Silliman College returned to an old tradition last weekend as Silliman’s new head of college, Laurie Santos, transformed her home into a haunted house.
The annual Silliman tradition returned Sunday and Monday for the first time since 2013, with more than 100 students attending the Sunday night event at Santos’ house. But while Silliman usually holds only a single event for Halloween each year, Santos said she decided to combine all the traditional events into one “Halloweekend” featuring a Halloween cookout and a costume party, as well as the haunted house.
“Halloween is my favorite holiday, so I didn’t want to settle for just one night of Halloween fun,” Santos said, adding that Silliman seniors “have really fond memories of that haunted house from when they were freshmen.”
Santos also said she hoped the weekend’s events would create new memories for the entire college, and the Silliman haunted house was also open to the entire Yale community.
The haunted house was strewn with fake severed limbs, black drapes hung across doorways and costumed student actors jumped out from behind corners.
Silliman student Sarah Al-Shalash ’19, who was one of the actors in the haunted house, contrasted last weekend’s events to her residential college’s atmosphere around Halloween during the student protests last October. Santos said the Halloween activities were designed to bring the residential college community together.
“Especially given the events of last year, I wanted to bring students to Silliman for something positive,” said Santos, adding that she also wanted “to get Silliman on the map for a super fun Halloween event this year.”
The haunted house, Al-Shalash said, is one of many ways Santos has made an effort to unite the Silliman community since she became head of Silliman in July.
Nora May ’17 agreed that the haunted house was not only a great way to positively engage with members of the Silliman community but also a way to reinvent the way Yale students feel about Halloween in Silliman.
“I can say sincerely that I’ve bonded both with my fellow actors and with the head of college and her husband,” said Al-Shalash.
Santos and a Halloween planning committee, which she playfully dubbed her “spook team,” called the haunted house “Ashleigh to Ashes” after a fictional character from Silliman College lore.
“According to the theme,” Santos joked, “Ashleigh, the young daughter of the first master of Silliman, was tragically burned to death on Halloween night when careless students left an illegal toaster burning when they went off to a Halloween party.”
After students descended into the basement of Santos’ house last weekend, a short video detailed the imaginary Ashleigh story. In the video, a modern-day Silliman student discovers old Yale Daily News articles about the death of the young girl and her subsequent haunting of Silliman throughout the decades. But this year, the video explained, Ashleigh’s ghost had returned with a vengeance.
One student actress stood in the kitchen holding a fake butcher’s knife, screaming at passersby. Another actor, dressed like a faceless monster, chased students on all fours.
The frights concluded in a bedroom, where actors surprised visitors from beneath the bedcovers.
May said the haunted house’s decorations and storyline revealed significant effort and careful planning. Student volunteers helped Santos decorate the house, and Santos credited the event’s success to her spook team, which included Lizzie Casey ’18, a special effects make-up artist, Noah Konkus ’18, who has had experience in production and Shelby Redman ’19, a filmmaker who made a movie trailer for the event.
Kishore Chundi ’20 said he appreciated the respect and sensitivity of the costumed actors in the haunted house.
Organizers took precautions to ensure that attendees were comfortable. Santos stood at the entryway to the haunted house to warn attendees about the strobe lights inside and explain to students that they could leave at any point.
“They made sure you could tap out at anytime if it was too much to handle,” Chundi said.