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City orders Blackstone Street residents to shut down creep show

October 24, 2013

Standing beside one of the ghoulish denizens of the haunted maze in his yard, Dave Densmore of 604 Blackstone St. displays a copy of the city citation ordering him to shut down the charitable operation.

WOONSOCKET – City inspectors have ordered Dave and Charlene Densmore to shut down the elaborate Halloween house they built on their property, calling it a threat to public safety.
Featuring a witch’s brew of ghosts, goblins and ghoulish creatures oozing fake blood, the labyrinthine structure is made from sections of recycled stockade fence, plastic tarps and salvage-yard specials. “Fear for Food,” as the Densmores call their concoction of creepy kitsch, is open to public for nothing more than the donation of a canned good, to be passed on to one of the local soup kitchens.
But the city calls the Densmores’ haunts at 604 Blackstone St. a “special amusement building” that must be equipped with an automated fire suppression system and other safety features in order to satisfy city codes. Inspector Leo Cote served the Densmores with papers Wednesday giving them 24 hours to choose between closing down the fright-fest or having their household utilities terminated.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Charlene Densmore said yesterday. “If I stay open I’m so afraid they’re going to shut my water off.”
She should be afraid.
Mincing no words, Public Works Director Sheila McGauvran reaffirmed the threat of a utility shutoff, saying, “We will.”
The city cannot allow a public attraction to remain open if there’s a discernable risk to the public, she said. And repeat inspections by building and fire code inspectors have determined that the facility does not meet existing codes.
The Densmores have been building eye-popping Halloween spooktaculars in their yard for the last several years, but the city’s never showed any concern before, said Dave.
He said inspectors first showed up around the middle of the month and started telling him about certain improvements the structure needed to become code compliant. At first, he said, the problems were said to be electrical and he took care of them. There was more back and forth with members of the fire department who pointed out other issues.
It all came to a head Wednesday when he was informed in writing, for the first time, that the facility was an amusement building.
Signed by Cote, the paperwork says, “An inspection, which took place on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, found that you have constructed a Special Amusement Building Structure in excess of 400 square feet without building, or electrical permits, or special approvals required by Section 3103 Temporary Structures...you are hereby ordered to Cease and Desist the erection of the Special Amusement Building surrounding the above three-family structure.”
Densmore said the order doesn’t make sense because the facility has already been built and it doesn’t tell him to take it down.
Densmore said he suspects the city would have never come around in the first place if officials weren’t getting complaints.
“We don’t know who’s doing the complaining,” he says. “We honestly do not know who is complaining.”
Admittedly, the attractions have grown more elaborate over the years. Many donors, some of them anonymous, have dropped off materials or exhibits for the Densmore Halloween tradition, which is how they came across the used stockade fence to build the interior walls.
“It’s a maze,” said Densmore, as he led a visitor from the front yard to the haunted kitchen out back. There, a zombified chef uses a table saw and a rusty barbecue grill to prepare victuals of human body parts and internal organs.
“We’ve got hearts, hands, livers, eyeballs, ears, finger sandwiches...” Densmore says, sounding like the curator of some museum of the macabre.
Densmore says it was initially his wife’s idea to set up a haunted house a few years ago, but as it got bigger they decided to do it not just for chills, but charity. “Fear for Food” even has a Facebook page.
“These here are going to All Saints,” says Robert Unwin, Charlene’s brother, pointing to a stack of cardboard boxes filled with canned goods dropped off by visitors.
Unwin jostles one of the boxes toward his body with visible effort and lifts the flaps open. “These are all double-layered,” he says. “It’s like 150 pounds a box. Right now we’ve got like 700 pounds of food.”
McGauvran said the city is aware that the Densmores have been erecting a Halloween display for a number of years, but this is the first time the attraction morphed into anything that could be called a structure. Unfortunately, she said, it seems the display is now within reach of building and safety codes.
“He’s had displays but he’s never actually had a structure that people can go in,” she said.
If the facility is not closed to the public the Densmores could lose their electricity and tap water until the situation is rectified, according to McGauvran. They would have 30 days tear down the haunted house, but it would have to be closed by the end of the day on Thursday unless the safety violations are satisfied, she said.
McGauvran said the city could consider taking measures to prevent visitors from entering the haunted maze if they Densmores fail to do so on their own.
“What they’re doing for charity is commendable,” she said, “but we can’t have something that’s a risk to public safety.”
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