TARPON SPRINGS – Almost every neighborhood has a house that stands out during the holiday season, one adorned with colorful lights and decorations and yards full of witches and ghosts and Grinches.
In one north Tarpon Springs neighborhood, that home belongs to the Barbieres.
The fun-loving family —parents Paul and Kathleen, their 13-year-old son Michael, 20-year old daughter Samantha, plus assorted family friends — have staged the House on the Hill Haunted Trail on Beckett Way for the past 25 years.
But what started out as a small, private affair has turned into a Howl-o-Scream style experience that has grown considerably, in size and popularity, over the years, according to the Barbieres.
“We started doing haunted houses just for the family about 25 years ago,” Kathleen Barbiere said as the family prepared for the 2018 opening of the trail, on Oct 19. “Then, five years ago my daughter was fundraising for the Tarpon Springs High School band and we did one for the public for the first time. We emptied all the furniture out of a couple of rooms in the house and had about 80 or so people come through.”
“Every year it grows,” Paul Barbiere added. “On the last night last year, we saw 200 people in an hour.”
The increase in attendance could be directly related to the family’s increased interest in helping turn their home into a spooky exhibit, complete with smoke and sound effects, random zombies, asylum patients and chainsaw-wielding killers popping up along the route.
“We make everything, and everyone helps,” Paul Barbiere, a warehouse manager, said, pointing to a table filled with papier Mache pumpkins waiting to be painted and a collection of skeletal plastic rodents nearby. “We want people to have a good time and give back to the community, and we certainly have a good time doing it.”
Kathleen, who is self-employed, is the first to admit she has a little more fun with it than the others.
“It’s definitely turning into a year-round thing,” she said, adding, “I’ve got a bit of an addiction. I didn’t realize there were so many websites and Facebook pages dedicated to this stuff. I’ve learned so many things online that it’s now year-round. I had no clue it would be okay to do this full time!”
In addition to beefing up the spooky experience—they added a full-sized stagecoach complete with a skeletal driver to the front yard this year—the Barbieres made the haunted trail a charitable endeavor.
“We never charged admission, but a couple of years ago we decided to recommend a donation of $5 that we would give to a local charity,” Kathleen explained. Two years ago, it was for the Tarpon Springs Public Library, and last year’s proceeds went to a high school band member who couldn’t afford to go on one of the band’s trips.
This year, the Barbieres have pledged to donate the gate receipts to the Shriners Hospital for Children after their “honorary child,” 13-year-old Christopher Engleman, fell and broke his elbow last August and received excellent care from the Tampa facility.
“We tried to keep the charities Tarpon based, but the folks at Shriners were so amazing to Christopher, they took care of everything, so we really wanted to give something back to them,” Kathleen said.
As they prepare for the 2018 House on the Hill Haunted Trail, which will be held over two October weekends, plus Halloween night, the Barbieres admitted they couldn’t continue to do it without the blessing of the city and their neighbors.
“The city of Tarpon Springs has been very good to us,” Kathleen said. “They know we’re here for the community, and we’re not causing any problems. And our neighbors fully support us, too. They think it’s great what we’re doing.”
That’s a good thing, because the family doesn’t have any plans to stop hitting the haunted trail anytime soon.
“We want to keep it going the way it is, hosting a charity-based trail that scares the hell out of people and have good time, because we love Tarpon Springs,” Kathleen said.
The 2018 House on the Hill Haunted Trail, at 611 Beckett Way, will be open 7:30-10:30 p.m. Oct. 19, 20, 26, 27 and 31. For more information, visit Facebook.com/houseonthehilltarponsprings.