|Drop by Dead Land for a scary journey|
|Wednesday, September 29, 2010|
Haunted woods will knock knees, shiver your soul
By KEN BECK
“The difference here between our haunted woods and other haunts around is that it has no commercial scares. You’ll not find Mike Myers and Freddy Krueger here. You’re gonna find a bit of history for a more lifelike scare,” said Dana Chapman, the madwoman behind this Halloween-timed production.
Helping accelerate the maximum sensory experience are strolls into or past a haunted barn, tunnels of spiders and snakes and the Dead Man’s Dip (a shallow, open grave). Hikers must crawl through a mid-1950s Cadillac hearse and tiptoe around an abandoned, fog-encrusted cemetery with 95 tombstones.
The actors portray such creatures of the night as werewolves, vampires, ghoulies, voodoo priestess and rodeo clowns. Their growls and groans along with the cool costumes and masterful makeup jobs will raise the goose bumps on plenty of folks and may even give them the heebie-jeebies. Thankfully, the monsters are not allowed to chase or touch.
“We had 3,200 people come through here last year. We’re hoping we will have 6,000 this year,” said Chapman, who masterminded the family scare affair with her father, Bob Mossberg.
Joining in the nepotism are Dana’s husband Gerald, daughter Arielle, and son Justin, as well as her sister, Denise O’Connell, nephew Greg O’Connell, niece Megan O’Connell and Megan’s husband Mike O’Connell.
“One of the reasons we decided to do this was because my mother died last year. We decided to keep busy,” Chapman said. “Me and my dad talked about it after my mom got sick. We decided to bury ourselves in this.”
“It’s been kind of cathartic,” said Mossberg, who lives just a couple of miles from the site, in the Majors community.
“It’s so much fun because we are on a tight budget, and we have to be real creative,” said Chapman, who has lived in Wilson County for 20 years but recently moved to a farm in Lascassas in Rutherford County where she trains horses.
“I’ve done Halloween parties at my house for my friends for the last 12 years. It got so big, it was taking me too much time to set up for a one-day event, so in the spring of 2009 we began designing Dead Land.
“We want to make this huge. Right now, we have 50 employees, and I really would like to make it so we have 100 employees. It is very much a production. We work with the actors on what they are going to do. We practice screams and scares. We use a lot of kids from ages 18 to 20 who attended Lebanon High or Wilson Central, and a few of the actors are from Murfreesboro.”
“A lot of these kids want to be actors in the professional theater. Some of them are very, very good. Some have a long way to go,” Mossberg said.
Portraying a spike-haired vampire dressed in black is Lebanon High grad, Tyler Carden, 19, back for his second year of staging fright. “It’s like an escape from reality,” he said. “I get to scare some people and have some fun.”
Lebanon’s Kyle Murphy, 18, a Wilson Central grad, garbed as a murderous farmer, said, “I get to act like somebody I’m not. I’m a shy person. I get to get in people’s faces. It’s just fun.”
Dead Land Haunted Woods lies on 38 acres of land leased from the Huddleston family, whose descendants began farming here years before the Civil War. Several ancient log structures beneath one roof serve as the costume, makeup and dressing rooms. Patrons will buy their tickets here and pass through a hallway of the shed as they walk to the trail entrance.
The site was selected because it had lots of trees and was located near the midway point between Lebanon and Murfreesboro. Scary music plays across the forest, and cries and screams are heard continually, some from the creatures and most from the vocal cords of those paying for the right to be spooked.
“We use low-voltage landscaping lighting (a mile and a half of wiring) for the paths, and there are a few lights in the trees,” Mossberg said. “We tweak it and mess with it. We don’t want too much lighting. You can’t get lost. The light directs you.”
Chapman said most nights there are about 150 to 200 people in the woods at a time. She recommends groups go through with no more than six in a pack to get the maximum boo for their buck. It takes about an hour to explore the woods and absorb all the frights.
“It’s a date night for sure,” she said, “but we have a lot of families and a ton of church groups come through. I don’t have any devil stuff. I find it offensive. There is a minimal amount of blood and guts. I don’t think anybody will get offended here.”
Last year, Spirit Ghost Hunters, paranormal investigators out of Murfreesboro, explored Dead Land and snared a photo of a ghost and recorded the voice of what they believe to be a Civil War soldier.
All Chapman knows is that her haunted woods will be filled with real people pretending to be creatures of the night so that guests can enjoy a chill-filled evening. She said that many of the patrons like to have their pictures taken with the monsters at the end of the trail.
Guess that means her werewolves and vampires have to say “Cheese!” Happy haunting!