SPOOKYWOODS Haunted Attraction
Kersey Valley SPOOKYWOODS Haunted Attraction – Blood on the Farm
By MATTHEW HOLMES
Smack dab in the middle of North Carolina is the small town of Archdale, pop. 11,000. Just outside is a sprawling 60-acre plot of land that houses some of the best themed attractions this side of Dollywood—if Dolly Parton wanted to scare the hell out of you. Welcome to Kersey Valley Attractions, home of Kersey Valley Spookywoods.
Voted one of the scariest scream parks in America by Hauntworld.com and rated the number-one haunted attraction by HauntedHouseRatings.com in 2012, Spookywoods claims to be one of the largest, most terrifying sites in the country. It is run by Tony and Donna Wohlgemuth, who employ a year-round staff (with over 300 people currently working at the farm) and are constantly changing with the times. This year, they have created four all-new attractions that Tony says “are not for the faint of heart.” Let’s investigate…
FANGORIA: What is the brief history of Kersey Valley Spookywoods?
TONY WOHLGEMUTH: My parents emigrated from Switzerland, and had a dream to own a farm. I was 9 years old when my family moved to the 60-acre plot in 1979. Originally, it was used to grow trees that were planted in perfect rows, and took up 90,000 square feet.
FANG: That’s a lot of land. As a kid, you must’ve had a blast exploring.
WOHLGEMUTH: The property had several unused tobacco barns, a farmhouse and the main residence. The farmhouse was remodeled in 1982, and my mother taught European knitting classes there as part of an off-campus program for the local community college. My friends and I used to pull power from the farmhouse via a drop cord to one of the tobacco barns behind it. We hung a chandelier and used it as our main light.
FANG: That’s pretty inventive!
WOHLGEMUTH: The farm was a popular place to spend summers hanging out. As teenagers, we used to camp out in the barns. One summer night, just past midnight as we were about to fall asleep, the chandelier fell and stopped a few inches from smashing us in the face. We were lying in sleeping bags directly underneath. The end of the drop cord caught on the windowsill, and that was the only thing that kept that heavy iron fixture from hitting us. It scared us half to death, and spawned a dare between us to see who would enter the old house to restore the power. I took the dare, and when I came back, we kept challenging each other to see whose dare could be the scariest.
FANG: How did those dares evolve into the massive attraction that exists today?
WOHLGEMUTH: The first haunt was created using cardboard and plastic, with mostly white walls and red splattered paint for blood. We were just 15 years old, and had no clue about permits or fire-safety issues. Our marketing effort was hand-drawn flyers handed out at high school. That year, we were open the last two weeks of October, and sold just over 1,000 tickets at $2 each. It was basically a guided tour through the house. We called it The House of Death, and for the next few years just added Roman numerals to the name.
FANG: Was it an instant hit?
WOHLGEMUTH: Yes-once we got to House of Death IV, it was so popular that there was a four-hour wait. We knew it was time for a change. I wanted to expand outside the house, and decided to add a walking trail in the woods behind the farmhouse.
FANG: Nothing scarier than a forest walk in the dead of night. This was just you and your friends?
WOHLGEMUTH: Yes. Then I met my wife Donna in college, and when she decided to join, she began to run it like an actual business and the attraction saw incredible growth. We changed the name to Kersey Valley Haunted House & Forest the next season. Everyone loved the new expanded walk through the Christmas trees; however, we were still a tour with guides for every eight people, which meant a throughput of only 125 people per hour. There were so many people waiting; the way it was set up wasn’t very fluid.
FANG: What changed?
WOHLGEMUTH: In 1996, during an IAAPA [International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions] conference that Donna and I attended, there was a haunted-house seminar, and we learned it was one of only two haunts that were still guided. I came back and redesigned the entire Christmas-tree area, and the forest transformed easily, allowing an unguided format and better throughput.
FANG: How did you create the path?
WOHLGEMUTH: By cutting every limb up the trunks as high as a pruning chainsaw pole would reach. The forest was reworked into rows of trees, and allowed walls to be built under the canopy. It’s truly spooky.
FANG: So you created this scary path and then left your customers to fend for them-selves. Nice.
WOHLGEMUTH: The unguided concept was hard to swallow for some die-hard fans, but the first-time guests loved it. The best part was that the wait was reduced to about 45 minutes, and we were able to get in over 800 people per hour. The income this generated allowed for a much larger budget to improve the haunt.
FANG: Aesthetically, walk us through Spookywoods.
WOHLGEMUTH: Our design team’s goal is to create sets you have never seen before, and keep you guessing as to what’s around the next corner. For example, the texture of concrete used in the scenic design of our underground caves, or the plant life on the walls set to vibrate by the soundscape are heightened by scents. This creates a totally immersive environment. The sets are complemented by the effects team’s matching costumes.
FANG: The website lists a number of different attractions…
WOHLGEMUTH: As Spookywoods gained popularity, we wanted to expand the seasonal business.
FANG: So the next logical step was obviously to build a 10-acre corn maze.
WOHLGEMUTH: The beauty of creating The Maize Adventure is that we now have a kid-friendly daytime attraction to complement the haunt. We were able to quit our full-time jobs and work solely on the attractions. Donna began organizing field trips for local schools, and even designed additional outdoor classroom attractions like Planting Seeds of Knowledge and Bee Educated.
Soon, more features were added. We installed two giant 40-by-70 air pillows for the kids to bounce on, created an outdoor laser tag and built a 1.5-mile zip-line tour between 60-foot towers placed throughout the farm, giving adventurous customers an above-ground view of the entire place, including the Spookywoods haunt. The decision was then made to add Kersey Valley to Spookywoods and have all the attractions together under one brand, each with its own website under the portal site at www.kerseyvalley.com.
FANG: Are you planning to expand the Spookywoods haunt, perhaps to another city or state?
WOHLGEMUTH: We have optimized the perfect price point for the experience, so we are not expanding any more. We improve it yearly to keep pushing ourselves and create new experiences. We have no plans to move to another location; we have enlarged the farm to be open daily year-round, with the zip line and laser tag. We are so hands-on with our businesses that expanding off-property would only damage the quality we strive for.
FANG: Do you have any advice for people coming to Kersey Valley Spookywoods for the first time?
WOHLGEMUTH: Most of our attractions are outdoors, so proper footwear is highly recommended, as you will be running for your life in the woods.
Investigate the Kersey Valley haunt on-line at www.spookywoods.com.