The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department is in the habit of scaring little children in order to help them, and they now plan to do it every year. This past Friday and Saturday, to get an early start on holiday season Brown Santa fundraising, the Sheriff’s Department utilized Halloween to combine fear, fun and charity. Workers decked the old historic jailhouse on Main Street with skeletons, headstones and a whole slew of volunteers and police officers willing to make people scream. The joy of scaring a child is a gift that never stops giving. For $8, visitors were taken on a ten minute tour (that felt much longer over the sound of the adrenaline rushing in my ears) involving guns, knives, lunatics and clowns wielding pickaxes. Enter: chaos and trying to climb on the back of the tour guide for protection. Georgetown High School students volunteered to scare the tour groups, and one Southwestern student even acted as a tour guide.
“Being a tour guide was kind of an accident; I originally was just going to help set up, but they didn’t have enough people to tour, so I volunteered,” freshmen tour guide Fox Buchele said. “It was exhausting. I ran at least 50 tours, running all around the jail and climbing those accursed stairs over and over.” The jail was in use for more than 100 years and once housed American serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, whose vacant cell was naturally incorporated into the tour. “The jail itself was really creepy, even before we put up the decorations,” Buchele said. “I didn’t take a single group through that didn’t come out with at least one person who was terrified. We even had a kid pee his pants! I would definitely consider it a success. We had to turn people away because the line was 75 people long at times.”
The Travis County Brown Santa Program started up as a pilot program in 1981, with a few sheriffs in the county working to help 25 families in Travis County during the holiday season. This year, the program aims to help 1,600 families. The program provides assistance to families in Travis County or to those that live outside the geographical city limits of Austin. Not to limit the program’s reach, Brown Santa also works with families under extenuating circumstances that have temporarily limited their ability to provide basic necessities for their families. The Haunted Jailhouse was the perfect way to kick off fundraising, and it was a huge success.
“Brown Santa operates by giving toys and books to children living below the U.S. poverty line. It’s like Blue Santa, but the sheriff’s department here in Williamson County wears brown uniforms,” Connie Watson from the Williamson County Public Information Office explained. “We did jail tours of the historical jail last week, and so we had some folks at the sheriff’s department that thought it would be a great idea to do a haunted house in the jail itself. So here we are.” The sheriff’s department hopes the program and events will continue to flourish as much as they have in the past 30 years.
To volunteer or donate to Brown Santa this year, visit their website at brownsanta.org or call 24-SANTA (247-2682). Sign-ups for volunteer services will officially begin on November 1. To register for an event, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.