Melissa Timko, '94, as "Margaret" at All Saints Lunatic Asylum in High Desert, Calif.

By day, Melissa Timko, '94, is a third grade teacher at Village Elementary, a STEAM school in Victorville, Calif. But by night, she becomes Margaret, a pre-adolescent orphan who runs up and down the hallways of an award-winning professional haunted house attraction in nearby High Desert.

“My character is supposed to be a creepy little girl,” she said, explaining that she hides at the end of a strobe-lit hallway and runs out to lunge at the people who walk through it. “It’s completely the opposite of my regular day-to-day life, and it gives me a chance to celebrate Halloween all year long, because that’s my favorite holiday.”

Timko, a Niagara Falls, N.Y., native who moved to the West Coast after graduating with a degree in  English elementary education, began her terrifying hobby when a parent volunteer in her class invited her to be part of the haunted house she and her husband created for friends and family at Halloween. Over the years, it grew in size and popularity. In October 2011, it moved into retail space at a strip mall and opened its doors to the public.

Simulating a turn-of-the-19th-century asylum, its themed rooms appointed with antiques, the attraction is open every Friday and Saturday in October, as well as select times during the year, including Valentine’s Day weekend, Easter, Christmas, May (halfway to Halloween) and Fridays that fall on the 13th of the month.

“It plays on people's fears,” Timko explained, noting that the asylum had rooms featuring clowns and dentists. The performers are transformed into their frightening alter egos with the help of an Emmy-award winning makeup artist, and the attraction’s location at the site of a former jail “from way back in the Wild West,” adds to the chilling atmosphere.

While the scares are primarily psychological, Timko said that ghost hunters who have investigated the attraction have suggested that there is some actual paranormal activity within its walls. She, herself, has felt “some kind of a vibe” that she attributes to the residual energy of the antiques, especially one of the caskets.

“In the desert, even though we do have air conditioning in the building, it can be about 120 degrees,” she said. “So, when it is a very hot day, and you suddenly feel a chill inside, that's strange.”

Another of Timko’s avocations had her running, as well, but this time, it was across the entire USA.

About seven years ago, Timko decided to run a race in all 50 states before she turned 50 in 2022.

The idea was inspired after she ran the Costume Dash in Boston, an annual Halloween-themed 5K. She had so much fun running in costume, she said, that she began looking for similar races.

“I found a lot of great Halloween races around the U.S., so I would do that to celebrate Halloween,” she said. “That kind of morphed into the idea of doing 50 by 50.”

Timko ran various distances, from 5K to a 50K ultramarathon, with the majority of her runs being half marathons.

Her first run was in Tustin, Calif. A section of the race took runners through the hangar where the Goodyear Blimp is stored. She also completed the Buffalo Shamrock run, which, in typical Western New York fashion, was held despite the fact it had snowed a significant amount the night before.

Melissa Timko race web2

Melissa earned two machetes in the Cane Field Classic run.

Other memorable runs included the Cane Field Classic, where Timko ran in the middle of low growth cane fields in rural Louisiana and earned two machetes (instead of a medal) for being one of the fastest in her age category. She ran a race in Halawa, Hawaii, which ended at Aloha Stadium; one in Anchorage, Alaska, during the summer solstice in June; and an alien-themed run at Area 51 in Nevada. The ultramarathon in Texas was on a hot and humid day, and took her through areas where alligators frequented.

Although the pandemic prevented her from completing her goal by her 50th birthday, Timko achieved it less than a year later. Her final race was a Halloween-themed half marathon in Fargo, N.D. She chose that race specifically because of the state’s Best for Last Club, which honors travelers who visit all 50 states and “save” North Dakota for last with a commemorative t-shirt and an official certificate.

“I had researched that online and I chose to do that race last so I could  get that distinction,” she said.