As little children, the 11 Hagel kids celebrated the family’s favorite holiday by climbing into small boxes to “grab ankles,” slipping into coffins and pulling on haunting masks.
They regularly spooked people at Hagel’s House of Horrors, a haunted house started by their dad, Dale Hagel Sr. The haunted house terrified thousands from 1962 to 1993, when it closed due to new fire regulations, according to a Spokesman-Review story at the time.
“Dad was a big kid,” said Don Hagel, the fourth child. “He would actually go into a depression when it was all over.”
Hagel Sr. always said he wanted to be buried at the haunted house location, the old Jamieson Substation that was part of the Medical Lake Electric Line. He died in 2016 at 82. The substation was demolished months later, the family said.
Jerry Hagel, 53, then had an idea to make his father’s dream of being buried at the house of horror come true: a mausoleum replica of the old spook house.
“They all, maybe, thought I was kind of crazy at first,” Jerry Hagel said of his brothers and sisters.
The siblings quickly got on board, though, and it was finished and installed in Riverside Memorial Park about two years ago.
A few other family members are entombed there, with Hagel Sr. residing at the center in a small model of the haunted house.
On the last day of the month, the siblings and family friends who are in town head out to see their dad, have a beer and catch up.
The group gathered Friday so a few family members who can’t make it on Halloween could join.
Dale Hagel, the oldest, said his earliest memories include his dad, aunts, uncles and family friends setting up early versions of the haunted house.
He was born two years after the house of horrors got going.
Frank Hagel, Dale Hagel Sr.’s father, bought the substation in 1932 and operated it as a tannery until his death in 1954.
The family used the old brick building for parties, including on Halloween. Word began to spread about the gathering and it grew, eventually turning into a full-fledged haunted house.
“We didn’t know what trick-or-treating was,” Dale Hagel said. “We had the haunted house so we never went.”
Creating the house each year was a family affair; in fact, it was the Hagels’ biggest family holiday, when all the extended family would come into town.
“Halloween was our favorite holiday of the year,” said Suzi Klemke, the fifth Hagel child.
Their maternal grandmother, Isabel Rohner, was a seamstress who would create elaborate costumes for the kids to wear, topped with store-bought masks.
Mom Wannie Hagel was in charge of feeding everyone. She and her sisters would make up big batches of chili, hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids to grab as the night went on.
Friends would come work the haunted house, too. Chuck Peterson met Larry Hagel in kindergarten and quickly learned how fun the Hagel house was, usually with more than a dozen kids and a few dogs running around.
Klemke’s husband, Mike Klemke, was friends with her older brothers and played Dracula one year. He would stand still as a statue in the corner near a coffin with one of the girls dressed up in it, Mike Klemke recalled.
Passersby would think he was a dummy, then Klemke would spring to life, terrifying the captive audience.
Hagel Sr. loved adding to the house each year. It started out as a maze with hay bale walls, but grew into a three-story circus with fur tacked to the walls, trap doors and a slew of spooky characters, the kids described.
He was always the first to don a mask and scare anyone he could.
“He just couldn’t wait to get in there and start scaring people,” Peterson said. “It was awesome.”
The family ran the house five to eight days a year. At first it was donation only, but by 1988 they charged $1.50 for admission. One of their biggest nights , Don Hagel said, more than 1,800 people spent 30 to 45 minutes screaming their way through the haunted house.
After paying the off-duty sheriffs’ deputies he hired as security, feeding everyone and taking the spookers out for a night of roller skating, Dale Hagel Sr. would donate any leftover proceeds to charity. The haunted house really was for the fun of it, Don Hagel said.
While building the mausoleum , Larry Hagel put together a website in honor of the old spook house, full of videos, pictures and memories. Local artist Chris Bovey created his own rendition of Hagel’s House of Horrors earlier this year as part of his “Spookane” collection of posters.
The Hagels plan to gather on Halloween, as has become tradition, to not only honor their dad, but continue his legacy of bringing the family together during spooky season.
“I know he’d be tickled with it,” Jerry Hagel said.
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