The cold, hard stone, dark passageways, dripping condensation and going on two centuries of history make the Fort Knox State Historic Site a spooky proposition at any time of year, but the last two weekends of every October, Fright at the Fort ups the chill-thrill ante. This year’s edition, the 11th, will open Friday, Oct. 22; tours run 5:30 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 30 at Fort Knox, Route 174.

Produced by and as a fundraiser for Friends of Fort Knox, Fright at the Fort has been around long enough to have a history of its own. One tradition is to add a different twist to each of the four nights. On opening “crew” night, groups of four or more attending together will receive a free pumpkin, grown and donated by Friends Executive Director Leon Seymour, while they (the pumpkins) last. Saturday, Oct. 23, coincides with neighboring Bucksport’s day-long Ghostport celebration. At 9:15 p.m., there will be fireworks, which must be viewed from across the river at the Bucksport waterfront. Ghostport activities include Jonathan Buck’s Race to the Grave coffin race, trebuchet pumpkin-chucking, pumpkin carving and a chili cook-off, as well as a post-fireworks screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Alamo Theatre.

“The fireworks are weather permitting. We’re doing them to thank all the surrounding communities who have supported us through the years,” said Seymour.

Among those supporting Fright at the Fort is a growing community of students and alumni of Searsport District High School, the largest of the family and community organization groups that volunteer and the majority of the tour guides and spooks for the event.

“Our kids really look forward to this, and many of them start planning their costumes as soon as the last Fright is over. There aren’t many places where you can earn service credit hours and scare people,” said drama director and RSU 20 teacher Chris Goosman.

SDHS started volunteering for Fright at the Fort when it began 11 years ago and had what Goosman recalled was a short, very dusty route. She had about 15 students with her then; this year’s contingent is close to 50.

“It was a daytime event when it started, too.  For a few years now the route has been going all the way through the fort, it’s an evening event and it’s the largest Halloween event in Maine,” she said.

Fright at the Fort is accumulating a large treasure trove of Halloween props, too, said Seymour, whom Goosman credited with creating the event. It takes about a week and a half to set up each Fright. Since the fort is of 19th-century vintage, Seymour and his crew have to run electrical extension cords throughout, install lights and fog machines and rig the fort for sound, in addition to setting up the many “scenes.” All in all, he said, it takes about 70 to 80 volunteers to pull off any given night. He likens a night-of undertaking to a four-cycle engine.

“The first gets the cars into the parking lot, the second gets people through the ticket lines, the third stages them into groups and takes them through the tour and the fourth sees them out of the fort and the lot so we can do it all over again,” he explained.

Helping out with the first “cycle” is the Maine Maritime Academy Cadet Club. Helping ease the wait for the second is the event’s express ticket option, where people pay for their tickets ahead of time by calling the Friends of Fort Knox at 469-6553. The express ticket costs $7, a couple dollars more than the $5 regular ticket price the Friends have never raised, and Seymour said more and more people are going that route.

Even with express tickets, there still is some waiting in line. New this year, attendees can fill that time by filling their stomachs. Bangor’s Spectacular Event Center will be selling chili, chowder, hot drinks and more. Fright at the Fort goes on rain or moonshine, said Seymour, recalling a particularly wild final night a few years ago.

“A Porta-Potty blew all the way down the parking lot. A ranger had to wrestle it down and tie it to a tree,” he said, adding “we still had 600 people that night.”

The special “twist” Friday, Oct. 29, will be the inclusion of the Pirates of the Dark Rose. The Rockport-based crew will not be sailing up the Penobscot, but will comprise one of the Fright at the Fort scenes this night.

“Our pirates will be what, unfortunately, most ‘retired’ pirates are — dead or nearly dead or undead,” said Tomm Tomlinson, aka Capt. Tom Crudbeard.

Tomlinson’s wife has a raptor education program when she isn’t marauding as Bloodthirsty Barbara, so the couple share their home with a turkey vulture, which also will share their Fright at the Fort scene. Tomlinson said Brenda Thomas, captain of Rockland’s Isaac H. Evans, always has a pirate display on her porch for Halloween and last year, he and Barbara joined the fun.

“I had this awful ‘chest wound’ and the vulture was on my shoulder. I would tell the kids we were hungry and ask for a finger, since they have 10 of them, after all. Then the bird started picking at the ‘wound.’ All the kids said ‘ewww!’ so we’re definitely doing that again,” Tomlinson said.

Fright at the Fort’s final night Saturday, Oct. 30, is costume night, where those attending the tour are invited to wear their Halloween get-ups.

“Why should you only get to use it just one night? Wear it every day,” said Seymour.

Those attending Fright at the Fort are advised to arrive no later than 8:30 p.m. For more information on both Fright at the Fort and Ghostport, visit Proceeds from Fright at the Fort help the Friends of Fort Knox fulfill their mission to restore Fort Knox and enhance its educational, cultural and economic value for the people of Maine.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to