Worth Recognizing: Community Members Who Go Above & Beyond

Randy Ristine, Arlene Hitchens: Creating goblins and ghosts that help save animals

At 19 Nathalie Dr. in Hockessin, an autumn wind rustles shriveled leaves across a moonlit graveyard. Inside, Randy Ristine, 53, looking pale and gaunt, sits at a séance table waiting for a medium to conjure his dead relative.

But he becomes concerned and yells in horror as he realizes that evil spirits have arrived instead.

The Hockessin resident is an actor in a scene at the Hockessin Haunted House (HHH). An annual Halloween fundraiser for CompAnimals Pet Rescue Inc., in Landenberg, Pa., a non-profit that helps ill, abused, deformed and homeless pets. Since 2009, it has donated $17,103—collected through $5 entrance fees. Last year the event raised $4,705 after more than 600 folks dared to visit during the four nights it was open.

“Last year’s event helped a little cocker spaniel with a jaw broken in four places,” says Leslie Hunt, CompAnimals founder and director. “He needed a CAT scan and surgery.” Besides paying for veterinarian expenses, the proceeds also help cover the facility’s heating bill.

Ristine is among approximately 50 volunteers who make HHH possible. He helps create and build the spooky atmosphere that takes possession of the 2,400-square-foot, two-story house.

“Some people may think it’s cheesy to hold such a production at someone’s house,” says Ristine, an electrical engineer with Siemens. But the paranormal activity that takes place at the pool, the basement, a bedroom, the library, the parlor, and other rooms is as sophisticated as those found at for-profit area Halloween attractions.

It takes more than two months to set up the house and 11 days to take it down. Visitors come from local areas, including Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Homeowner Arlene Hitchens and her daughter, Lori, came up with the concept of HHH after ghoulishly decorating their living room to amuse friends and trick-or-treaters in the early 2000s.

Hitchens’ love of Halloween and her love of planning and creating a fun event to share with the community led her to open her home to the public in 2007, and to HHH becoming a fundraiser.

The Hitchens and Ristine use their own money to cover HHH costs, such as costumes and contraptions that create the scary atmosphere. Hitchens says volunteers, including student actors and groups from the University of Delaware, have kept HHH growing and improving.

Ristine’s script-writing and his behind-the-scenes technical and electrical expertise has taken HHH to higher levels than she thought possible, Hitchens says.

“Arlene has no problem with me drilling holes in her floor to run an airline to levitate a table or rattle pots and pans,” says Ristine, who has given up his acting chores at HHH. Instead, he fixes things that malfunction, trains actors, or makes sure special effects and devices are carefully timed by sensors, switches, and queues to send books flying off shelves, creating apparitions, or triggering bodies that pop up.

“I’ve created a ceiling drop box that on remote command releases a swinging body lunging toward guests,” Ristine says. He’s also helped install prison bars made of flexible PVC pipes so “lab experiments” can escape and chase unsuspecting guests.

Ristine got involved in 2007 when his daughter, Alyssa, urged him to walk down to the Hitchens house to “check it out.” Alyssa is friends with Hitchens’ granddaughter, Katie.

“After going through my first season of being in (HHH) and having had so much fun acting in the séance room, I was hooked,” says Ristine. “But ultimately, the greatest excitement arrives when we receive the final tally from Leslie, hoping we’ve exceeded last year’s total charitable earnings.”

To volunteer at the Hockessin Haunted House and for more information visit hockessinhauntedhouse.org.

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