A bluish fog drifts past the gates of The Village on Front as darkness falls and the temperature hovers just above 40 degrees. A couple sits on a bench near a giant skull as they wait to enter the haunted experience happening in Arlington. The event, now in its first season, runs through Sunday, Nov. 3 at Knapp Heritage Park.
“I feel very scared right now,” says 24-year-old Wilma Mercado.
Mercado has never visited a haunted house, she says, but won tickets to the adventure online. She’s accompanied by Jomar Torres, 25, who once worked at a haunted castle and is eager to see what’s inside.
Nearby, Arlington Historical Society director Geraldine Mills, resembling a Billy Jack-style undertaker, sells tickets to the event, whose proceeds benefit the organization, formerly known as the Cemetery Society.
“I’m just chilling and thrilling,” Mills says, “more chilling than thrilling.”
Once the gates creak open, a gray-haired guide tells tales of murders, hangings and an escapee with a knife. Among the 14 characters lurking about the grounds is Mary, a ghostly little girl who lost her parents to a tragic, unforeseen circumstance.
“This area was part of the very first area in Arlington to be developed," says the guide about the land that the 1800s-era cabins rest upon. “It was also rumored that this area was also haunted.”
“Part of what I’m telling you is true,” she says, adding that people can use their imagination “to figure out what isn’t.”
The haunted maze weaves past floating skulls, through cabins and across footpaths filled with plenty of theatrical-grade props. Some are altered to produce custom effects such as a chainsaw that mimics spraying blood, says Paul Fulks, 54, who conjured up the idea for the haunted experience.
Fulks, president of 3DI Sign + Design, says the project began three months ago and he’s worked with many people, including several professional prop makers, to make it all happen.
“What we’ve accomplished in that brief amount of time was pretty remarkable,” he says. “The crazy part of it is that we built the whole park and it was almost 100 degrees. It was all we could do to be out there putting the stuff together. And then once it started, we get the rain and the cold temperatures.”
Sitting inside one of the historical buildings, the former law office of defense attorney James Knapp, Fulks shared more about his macabre creation above the shrieking and moaning noises outside.
Shortly before, a man wearing overalls wanders into the former law office looking for his flashlight, reluctantly retrieving it from a different room from the one he recalls placing it.
“I loved Halloween ever since I was in elementary, probably because my birthday is in October,” Fulks says. ”The 24th, exactly a week before Halloween.”
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Fulks also talked about his 9-year-old neighbor Lauren Friend, who developed the character of Mary, thinking of the name and backstory on her own. Friend’s mother also started helping out, and now the whole family gets involved whenever they’re available.
“It’s been really neat to watch everyone come in and be a part of it,” Fulks says. “I tell you, I couldn’t have done it by myself.”
After navigating the haunted adventure, Mercado gushes that she was most intrigued by the maze’s cockroach scene.
“You crunched when you walked on them,” Fulks says about the roomful of bugs and spiders.