Every year, in November and December after School District 13 Haunted Attraction draws to a close and it’s time to generate new ideas for next October, I do research to see what’s new for us and our patrons in the Halloween industry. Over the years I’ve found that there are two broad categories in terms of Halloween festival ideas: daytime and nighttime. Some attractions try to cater to both the day and the night-time crowds, while others specialize. Let me explain.
Generally speaking, the daytime Halloween festival crowd consists of parents and young children who are under the age of 10 years. Usually, they’re shopping for pumpkins or a corn maze. I know this because between 2004 and 2010, John and I offered daytime activities at Cornstalk Haunted Attraction in Grant, NE where we were originally located before we moved our haunted house operation to Brule and created School District 13.
The daytime crowd is harder to please than the nighttime crowd. That’s because they’re beset with issues that don’t encumber the night-time crowd. There’s something traumatic about the hour of 3:00 PM on a warm October afternoon in a corn maze or a pumpkin patch with 3 to 10 year-olds. Anything could happen…and by anything, I mean mostly stuff that’s pretty challenging or at least potentially draining. I love little kids so it always surprised me that the daytime crowd seemed so tense…that is until I realized that most of the daytime activities at Halloween festivals take place during nap time.
On the other hand, the night-time Halloween crowd is searching for excitement. As a group, the night crowd is more likely to be in search of something challenging, ideally an adventure. Sometimes they can be troublesome because they’re willing to break the rules to find one (riding in the back of a cop car, after all, is considered by some to be “adventurous”). On top of that, in the fall, the night-time hours are much more tolerable in terms of people’s moods. Usually it’s not too hot or too cold at night. The moon, when it’s full, is spectacular. And the wind (at least in Nebraska) adds a mysterious edginess to everything. The air is electric at night during the Halloween season which is why John and I have worked hard to create a night-time festival that caters to both the daytime crowd and to the night stalkers in search of adventure.
We’re not the first Halloween festival in the USA to try to combine the virtues of a daytime festival with those of night-time celebrations. Even within just a few hours drive from us here at School District 13 in Brule there are corn mazes across the border in Colorado like Anderson Farms or Jack Lantern’s Northern Colorado Corn Maze that open in the afternoon and transition from Fall Family Fun activities to something more along the lines of Terror in the Corn by sunset. By creating a haunted corn maze, the daytime-family-fun-oriented-pumpkin-patch-and-petting-zoo can remake itself by nightfall into something dark and foreboding with the application of a few scary masks and costumes. But John and I didn’t want to do that anymore. We wanted to try to do something different.
Since Brule is such a tiny town and everyone is so supportive here, we decided that our inspiration would be more along the lines of It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on the streets of Brule. This is fitting because Brule really looks and feels Great-Pumpkin-esque when autumn rolls around. And as Americans, we all remember The Great Pumpkin. In fact, historically speaking, Halloween in its current form in America, didn’t really get it’s start until The Great Pumpkin made its debut. It makes sense for us to use this iconic television show as the jumping off point for our idea-generation at School District 13. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is totally kid-friendly entertainment, but it still has mildly scary moments that little kids love.
But we aren’t COPYING The Great Pumpkin. No, no, no. Because that would be cheesy and awful. There are no Charlie Brown characters walking around in Brule during School District 13. All the characters are unique…just like the residents in our community (and in every community for that matter). Each year, we come up with new characters, strange characters with weird quirks, and volunteers step into those characters and animate them. We use The Great Pumpkin television show as inspiration because we want to create the same kind of feeling that people get when they watch that show. But School District 13 is a work-in-progress that’s entirely unique and not a copy of anything.
Our haunts, on the other hand, are definitely night-crowd friendly. They’re meant to be terrifying. But families with little kids can come and walk the streets and do the Halloween activities at School District 13 and have fun too without ever even setting foot inside the haunts. They can walk around with the other people who are getting scared, but who are also entertained by things like the Lost Soul Train and the Photo Op Forest. By doing things this way, we’ve been able to create an event that’s both family-friendly as well as terrifying at the same time. John and I think of the event as a whole as interactive theater rather than just a haunted attraction. It’s definitely different than just going to Nebraska corn mazes located on a farm with a petting zoo and punkin chunkin’ even though we have a haunted corn maze on offer here at School District 13 too.
So as you make your plans for the year, consider a Halloween road trip if you’re in the mood to see something different than a run-of-the-mill haunted corn maze or a typical stand-in-line-for-an-hour-haunted-house. When you visit School District 13 in Brule, you get to see not only a one-of-a-kind haunted attraction unlike anything else in the United States as well as the behind-the-scenes of a farming community in its full glory. If you live in a city like Denver, CO or Omaha, NE, you may not get many excuses to go walk around a tiny rural farming community in the middle of the night. Consider it a cultural outing and pack up the kids for a Halloween road trip that’ll be fun for everyone.