So what’s more frightening–being chased by brain-starved zombies or quitting your job two years out of college and opening a large, seasonal, and very expensive amusement attraction?
Either case quickens the heart, but for Mason alumnus Justin Watson, BA Government and International Politics ’10, it’s the latter scenario that has him sleeping with one eye open.
Watson and four partners created a company called Hallow Inc. and built The Warehouse: Project 4.1, a 37,000-square-foot Halloween house of horrors in a former Filene’s Basement in Rockville, Maryland. It is vast and elaborate, with a based-on-fact backstory (a 1954 hydrogen bomb test that goes terribly wrong) that gives the various chambers a cinematic storyline as patrons—paying $24.99 to $29.99 each until November 3—spend nearly a half an hour exploring the terrors of the ghastly labyrinth.
Beware: There are zombies lurking in the dark corners of the Warehouse. (Mason Night is Thursday, October 18; tickets are $19.99 plus tax; use #GMUWHSE as the coupon code; Mason ID required.)
Zombies? In fact, there is a cast of 70, and counting support staff, the haunted house requires nearly 100 paid workers to keep the frights coming. Watson should know the head count: He’s director of hiring and public relations, not exactly what his politically active father thought his son would end up doing with a Mason degree, but he’s finding the skills transfer.
“My dad was so proud of me when I got my government degree,” Watson says. “Then I call him and say, ‘Dad, I’m quitting my job and opening a haunted house.’ He’s OK now that it’s taking off.”
The Warehouse is one of those “we can do it better” ideas shared by friends—two of the partners are Watson’s housemates—who were challenged to realize their dream at the expense of all else.
Watson worked for a souvenir wholesaler during college and also interned on Capitol Hill for a congressman. After graduation he stayed with the wholesaler until the haunted house opportunity came knocking.
“I quit my job, and everyone else has pretty much kept their jobs on hold,” he says. “We’ve all put ourselves into debt and kind of put our lives on the line for this thing.”
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been on the Hill serving on a staff, I’ve done that,” he says. “I’m doing real life stuff now. I’ve hired 100 people; I’m in front of the media doing things a lot of people would never do; I’m on first name basis with [fellow Mason alumna] Angie Goff from NBC4; I’ve networked; I’ve been in front of video cameras probably more than I care to be.
“And I’ve put out yard signs at two in the morning, illegally. It’s like running a political campaign doing the marketing for this.”
He’s also brought zombies to Mason. In late September, he kicked off the college promotional campaign by bringing a trio of costumed cast members to the Fairfax Campus. Since then he’s hauled the walking dead to other schools, and even appeared as a political zombie himself on Capitol Hill.
Watson says the expansive Warehouse was intended to be contrary to what’s largely on the market in the burgeoning business of seasonal attractions. This one, he says, is not cramped, is totally indoors, and the last ticket is sold at midnight, which is late for most attractions.
The Warehouse: Project 4.1 is located at 111840 Rockville Pike in Rockville, Maryland. It is accessible by Metro on the Red Line at White Flint. See www.hallowinc.com and Facebook.com/hallowinc or follow @hallowinc on Twitter.