On a dark, windy evening, I made my way across the parking lot toward a queue in front of a nondescript gray brick building, shielding myself from rain and snow. Hundreds of people shivered outside beside a hearse with a bumper reading “Spoiled Rotten.”
As the guests inched forward, Tinkles, a clown dressed in a top hat and purple and black pinstriped overcoat, popped out from behind the hearse and cackled maniacally. He swung a makeshift sickle topped with a bowling pin, but he was kind enough to put a pause on his menacing behavior long enough to take a quick selfie with fans.
Nothing can prepare one for the thrill ride that is the Haunt. One of the top 10 haunted attractions in the U.S., The Haunt earns its scary distinction with a richly decorated setting and a colorful cast.
Social Media Manager and special effects makeup artist Tawwney Sayre said that the Haunt has been in operation continuously for 19 years. During that time, the venue moved to a new location featuring five attractions, each with a uniquely creepy theme, stretched across “50,000 square feet of fear.”
Haunted décor fills the staging areas leading up to the main attractions. Everything from the stone walls lined with lanterns to skeletons covered in cobwebs laying inside carved-out nooks make one feel as if they’re crawling deep into a crypt or, at least, a horror movie set.
The real terror of the Haunt, though, is standing in line with the greatest monsters of all: teenagers. Those who are brave enough to endure an hour-long wait alongside impatient young people screeching, shoving and texting will make their way to the horrors inside.
The fun truly begins once one enters the main attraction areas. To cap off the 2019 season, the Haunt hosted a special Blackout event, where guests fumble through all 140 rooms with the lights off armed with nothing but a glow stick.
Chaos ensued when my group’s leader dropped his glow stick, leaving the group alone in the dark. I darted straight toward a pitch-black corner, bumping headfirst into something – or someone. It’s not always easy to know if objects in the Haunt are inanimate or not.
The haunted halls engage all of one’s senses. At one point, I got sprayed in the face with a water gun and stumbled around blindly, straining to pick out my group’s screams among the other noises.
Over 120 makeup artists, greeters and theme managers make up the team at the Haunt, Sayre said. The process of getting into character takes about an hour, and staff members stay onsite from the start of the show at 7 p.m. until closing at 11 p.m.
Actors startle guests with ease. They’re not allowed to touch anyone, but they lurk silently around edges and skitter across the floor. One can feel eyes staring at their back throughout the experience.
The staff has a wicked sense of humor. Greeters often crack jokes in the staging areas. One man yelled at the crowd, “Wanna hear something frightening, kids? I’m 42, and I’m here to pay off my student loan debt!” Hidden cameras capture raw footage of funny scare reactions for the staff to laugh at and post on social media.
Staff members sometimes feel burned out, but Sayre said that the rewards are worth working in a challenging environment.
“We all work long hours, in close quarters and we tend to run our immune systems down throughout the season,” Sayre said. “But through all of it, we are all big Halloween fans. The Haunt is one big family, and we all get so close throughout the season and support and encourage each other.”
When I reached the end of the Haunt, I felt exhilarated, winded, and spooked, all at once. A 12-year-old boy exiting at the same time stared wide-eyed up at me and exclaimed, “What a nightmare!”
What a nightmare, indeed.
Nov. 2 marked the end of the 2019 season. For more information about the Haunt, visit thehaunt.com.