EDITOR'S NOTE: Writer Andy Canulette loves all things Halloween. All month, he'll be scaring up stories about Fright Night in St. Tammany.
When I caught up with Michelle Dunn last week, she was taking time to show a young man how to give an injection.
“You hold it against your arm like this,” she said, clutching the young man’s limb in one hand and thumbing the plunger of the syringe with the other. “Then you just push it in. See? It disappears right in the arm.”
Dunn isn’t a nurse, or a doctor, and she doesn’t work at a blood bank (though from some of the scenery on this particular day, you might think otherwise.) Scattered around her are a severed hand, a leg and a detached brain. There also are boxes that read "Disappearing Dagger” and “Grave Grabbing Corpse” at her feet.
None of the carnage is real, of course, including the syringe.
Dunn is chairing operations for this year’s Slidell Elks Lodge Spook Trail, and creating haunts is hard work. She and a team of dedicated volunteers have been at it since January, procuring things like insane asylum signs and chain saws. And now that October is here, the pace of their work has quickened.
The Slidell Elks Lodge Spook Trail will be held from dusk until 9 p.m. Oct. 22-23 and again Oct. 29-30.
Let’s be clear. I’ve been to the Slidell Elks Lodge itself a jillion and one times through the years — wedding receptions, birthday celebrations, picnics, political functions. But every time I turn off Thompson Road onto the narrow outlet that is Elks Road, one thing comes to mind: Spook trail.
Every October, the lodge grounds are turned into a haunted tour under the shadowy trees along adjacent Bayou Liberty. Elks members like Dunn, as well as their families and friends, costume as monsters and creeps and freaks of all shapes and sizes.
Tourgoers are guided along the pitch-black trail by a ghost host, and the entire party walks in single-file line (always clinging to a shared rope, so no one gets lost in the darkness.) There’s a fortuneteller, and … well, I don’t want to give away too much.
Suffice to say, the Slidell Elks Lodge Spook Trail is a yearly tradition at my house, and we have the pumpkin orange T-shirts from way back when to prove it.) But for the good folks who produce the haunted attraction each year, it’s not only a family affair, but a lifeblood to the valuable work of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
Dunn started acting in the spook trail when she was a preteen. Three decades later, she’s still at it.
“I was in surgery,” she said matter-of-factly of her maiden portrayal on the trail. “They were cutting on me.”
Dunn’s parents were Elks, and she’s helped keep the treacherous tradition alive on the banks of Bayou Liberty through the years.
“The year before last, I came through the trail and I heard someone calling my name,” said Georgette Dunn. “It was Michelle (whose husband is Georgette's father-in-law). She asked us if we wanted to be a part of it. Now we’re in it again. It’s a lot of fun.”
Fun, sure, but all for a good cause. The Elks is a charitable group, and events such as the Spook Trail help fund their community-building work for children, veterans and others throughout the year.
“It’s a labor of love,” Dunn said of coordinating the yearlong effort necessary to stage the spook trail. “But it’s worth it.”
There is no age requirement to enter the trail, but it can be a bit loud out there, and the trail does wind through darkness. In my experience, however, it’s a manageable tour for all except the truly faint of heart. Children of all ages go through the tour, but be your own judge.
Cost is $8 per person, and Lowe’s Home Improvement employees are admitted for half price because Lowe’s donated much of the equipment needed to build the spooky stops along the trail. Just show your Lowe’s ID when purchasing tickets at the lodge, which is located at 34212 Elks Road (just off the intersection of U.S. 190 and Louisiana 433 east of Slidell.)
For more information, call the lodge at (985) 641-1266.