PROSPECT – One of the first things Friends of Fort Knox Executive Director Leon Seymour did after getting his job back was to reinstate the popular Halloween-season Fright at the Fort at historic Fort Knox.
Seymour, who was removed from his job a year ago, was reinstated last month after a judicial arbitrator upheld the election of a board of directors composed of his supporters.
Before his dismissal, Seymour had overseen Friends operations for seven years. The fight to win his job back was costly and acrimonious, but Seymour is ready to let bygones be bygones.
“I’m happy to be back and happy to put all these disagreements behind me,” Seymour said last weekend. “You have to put it behind you. The fort is too important to too many people. You might regret what these people have done in the past, but you have to move on.”
Seymour said one critical area that has to move forward is the Friends budget. He said the legal dispute hurt the budget and that revenues declined considerably during the period he was removed from office. In 2005, Friends’ revenues totaled $142,623.
He said the best way to boost revenues was to reinstate Fright at the Fort. He said the popular event was the Friends group’s biggest fundraiser.
“This is a fun event. It’s an experience for people who never want to grow up, and I’m one of them,” he said. “Halloween is the second-biggest retail season after Christmas, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds. People like to be scared. Why do you think [Stephen] King is so popular?”
Seymour has shrugged off safety concerns raised by ousted board members over the fright night. He noted that historic forts all over the country – such as Fort Conde in Alabama and Fort Mifflin in Pennsylvania – hold fright nights during the Halloween season and that relatively few injuries were reported.
He said he can’t wait to see how visitors react when confronted with the spooks and terrors lurking in the darkened corridors of the foreboding fort.
“It’s not a radical concept, and people and volunteers just have a great time at it,” he said. “We’re hoping that Fright at the Fort pulls us out of this financial crisis. We’re not only hoping for a lot of people to come, we’re looking for some very skilled spooks.”
Another mothballed project that was foremost on Seymour’s and the board’s agenda was restoring the floodlights illuminating the fort’s outside walls. Only seven of the 23 lights were working when the Bureau of Parks and Recreation decided to extinguish them a year ago. With the help of funding from Bucksport, all but one of the lights were repaired. The switch was pulled on Friday night and the fort’s gray granite walls now are bathed in light all night long.
Seymour said the next project on the agenda is the long-delayed restoration of four howitzer cannons. Once the cannons are restored, the fort will have more of the 24-pound armaments on display than any other historic site in the country.
Fort Knox State Park is managed by the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, but the Friends organization operates the gift shop and visitor and education center. Friends of Fort Knox raises money for the fort through its membership, fund drives and grants from independent foundations.
“We’re not like some human services agency that can rely on state and federal funding. This is all privately funded,” he said. “We’re a hybrid. You have to be creative in order to ensure that you raise sufficient funds so that you can do the business of preservation and conservation. We can’t sit here and raise taxes.”
Seymour said the opening of the $85 million Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory should be a boon to the region and the fort.
Those who want to take the elevator to the top of the cable-stay bridge will have to enter the fort to gain access to the 420-foot-tall observation deck. The bridge observatory is the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, and one of only three in the world. He said the board hopes bridge visitors will tour the fort as well and that should help expand the Friends’ membership and geographical base to beyond Waldo County.
“We see it as a regional concept. From Belfast to Bangor to Bar Harbor. We want to reach the entire region, expand the geographical base of the board and the skills of the board,” he said. “We need to be successful at Friends of Fort Knox, and to do that we need a bigger membership and a more active membership. We remain open to anybody, no matter what side they were on during the past controversy, to get involved.”
Fright at the Fort will be held on successive weekends from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20-21, and Oct. 27-28. Admission is $5 per person, and children must be accompanied by an adult. A “low-fright” event will be held for children from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28. Admission for children age 11 and under is $1, with those age 5 and under free. Adult admission is $3.
For information or to become a fright volunteer call 469-6553 or e-mail FOFK1@aol.com.