San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Handcrafted haunting guarantees a lasting impression

SDSU student crafts a unique Haunted Swamp shack experience
Gabriel Schneider
Some decorations hang from trees in the front yard of Charlie Hough, a theater student at SDSU, on Oct. 31.

Neighbors in Santee anxiously waited to meet “The Caretaker” this Halloween, and he was just as excited to greet them into his abode.

The caretaker twirls his skeleton staff and peers past his black fences and graveyard for his first guests. While his white sunken face makes an impression, his clothes do just the same. His carefully selected crimson robe complete with coattails and black lace blouse stands out from the dreary gray and worn-out ghouls that surround him.

Most are statues while others beckon second looks to see if they will pounce when given the chance.

When the tour begins, it’s not the caretaker but the person under the mask who runs the show: Charlie Ough, a fourth-year theater major at San Diego State University.

“I wanted to do this to practice my skill,” Ough said. “Putting everything together and seeing every bit., Seeing the smiles and the laughs and the scares, and that to me makes it worth it.”

The haunted house that Ough has been hosting for the past nine years has been a way for him to practice the techniques he has learned during his time at Grossmont Community College’s and SDSU’s theater programs.

His experience in technical theater is what makes the Swamp Shack an impressive sight on his block. This spectacle takes place annually, with more intricate features being added on each year. He began construction on this current haunted house in September 2023.

“I did not imagine anything was gonna look like this,” said Kiala Nunez, an SDSU student playing the role of a creepy scarecrow for the night. “Honestly, I thought it was gonna be a lot smaller and I was not expecting any of the traps to pop out the way they did.”

Decorations layered the haunted house put on by Charlie Ough, a theater student at SDSU, on Oct. 31. (Gabriel Schneider)

It’s evident walking through the haunted house that Ough is an actor and a creative as each room of the shack follows a new story and element. 

After the caretaker guides you to the door, you meet a fortune teller who gives guests their very own fate before they walk through the rest of the house.

Other rooms in the shack introduce undead creatures who jumpscare and delight guests in abandoned hallways, and there’s even a mad scientist experimenting on other characters.

The vibe transitions from the Creature of the Black Lagoon to other classic monster films from the ‘70s —  a very evident sign of Ough’s love for the genre.

The haunted swamp shack in particular is a concept that gets revived every year, inspired by his favorite Scooby Doo episode as a child. In that episode, he was captivated by a traditional bog witch and a zombie crawling through a swamp.

“I just like swampy Louisiana stuff, and it doesn’t really fit in Southern California, but I try to make it work here,” Ough said.

Despite the movie-quality costumes and masks — which are sure to unnerve some guests — Ough’s attraction is meant for families and Halloween lovers of any age to enjoy.

Some decorations hang from trees in the front yard of Charlie Ough, a theater student at SDSU, on Oct. 31. (Gabriel Schneider)

“I don’t do too much on the gore, but I definitely try to get people where they’re just having fun just screaming and laughing, and to me that’s what keeps everything going,” Ough said.

Ough’s work of art is beloved in the community and pivotal to their Halloween experience.

“Oh, everybody loves it, everybody,” said Corwin Taylor, one of Ough’s neighbors. “Everybody in the neighborhood talks about it. So it’s kind of a highlight for the community around.”

One of the youngest participants was 3-year-old London Hughes, who was dressed as the Little Mermaid, and she left with a smile on her face.

Hughes and her family came all the way from Michigan and made a point to visit the haunted house based on a recommendation from a family friend who is a resident in the neighborhood.

After sharing that her favorite part was in fact the “scary things,” as she ran in a second time to enjoy Ough’s attraction.

After a wrapped line around the block and a nine-year run, this will be Charlie Ough’s last year hosting the Haunted Swamp Shack in Santee due to an upcoming move.

While the house is sure to move on to another location, Ough’s attraction is sure to impress and haunt residents’ memories for longer.

About the Contributors
Hannah Ramirez
Hannah Ramirez, '24-25 Opinion Editor
Hannah Ramirez (she/they) is a Journalism major and transfer student from Southwestern college in Chula Vista, California. A love of comic books since a young age pointed her into the direction of storytelling. These days she focuses on telling stories of local artists and working on hot takes for the opinion page. She has previously interned for The San Diego Union Tribune and Voice of San Diego. When she’s not jotting down notes, you can find her testing out new recipes and watching every sitcom known to mankind. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in travel journalism and community reporting.
Gabriel Schneider
Gabriel Schneider, Senior Staff, '22-23 Editor-in-Chief
Gabriel Schneider (he, him, his) was born in La Mesa and grew up in Hemet, California. He is the current editor-in-chief of The Daily Aztec. Before arriving at San Diego State University, he was editor-in-chief of City Times, the news organization of San Diego City College. Schneider was in the Marine Corps as an Infantryman before starting his journey in journalism. He loves finding different ways to express himself through creative techniques.