Adventures in Fear

Some people might be content with the spookiness of a haunted house. But others like to have the bejesus scared out of them in an adventure taking them not only through a frightening mansion but into a scary neighborhood as well. Such as Door County’s largest Haunted Attraction, which includes a Haunted Trail, a Mini-Corn Maze, a Haunted Bus Ride, and a Haunted Mansion.

Inside the kitchen at the 2008 Haunted Mansion.

Now in its fourth year, the Haunted Attraction terrifies over 2,000 happy visitors to the event at the Quietwoods South Camping Resort during the last four weekends in October. Each evening 100 – 120 trained volunteers spook guests who make their way through the adventure.

The experience begins with the Haunted Trail that takes curious thrill-seekers into a cemetery featuring not only tombstones, but coffins and a hearse, and a cast of zombies and living dead, as well as a camo-chainsaw guy. After the scary graveyard, walkers enter Belgianville, a light-hearted area with a campfire, music, and wooden buildings.

The next stop, the Mini-Corn Maze, is new this year. Inside the labyrinth of a reconstructed cornfield, wanderers will encounter the Road Kill Café, a scary parody of an old-fashioned drive-in with a vintage automobile, a road kill menu and costumed actors serving the less-than-appetizing food.

Once visitors find their way out of the corn maze, they enter one of two old school buses for a Haunted Bus Ride, choosing between the Snake Bus and the Jail Bus, both thematically decorated with images of spiders and rats and snakes and blood. Periodically each bus stops to pick up costumed actors portraying funny, annoying or scary characters who join the ride and interact with guests. (Note: No live snakes ride the snake bus!)

The destination of the bus ride is the Haunted Mansion. Each year the house has become larger, now up to 16 rooms on different levels with hidden doors and populated with as many as 60 spooks. Both the floor plan of the mansion and the cast of scary characters change from night to night, offering new thrills to return visitors.

Project Manager Cory Vandertie and Project Designer Judy Jesse, along with 300 or so volunteers, create the attraction. Both bring a background in theater to the undertaking.

Now a fifth grade teacher at Southern Door School, Vandertie appeared in musicals when a student at Southern Door and for two summers was in the Kids from Wisconsin troop. He has appeared in local musical productions and for eight years served as director of the Southern Door Community Auditorium.

Retired Southern Door elementary art teacher Judy Jesse continues to do set designs for the fifth grade musical, now in its 34th year. She has her own antique shop and works on the restoration of a rural schoolhouse that will become a living museum housing school archives at Southern Door.

A volunteer gets electrocuted as part of the spectacle.

For the last two years Vandertie, Jesse, and a team of planners have attended the International Haunted House Convention in St. Louis to gather ideas for their Haunted Attraction.

“Each year everything is completely different,” Vandertie said, speaking of their production. “One of our goals is to have it not exactly the same as it was before.”

They attend workshops on topics such as scare tactics, running operations, makeup, corn mazes, and trails. And they look over the wares offered by vendors. Sometimes they purchase materials, and other times, to save money, they borrow the idea and make it happen themselves.

“We snap photos and make sketches,” Jesse said, “and we just take off!”

Promotion of the Haunted Attraction begins during the summer with floats in six different local parades along with costumed characters handing out cards that may be exchanged for a cup of hot chocolate at the event’s concession stand.

While planning for the attraction in some respects is ongoing, the assembly of the structures, Jesse pointed out, occurs during a nine-day period, mostly evenings as students are in school and adults are at work during the day. But even residents at Quietwoods occasionally lend a hand.

The mansion, one of the biggest constructions, is assembled from over 90 8’x8’ wall sections covered with a fireproof vinyl tarp, using 4’ high platforms and step units.

“We have lots of emergency exits,” Jesse said, “for safety and for lack of nerve!” Some visitors find the mansion too scary and want to abridge their visit. And the many exits allow for mysterious entrances and exits of spooks as well as daily changes in the route through the house.

The project has become large and intricate, but “there are no paid positions,” Vandertie said. Everyone is a volunteer, including him and Jesse, and all proceeds benefit the Southern Door Community Auditorium.

Despite the size of the undertaking, “it is amazing how smooth it ends up going!” he added.

About 25 local businesses provide financial support for the Haunted Attraction, as well as many individuals who offer behind the scenes help with technical, promotional, and other kinds of support. And of course a legion of performers, all of whom have completed mandatory training sessions on safety, make the project come alive. The volunteers are multi-generational, often entire families working together on the event.

Because of the large volunteer network, unexpected creative things happen. Like a semi with a motion sensor parked on the grounds; unsuspecting visitors who walked in front of it received a loud honk! Or donations from Marchant’s Foods butcher shop of “props” far more realistic than those found in most haunted houses. Or two 10’x13’ projection screens, one at the box office and the other at the Haunted Mansion, both with continuous videos featuring horror movie clips, scenes from past Haunted Attractions, trivia questions, and music.

The result is a haunted mansion that some thrill seekers claim is scarier and a better value for the admission than the well-known Terror on the Fox haunted house. This year the Haunted Attraction is being reviewed by the Web site Haunted Wisconsin, which allows patrons to add their own comments as well.

The Southern Door Community Auditorium has benefited from over $20,000 raised by the project during the last three years, the profits funding lighting and sound capital projects. But the biggest benefit may come to the community not only in the recreation opportunity that is offered, but in the healthy activity that brings people of all ages together for a common goal, one that ultimately helps build a stronger and more vibrant community.

Getting There

An admission of $10 includes all four Haunted Attractions. The Quietwoods South Camping Resort is located at 9245 Lovers Lane, Brussels, less than 15 minutes south of Sturgeon Bay and about four miles south of Southern Door School. The event is open the weekends of October 9, 16, 23, and 30. Friday hours are 7 – 10 pm and Saturdays 6 – 10 pm.

For very young guests who might find even Santa Claus scary, the Haunted Attraction offers a Lights Up for kids every Saturday from 6 – 7 pm with friendly actors in costumes and at the end a bag of candy for each child.

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