This is a long one...18 years in the business and the leading events make for a long story...i will prematurely congradulate you if you make it through the whole "story" lol.
For me.....I have always been fascinated with Halloween, the macabre, dressing up, horror movies, all that. I always enjoyed the really elaborate yard haunts...I remember there was one yard down the street from me that used to go really crazy with crank ghosts and the whole nine. It always gave me a tingly feeling at a young age.
My uncle started me on horror movies early even at my mother's disapproval...Friday the 13th films always gave me a phobia of windows as a child...I loved them but they often scared the pants off me when I was young. Got to see some greats such as CHUD at the drive in...followed by The Fog...which weirdly enough...actually got fogged out...true story.
My first haunt experience was a trailer haunt at a local Carnival...I was about 6 or so...and barely made it through. Next was going as a patron through a local Metropark haunt called the Haunted Chalet. I was terrified, and remember running a lot. I was about 8 at the time...and didnt go to another haunt until I was 13. The next haunt I visited was Bloodview Haunted House...and I really enjoyed it this time. Me and my friend were trying to scare each other in the dark halls the whole time...when we were going through for the 3rd time an actor at the door told us we should come up and work...but we kind of shrugged it off.
The following year had a similar experience at the same house with a friend and then another friend at schoold who had already worked there in the past and encouraged me to try it. So I did...loved every second of it...and began my journey as a haunter from there. Studied makeup...at one point looked very heavily into becoming a professional FX artist, but my mother was not at all supportive of anything concerning that, and had I had some support I may have went on a different life path. But everything happens for a reason and I would not have had the same life otherwise...good and bad I have enjoyed my life so far.
So I stayed on at Bloodview for many years joining the Legion Of Terror acting troupe...then through some political social issues they left Bloodview for a couple years and I decided to stay with a new group called the Nightmare Society which was basically formed in parts of Legion's shadow...Working with them after a year I met my now wife during acting...and there were rumors that that Lions club which produces Bloodview were going to bring back Legion and basically remove the Nightmare Society....so a core group of us decided to check out a couple other attractions for a backup home haunt for the group. Long story short...drama ensued because of this and that core group of people were asked to leave Nightmare Society...so we decided to start our our group The Demons Of Darkness. We toured around several haunts for about a year or 2 during which my wife and I visited Transworld for the first time in 1997. It was awe inspiring that there was anything like this for an activity we had so much fun with. Since then I have only missed Transworld twice, and that was the year it moved exclusively to Vegas, then the first year in St. Louis.
We spent that summer with an we learned the hard way to be an unsavory owner who we worked with on trust of a later paycheck which never panned out. We designed and built about 3/4 of his attraction before we caught on that we would never be getting paid from him, and that funds for design plans we had made would come to a standstill.
We left that, then continued on touring and found a "home" at a local attraction that was a modular setup at a Fairground. We enjoyed an amazing first half year with them, then got to design our own 3D attraction going into the next year. We started out the year with a huge bang...I was doing stilted acts, fire breathing etc... etc...Then there was an Ecoli scare at the fairgrounds and we got shot down for fear of public safety into our second weekend. We had Gunnar Hansen and Doug Bradley booked to appear the following weekends. In the end we ended up getting to just entertain them and hang out for the weeks they were booked....made for some great experiences and stories. There were never any findings that backed up that there was Ecoli anywhere on the fairgrounds within a week after that completed 100 tests....99 of which were negative, one was inconclusive, but they kept us shut down for the rest of the year. Many of us went and guest acted at Bloodview or other haunts again.
In a weird twist of events...the owner that we had the prior bad experience with before was kicked out of his location, and we seized the opportunity and moved the attraction from the fairgrounds to that very same place we had been just 2 years prior...most of it still the same with stuff we had not finished still unfinished. We decided to basically spend the summer gutting the entire haunt to one giant space keeping only a handful of the original wall panels and pieces. We were able to now take the once modular haunts and convert them into a permanent haunt. 2 attractions in one building and 1 modular in a picnic pavilion....the facility was really great...a bit out of the way...but the space and atmosphere itself was incredible. However, this was the year of 9-11...in addition to a very WET October....needless to say our numbers were horrible, and we feared not to re-open the following year due to such great financial loss the year of getting shut down, on top of a poor attendance year. Following that season, many of us worked at an attraction at a seasonal indoor amusement park along with some of the Legion Of Terror that spring and made lots of new connections (This is where I first mett Miss Katie Lane). Later that summer the owner got the funding together to keep the ball moving, and we were a week away from going in for some redesigns when I got a call from one of the new contacts from the indoor amusement park to turn on the news. I turned it on to see a helicopter view of our building engulfed in flames....Needless to say that, and the next morning going through the rubble of ash, plaster casts and nothing else but the metal frame skeletons of Scarefactory, Distortions, and other props...my wife's and my nearly 10 year collection of costuming...all nothing but rubble was utterly devastating. I've never felt so sick in my life. The embers were still smoldering.
In keeping up with our contacts from the amusement park we decided to sign on with them to do a multipart attraction in Washington DC. We would be actors, trainers, costumers, makeup artists, etc...for the cast of over 100 and 6 attraction full blown show. We were then promised several other shows in the coming months and the possibility to take things to the next level. So the wife and I quit our day jobs to take this opportunity. We drove to DC and did the show....however, in another streak of bad luck, this was the same year as the DC Sniper...which was during October of course. The numbers the first 2 weeks were aweful...but then thankfully they caught them, and we then had lines around the block. We had a great time for the rest of the show, and began making plans to further the company we were starting to do other shows and beyond. Well, the people we partnered with were not the most honest of business people, and we were in the end left without jobs and again no haunt to call home.
We remedied our employment situation and the attraction(s) that were burned down, we ended up being able to rebuild at a local outdoor concert venue (so back to modular again...but a priceless well known location). Success from the first year secured multi year contracts, and It is there since I have called my general haunt "home" with guest visits to others here and there... We also did shows 2 years in a row with this owner at the same seasonal indoor amusement park that we had been 2 years prior. My wife after all of the bad experiences seems to have lost her heart for the industry unfortunately and basically retired from acting, and staff coordination which she had come to enjoy...maybe one day she will get back into it....but we still enjoy horror and all things creepy together. We ended up getting married at Mansfield Reformatory (Haunted Prison where they filmed Shawshank Redemption and more) in 2007.
I would love to one day produce and own my own attraction...maybe some day. I try to find ways to bring more aspects of my life to allow me to enjoy this industry...and is in part where I started doing marketing with Jakprints to the haunt industry....it is an industry I know, and I stand behind Jakprints service and products...so it was a golden match...looking forward to continue this as well as getting to meet more and more haunters and have great experiences to share for many many years to come.
If you actually read through all of that I congratulate you...that's my history in a nutshell...lol. Lots more great details...but I have already written a book of a post...
Mike "Pogo" Hach