Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:37 PM on Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's 'Haunted Hickory' time

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Fresh blood is guiding the Hickory this year as it undergoes its annual transformation from Coast Guard cutter committed to protecting Alaskans to a haunted ship guaranteed to scare the most seasoned Halloween celebrants. With little more than a year on the Homer-based Coast Guard cutter, Ensign Chris Hepp has taken on the role of fearmeister, organizing the event benefiting the Homer Community Food Pantry.

To be part of the fun, follow the screams to the USCGC Hickory near the end of the Homer Spit on Oct. 28. Admission is two food items per person that will be collected and sorted by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Homer Flotilla and donated to the food pantry.

"Starting at 4 p.m. it's for the little kids," said Hepp of the milder form of fear-inducing shenanigans. "After 7 p.m., it's full-on scary."

The two time slots allow for more people to attend the event and increase food pantry donations. With summer behind and winter ahead, that's a good thing, said Diana Jeska, executive director of the food pantry.

"We always look forward to this every year because it replenishes our depleted shelves from the summer," said Jeska. "We look forward to this very generous effort and will help in any way we can."

In spite of cold temperatures and icy winds that hit the shores of Kachemak Bay this time of year, thousands of fear-loving Alaskans — some from as far away as Anchorage — have been known to brave the elements and add thousands of pounds to the pantry's stores. Coast Guard Auxiliarists, some in costume, collect, sort and box the donations for transport to the pantry. This year the auxiliary members have been invited to take part in the shipboard fear factory.

"We have been invited to come back again this year and collect cans at the entrance and the invitation is also extended to anyone wanting to go on the ship and actively take parting the haunting," said flotilla spokesperson Gayle Forrest, who already has her costume planned for Oct. 28.

If you ever wondered where the crew, with help from personnel aboard the USCGC Roanoke Island, come up with ideas for costumes, sets and sounds guaranteed to make guests' hair stand on end, Hepp claims it's all crew-member generated.

"They get an idea, we give them a space on the ship and we let them run a little wild with it," said Hepp.

Materials from past years are recycled in new and more frightening ways in order to keep the cost of the crew's elaborate sets down, but there seems to be no shortage of new ideas to make the Haunted Hickory more frightening than ever.

"We're working on some new things, but they aren't finalized," said Hepp, carefully guarding any clues of things to come, which sometimes involves members of the crews' families. "They have an opportunity to help out. We even have younger kids who get into it and scare people."

In order to ensure guests find their way safely through and off the ship, groups of six to eight will be escorted by a guide. Prior to beginning the terrifying tour, guests also will be welcomed aboard and given a safety briefing by the ship's captain, Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Musman.

To ward off the chill while waiting in line and ease any anxiety of the haunting that awaits, guests can warm themselves around fires in burn barrels positioned on the dock.

"And we'll run our refreshment wagon with cider, hot chocolate and coffee," said Hepp.

Where will Hepp be while all this is happening?

"I'm debating if I get to scare people again, or be more of an organizer," he said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.