The Hoosierist: Scare Tactics

Haunted leftovers, cupcake allergens, and the very rich. Ask The Hoosierist.

Q: What do they do with the Children’s Museum Haunted House stuff after Halloween? They do a different theme every year, so it’s not like they can put that stuff in storage for reuse.
Holly W., Carmel

A: So you think that, come November 1, the Children’s Museum Guild (which stages the haunted house) just tosses all those spooky props into the nearest Dumpster? Or sells them at what would surely be the world’s creepiest garage sale? Then prepare yourself for a Twilight Zone–style twist. Almost all of it, from the caskets to the wax-encrusted candelabras, gets recycled. Or perhaps “resurrected” is a better word.
The process begins the day after Halloween, when a group of volunteers disassembles the haunted house. Which isn’t nearly as big a deal as it sounds. It takes 15 months of planning and seven weeks of construction to set up the 7,000-square-foot extravaganza, but less than a day to break it down and cart the stuff to a fourth-floor storage area. There everything molders until August, when it’s hauled out and repurposed for the new haunted house. It seems like a stretch, because each year the Guild adopts a new theme, and there’s precious little overlap between, say, Tomb of Doom (2009) and Vampire Vacation (2011). But through the miracle of repainting—and the fact that most visitors only see the displays in semi-darkness and are often pants-wettingly scared at the time—nobody seems to notice.

This year’s theme, Time Warp: 50 Years of Fear, commemorates the haunted house’s half-century anniversary. You can bet the staff ransacked the storage area for that one. Fortunately, there are plenty of props that can be reused every year without much hassle, including bins of fake spiders, bats, and skeins of spiderwebbing. Kind of sounds like The Hoosierist’s basement.

Q: Who’s the richest person in Indiana these days?
Olivia E., Fishers

A: According to Forbes magazine’s annual list of the Richest People in America, the honor belongs to Bloomington resident Gayle Cook, 79, the widow of Bill Cook, founder of Bloomington-based Cook Group, the world’s largest privately owned medical-device manufacturer. You wouldn’t know it, however, because Cook, who’s worth a cool $3.7 billion, kind of keeps to herself. She’s so private that Forbes couldn’t even find a current picture to accompany her list entry.

But she isn’t just being coy. In 1989, Cook was kidnapped by a man who demanded $1.2 million in cash and $500,000 in gold for her return. Though he was quickly apprehended and Cook released unharmed, it seems to have left her with a deep and well-founded desire to avoid notice. If you like Hoosier billionaires with a bit more swagger, just look down the Forbes list a little farther. The state’s No. 2 is none other than mall developer Herb Simon ($2.2 billion), followed by Dean White of Crown Point, who earned his $1.8 billion in the billboard and hotel industries. Or perhaps you’ve heard of No. 4, James Irsay, who collected $1.5 billion operating an athletic team whose name escapes The Hoosierist just now.  

Q: I’m supposed to bring snacks for my son’s first-grade class, but the kids are allergic to everything. Is there a bakery in town that specializes in making allergy-benign cupcakes?
Amanda I., Indianapolis

A: Though The Hoosierist’s 7-year-old son is thankfully allergy-free, that’s definitely not the case for many of his schoolmates. Outside his classroom hangs a list of the various items the kids inside are allergic to, from wheat to soy to eggs to pineapple. Which of course adds a heaping cup of complexity to the formerly innocuous act of bringing cupcakes to class. Though there are definitely bakeries in town that offer, say, gluten-free products, the problem is that parents of highly allergic children (the kind who can wind up hospitalized if they make skin contact with milk) simply can’t take your word for it when you say that the stuff you made or bought won’t make their kid sick.

“The bottom line is, you may not get every allergen out of everything,” says food-allergy coach and blogger Lauren Kossack. But there’s a workaround. Kossack, who runs the food-allergy website, recommends that parents go ahead and bring baked goods, as long as they inform other parents well in advance. That way allergic kids can bring a snack of their own, so the only thing that breaks out is a good time.

Q: I hear the TED talks are coming to Indy this month. How do you get a speaking gig at one of those things? I’d like to talk about my bug collection.
Jacob W., Indianapolis

A: Sorry, but you’re already too late for this year’s session, which sports the somewhat inscrutable theme “Mix It Up.” If you’d like to audition for next year, keep an eye on for updates. For those who haven’t seen a TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) presentation on YouTube, these are annual gatherings at which famous “thought leaders” talk about whatever bizarro thing they’re working on. The local gathering, TEDx Indianapolis, will take place October 22 at Hilbert Circle Theatre. TEDx events, in which local groups organize their own talks, are basically the Triple-A, farm-club version of the real thing. The national TED features speakers such as Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, and Nobel Prize winners. The local editions typically don’t.

But that doesn’t mean some of the Indy speeches won’t be brilliant. The TEDx website reveals what organizers look for: local voices that haven’t been heard before; people who can present their field in a new light; perspectives that the global TED community may not have access to. And as anyone who’s watched a few TED talks already knows, it wouldn’t hurt to don a black turtleneck. Extra points if you sound like a self-satisfied ass. Though if that were the only qualification, The Hoosierist would be keynoting.

Q: For some reason, my street is popular with drivers-ed classes. The vehicles are all operated by private contractors. Don’t schools do drivers-ed anymore?
Ben K., Indianapolis

A: Actually, no. Most school-run drivers-ed programs fell to the budget ax long ago. Fortunately, private industry stepped in. Indiana’s BMV keeps a list of approved private contractors for each county. It’s hard to miss their driver-training vehicles, because they’re plastered with more corporate logos than the average NASCAR ride.

The typical program is pretty similar to what you remember from high school, except that it doesn’t convene in the gym and isn’t taught by the assistant principal, Mr. Plotnik. Today, there’s even an option for parents who want to “homeschool” their kids. They study the manual on their own, and Mom or Dad takes them out for 50 hours of “supervised driving.” Hopefully not all at once.  


Illustration by Shane Harrison.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.