Linn’s Haunted House Will Leave You Electrified
By Lin McGlynn
What’s creepy and what’s kooky, mysteriously spooky, what’s altogether kooky? Linn’s Haunted House, located at 3805 6th Ave in Des Moines during October each year. Let’s meet the originator of this famous haunted house, Merlyn Linn.
Merlyn grew up on a farm near Dayton, Iowa. After graduation in 1956, he joined the Navy. In 1959, he married his high school sweetheart, Shari. After spending one year at Grandview, he went to work full-time at Lutz Super Valu on 6th Ave. “When the owner didn’t have enough help, he’d call me, and I’d go. My folks taught us how to work hard. They were pretty strict with us,” recalled Merlyn.
In 1964, Frank Lutz offered to sell the store to Merlyn. “My wife and I were struggling to make ends meet. We didn’t have any money, but he told me he’d carry the note,” said Merlyn. “We took inventory on a Saturday night. On Sunday, we met at the store and Frank gave me $15,000 in cash. On Saturday, I had $72 and on Sunday, I owned a supermarket. I was twenty-six years old.
Two of Merlyn’s cashiers were older women who were a real support for him. “I kept everything under the name of Lutz Super Valu for the next three years. I didn’t sell beer, and we were closed on Sundays. Most of the same customers knew me, so things kept going.”
“We eventually opened on Sundays, and we began to sell beer. The first day, I had a half-dozen people come and tell me they wouldn’t be back, because we were selling beer,” recalled Merlyn. “Frank would come to the store and ask me how I was doing. There was one time when beer was going up quite a bit. I wanted to buy some. Frank asked me if I’d like to buy $50,000 worth of beer. He wrote me a check, and I paid him back when I could. I had a basement full of beer,” smiled Merlyn.
“Merlyn and Shari have three daughters and a son: Debbie, Brett, Karie and Kathy. “I was always heavily involved with them. If they were out playing jacks, I joined in. I coached softball and baseball for over fifteen years. One year, I coached four teams. Our daughters were all pitchers. They played softball at the Pink Park on the north side of Des Moines. Our record was 429 wins and 36 losses. Our son played in Beaverdale, so I would leave one game to go to another, remembered Merlyn. “My first year coaching at Beaverdale was our PeeWee League. Brett was eight years old. We came in late as coaches, and we were given all of the boys who had not been drafted. We ended up winning the league with a record of 18-2. Many of my softball teams traveled to regional and national tournaments. We were ranked as high as fifth and 12th in the nationals.”
He continued to talk about his children. “Their grades were good, and their teachers liked them. If they were disciplined at school, they knew that they would get it again when they got home,” said Merlyn. “My wife worked at Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, but quit working when the kids were born. When they got out of school, she was home. They were late now and then, but they knew she would be there. MY wife had real good judgement on certain kids. She would say, “’I don’t really care for you to hang around them.’ We would hear later how those kids had gotten into trouble.”
“The older I get, the more I realize I couldn’t have done any more, but I wish I could have. When the kids were growing up, the other kids in the neighborhood uses to bring me their bicycles to fix. We had almost two lots where we lived, so we had a lot of space. We’d play kick-the-can, and some of the kids would tell me that they wished I was their dad. Everybody had a ball.”
Merlyn smiled, “It paid off with the kids. We never really had any problems with them. They were popular kids. The girls were homecoming queens. They tell me now that they had a lot of respect for us as parents and a little bit of fear of ‘Dad.’ They didn’t want to hurt our family’s name. We see out values being carried though now to our grandchildren.”
It was in the late 60’s when Merlyn’s children wanted a haunted house of their own. They build it in their garage. “We hung drapes, built a guillotine with a fake head that fell off, had a casket and a witch. The neighbor kids came and KRNT, Channel 8 News, came out and filmed it. I went down to the studio to pick up the 16mm tape. I still have it today, and always think I’ll put in on video tape someday,” continued Merlyn.
“When my youngest was sixteen, I was in the garage and was reminded of those days. I said I was going to build a haunted house in the basement for the other kids. I think they thought that dad had gone a little wacky. I hired a guy to haul the stuff away in the basement. I started in March, and I worked days at the store and nights on the haunted house. I could see that we were not going to finish in time. I knew a guy who used to run a haunted house. Dick Ristau was president of the Soap Box Derby. I made a deal with him that if they could help me, I’d split the profits,” he recalled.
“We were one hour late in opening the first night, because we were still working on it. We didn’t just have kids come. There were also a lot of adults that went through. We had and 82-year old man go through the house. I didn’t even want them to go through, because I thought they might get hurt or have a heart attack. They went through and came out laughing and having fun!”
“The first year I got my money back on the lumber I put into the house. The next year we added on to it. We went into electric eyes and infrared beams. We bought a ton of black light bulbs that were quite expensive,” said Merlyn.
It was important to Merlyn to have it 100% safe. He bought separate insurance for the store and the haunted house. He hired three policemen to be there every night. “I’ve had the same three every year and we haven’t had any problems. Everyone is videotaped as they come in, so we know who went through and the time they came.”
Merlyn has received letters from people on how much they have enjoyed the haunted house. “It’s fun to see the thirty, forty and fifty year-olds that come through,” commented Merlyn. School buses bring children from all over the state. People line up for a block and a half on Friday and Saturday nights, with as many as 500 going through the house on an evening. The haunted house requires 25 -30 people to operate it each night. Profits from the house are shared with the groups who participate each night. Some of the groups who have been involved are the East High Booster Club, the North High Booster Club, the Hoover Booster Club, the Boy Scouts, DMACC students, the Saydel High School Music Department, Drake University, and Odd Fellows.
Merlyn lives each day with these thoughts in mind: “What you do today, you have to live with tomorrow. I live each day as good as I can. That way I wake up tomorrow and feel good.”
Thank you, Merlyn, for the bicycles you’ve fixed, the games of kick-the-can you’ve played, the teams you’ve coached, the business you’ve maintained, the opportunities you’ve shared to raise funds, and for the smiles you’ve given us in the ghostly tunnels of Linn’s Haunted House.