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Controversial haunted house comes down

October 29, 2013

An irate David Densmore begins to dismantle his "haunted house" at 604 Blackstone St., Woonsocket, after the state fire marshal's office deemed it a fire safety hazard Tuesday. (Call Photo/Ernest A. Brown)

WOONSOCKET – After a visit from state fire marshals yesterday, Dave Densmore did something he had vowed not to, despite an order from city inspectors: tear down the haunted Halloween maze he built on his property.

He wasn’t happy about it.

“They shut me down,” snapped Densmore, standing on a ladder as he ripped off pieces of the roof, made from a black plastic tarp. “The city couldn’t do it. The state fire marshal ordered us to do it.”

Densmore told reporters he was expecting fire marshals to return to his property at 604 Blackstone St. with a court order for him to shut down the display, but officials wouldn’t confirm that. While the state fire marshal’s office told The Call it had joined the investigation of the haunted maze, officials there declined to elaborate, saying the probe was ongoing.

Densmore was hurriedly attacking the haunted maze with hammers and power tools late Wednesday afternoon after state fire marshals left his property, about 1:30 p.m. Uniformed police officers were also standing by, and the local Woonsocket Fire Marshal’s SUV, with inspections officials sitting in it, was parked discreetly around the corner, as Densmore argued with the state inspectors on the sidewalk in front of the display.

Densmore and his wife, Charlene, defend the haunted, temporary addition to their three-family home as harmless entertainment for a good cause. The attraction is called Fear for Food, and visitors are asked to donate canned goods for a local soup kitchen as the fee for admission.

But the Densmores had been under orders from the city since last Thursday to shut down the attraction. The couple has erected Halloween displays on the property for years, but this time the creation morphed from an open display to an enclosed structure that did not meet safety codes, city officials say.

City inspector Leo Cote hand-delivered a cease and desist order to the Densmores last week in which the maze was deemed a “special amusement building” that was operating illegally because it lacked, among other things, a fire suppression system. The Densmores were given 24 hours to shut down, but they openly defied the city, asserting that officials misinterpreted local regulations.

Public Works Director Sheila McGauvran said she wasn’t sure how the state fire marshal got involved in the investigation. It came as a surprise to her that Densmore was dismantling the structure yesterday afternoon, but she said she was aware the fire marshal intended to serve the Densmores with some sort of “paperwork.”

“The city has requested our assistance in this investigation,” said state Fire Marshal Jack Chartier. “We don’t have any comment until we know what we’re looking at.”

It was after Chartier spoke that inspectors were seen interacting with Densmore outside his property. By the time they left, an inconspicuous advisory on letter-size paper had been affixed to the exterior of the disputed structure that said, “Notice of Abatement. This property located at 604 Blackstone Street, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, has been abated by the Rhode Island Fire Marshal and the use of this property is prohibited until fire and code violations have been corrected.”

Built from parts of an old stockade fence and plastic tarps, the maze is attached to the front porch of the Densmores’ house and is filled with nooks and crannies adorned with ghoulish figures, outlandishly-clad mannequins and fake renditions of hacked-up body parts. Admission is free, but the Densmores say they’ve already raised more than a thousand pounds of canned goods for charity.

“This is not a problem, this is for a cause,” said neighbor Dave Williams, who stopped by to commiserate with Densmore. “This is a positive thing for the city. People need to eat.”

A passing motorist who stopped her car in front of the display seemed surprised to see Densmore knocking it down.

“What’s going on, Dave?” she asked with a quizzical expression on her face.

Densmore explained the situation and told her he needed as much help as he could get. He said he intends to clear the property of the enclosed structure as quickly as possible and build a new Halloween display.

“It won’t be a structure. It’ll be a display, stuck into hard ground,” he said. “And if the city has a problem with it, well, that’s too bad.”

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