, 12, shrieking, "I'm going to have a nervous breakdown!"

What's going on here is the fifth annual Halloween party that the Green Briar nursing home in Kendall, Fla., has hosted for the kiddies in the sixth grade at the nearby Palmer School. "Some of the children will get scared in the Haunted House, but then they'll see the warm faces of the residents and get comfortable again," says Jane Miller, head of Palmer's middle school. The staff of the 203-bed home has erected the 12-foot by 20-foot house in the TV lounge and decorated it tastefully with skeletons and giant spider webs and stuff like that. Off in the Evil Forest section sits Mary Mero, 80 years old and all done up in her best Wicked Witch outfit. Better not get too close, though; she has her broom and she knows how to use it. And stay clear of the forest walls, if you know what's good for you. Irene Medovoy, 43, an activities staffer at the home, is back there behind them, her hands in monster gloves, just dying to grab you. And should you get by all that, there's the Dungeon, simply crawling with delicious bats, rats, snakes and spiders.

If all this after-ghoul activity makes you uneasy, relax, at least a little. The Altegeists at Green Briar—most of them wheelchair-bound—are old hands at playing ghost to as many as 200 young guests during the week-long party at their haunt. In fact, they love it. "It takes their minds off their aches and pains," says activities director Amy Baxter, 28. "And it gives older people a chance to interact with a generation they sometimes have trouble communicating with."

There's no communication problem tonight: The kids are clearly getting the message. "This," Chris Schafer, 12, announces firmly, "is the best haunted house I've ever been to." Of course, you can never please everybody. "I wasn't scared at all," insists Shannon Brill, 12.

Not at all?

"Well," confesses Shannon, "I looked at the ceiling."

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