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The best haunted house in the Midwest?

Columnist Steve Lange looks back at a trip to Raven's Grin Inn.

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Every few years, over the past 20 years, I have documented some of the area's scariest places.

In 2000, I spent a night in the Rochester Repertory Theatre. While I didn't see anything, I did, at one point, hear a loud bang, like a door being slammed shut, followed by what sounded like a high-pitched scream. Though that scream may have come from me.

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In 2001, I took part in a seance held at the Mantorville Opera House. I told everyone I had to be home before midnight, just in case.

And in 2002, for story's sake, I toured the inside of what many would consider one of the city's most frightening sites, Downtown Book & Video.

So it has gone, every year.

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Then, in 2015, I discovered Raven's Grin Inn, possibly the most terrifying and disconcerting building I've ever toured. And I have been inside Downtown Book & Video.

While Raven's Grin Inn is in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, the haunted fun house is worth the 220-mile drive. Or not. Here's the rundown from that 2015 trip:

8:02 p.m.: Son Henry, then 13, and I pull up to Raven's Grin Inn, a sprawling wooden mansion surrounded by junked classic cars and hearses and mannequins and coffins and a giant rusty skull. It looks as if a prominent member of the Addams Family has married someone from Sanford and Son.

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Raven's Grin Inn
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8:03 p.m.: We knock on the front door and, by knock two, Raven's Grin Inn owner (and resident) Jim Warfield answers the door to give us our tour, like he does 360 or so days a year. It is just me and Henry. Warfield takes us into his dark living room, holds a flashlight under his chin, tells us ghost stories, pushes a button that makes our couch jump off the floor. At one point, there in the dark, he suddenly starts floating a few feet off the ground. Then he turns on the light to show us he's standing on a remote-controlled hydraulic jack, which he has built into the floor.

8:34 p.m.: In the kitchen, Jim opens up a drawer and pulls out a pair of garden shears. "Do you want to see me cut off your dad's finger?" asks Jim. Henry says "Yes!" so excitedly that it makes me a little concerned. Then Jim takes my pinkie finger and holds it between the blades of the cutting shears. "Do you trust me to squeeze these handles together?" he asks.

I say yes, which immediately seems like a bad decision, especially since I just met this guy, and all I really know about him is that he has installed a large hydraulic jack in his living room. This, though, will not be the worst decision I make tonight.

Jim holds a cup under my finger to catch it. Then forcefully squeezes the handles of the shears together. My finger, luckily, is not cut off. They are, luckily, trick shears.

And so it goes as we make our way through the sprawling, secret door, booby-trapped floor, spring-loaded drawer house.

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9:19 p.m.: Halfway through the tour, the doorbell rings, and Jim says he'll be right back, that we should take a seat on the couch. Maybe two minutes later he scares the bejesus out of us when he somehow crawls through the couch cushions. From underneath the couch.

9:49 p.m.: We're in an attic room, and Jim asks if one of us would be willing to lie down and be covered with a special blanket and padding. Henry agrees. Then, Jim lifts up a handle that sends Henry sliding down a trap door.

I'm pretty sure that, if my son is gone forever, I'll have a hard time explaining to my wife the moment I agreed to let his happen. So when Jim asks if I want to follow, I say yes, mostly because I'm hoping to find my only son.

I lie down in my special blanket, and Jim lifts the handle and, as a 40-plus-year-old, I find myself shooting down a steel slide in pitch darkness, twisting through four stories of some man's home.

Henry is waiting at the bottom in a cellar. "That was the coolest!" he yells.

10:14 p.m.: We make it out alive and, as we walk to the car, I casually mention to Henry that he may not want to tell his mother about how, as I watched, a stranger wrapped him in special blankets and shot him through a trap door.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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