The U.S. Coast Guard’s motto “Semper Paratus” — Latin for “always ready” — perfectly sums up the decades-long attitude of local Coasties using a Homer-based cutter to deliver a Halloween fright.
Twenty-three years ago, the USCGC Sedge treated area residents to the first ship-based haunting. According to Nov. 7, 1991, Homer News coverage, it “scared the socks off more than 650 visitors.” Thirty crew members and their families worked together to provide the public with a “bloody good time,” Petty Officer Raymond Harrod is quoted as saying.
The event also doubled as a fundraiser, bringing in $250 for the Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
The following year, excitement about the Haunted Sedge had clearly spread and more than 900 guests “braved cool temperatures” and stood in line for as long as 45 minutes just for the thrill of being frightened, according to the Homer News Nov. 5, 1992.
Two years later, the fundraising effort had shifted direction, with $155 going to the Kenai Peninsula United Way and 75 pounds of canned food collected for a local food bank.
Word of the ship’s reputation for being a frightening spot for Halloweenhas continued to grow.
“…the crazy Coasties are at it again, turning the venerable vessel into a ship of shiver and shock,” said the Homer News Betster in the Oct. 24, 1996, edition. “Mothers, count your children when you leave. Them sailors is hungreeeeeeeeeeeaahhh!”
So deep had the tradition of a haunted Coast Guard cutter sliced into Homer’s Halloween celebrations that in 2002, as the Sedge prepared to depart Homer, the crew took the time for one final Haunted Sedge.
“Next Halloween the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sedge will be patrolling Africa as part of the Nigerian navy,” the Betster reported on Oct. 24, 2002. “She’s been a good ship and served Homer well, and every Halloween generations of kids have been spooked when touring the Haunted Sedge.”
The ship’s departure didn’t stop the haunting, however. After the USCGC Hickory’s arrival, its crew picked up right where the Sedge left off and introduced the public to the “Haunted Hickory.”
And the frightening continues these many years later, with the torturers and the tortured aboard the vessel oh-so-ready to haunt the hundreds that flock annually to the Pioneer Dock, where the ship awaits.
As night descends and the cold of an approaching winter wraps itself around the shivering guests, screams can be heard coming from the ship. A nerve-shattering whirring conjures up images of Hollywood’s bloody, but all-too-real “Texas Chainsaw Massacres.” Creepy organ music floats across the surface of Kachemak Bay. All just a prelude to what awaits once on the ship.
Hickory crew member David N. Parker, who is helping organize this year’s Haunted Hickory, is quick to remind that the ship is a working vessel and not ADA compliant. There are steep stairs. There are doorways that have to be carefully stepped through. There is darkness. And there is the unexpected waiting around each turn.
As in past years, the Haunted Hickory thoughtfully offers two levels of fright, beginning with a 4-5 p.m. version of soft-scare for young children and those easily frightened. After an hour’s break, all bets are off and it’s full-on-fright for teens and adults from 6-10 p.m.
All that said, safety is a concern.
“Persons appearing to be under the influence of alcohol will not be admitted. No weapons are permitted,” Parker said in a Haunted Hickory press release.
New to the Hickory, John Ziemba, an electrician’s mate, is looking forward to helping transform the ship into a blood-curdling venue.
“This is the first ship I’ve been on that’s a part of this type of thing,” said Ziemba. “It seems pretty fun.”
As in past years, the 2014 Haunted Hickory is again an opportunity for the ship’s crew “to give back to the local community and collect food for the Homer Food Pantry,” Parker said in his press release. That is a another part of the one-night event that has grown since the early days. Food donations in 2013 weighed 2,000 pounds.
Dianna Jeska of the Homer Community Food Pantry said the donations from the Haunted Hickory are “so appreciated, especially this time of year when food is getting short and we’re looking toward the holidays.”
It is interesting to note Homer’s food pantry began the same year as the Coast Guard’s haunting of Homer, 1991.
“We’re very grateful to the community support over the years,” said Jeska.
The Haunted Hickory’s price of admission is two nonperishable food items per person.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Halloween and harvest events
• “Spud-tacular” harvest celebration, noon-1:30 p.m., Little Fireweed Academy (grades K-2)
• Halloween parade, 12:30 p.m., Paul Banks Elementary School
• Halloween parade, 12:45 p.m., West Homer Elementary School
• Haunted Hickory, 4-5 p.m. for younger children and those easily frightened, 6-10 p.m. for teens and adults, admission two nonperishable food items per person, Pioneer Dock, Homer Spit
• Fall carnival, 4-7 p.m., McNeil Canyon Elementary School
• Halloween carnival, 6-8 p.m., Chapman School, Anchor Point
• Trunk or treat, 4:30-6 p.m., parking lot across the Sterling Highway from the Blue Bus in Anchor Point, for information, contact 235-1884
• Halloween one-way, 5-8 p.m., traffic flows west on Bayview and east on Montainview to increase safety for trick-or-treaters. lane closed to cars is open to pedestrians with exceptions made for residents going home
Check the Homer News print and online calendar, homernews.com