elionwyr: (madam spooky)
I stepped out of the hotel and into the street. Or what should have been a street. It was instead a stagnant stream of 2 inch deep slush that was now filling my shoes.


The amusement park attraction industry has the right idea. Rent a humongous convention space in a warm space, fill it with roller coasters and carnival food and live animal exhibits, pick a weekend in November, and invite anyone with any sort of interest in such things to attend.

Sure it's expensive. But it's so very worth it. I've gone exactly once, because I had a meeting to attend at the show, and I've yet to stop regretting my only having a few hours to walk about an eighth of the show floor.

I've also yet to either stop believing that, to be taken seriously, the haunted attraction industry needs to have a bigger/stronger/faster presence at IAAPA. In November. Where the big boy parks are gathering and where the temperatures are WARM.

No, the Halloween gang instead gathers in the midwest. In March. Ideally, in Chicago, though they've relocated to St Louis for the past few years. (To be fair, the show tried moving to Vegas...a dismal failure...and so back to the land of winds and slush and snow we returned.)

Trans World is a show that seems constantly in flux, not just over location. The list of welcome attendees and vendors changes every few years. Admission is free, though you need to be of the right age with the proper credentials...or know someone that will let you say you work for them.

To be fair, I don't blame the trade show for being fickle about who can attend. When I first started going in 1999, people brought extra suitcases to contain all the catalogs and free stuff they were going to glean from the booths. It was Christmas and Easter all wrapped up in black and orange trappings, and if you're not going to place a worthwhile order, those gift-giving vendors aren't going to be feeling all that jolly. And unhappy vendors aren't going to buy booths for next year's show. Which is what started Trans World's identity crisis in the first place.

But at the first vague signs of spring, the haunters will buy their expensive plane tickets and converge on the midwest's convention spaces and bars. Because nothing seems to inspire haunting minds better than alcohol and snow.
elionwyr: (madam spooky)
He flicked his beard, looked at me with a smile. "In a few more years, I'll be Santa Claus for real."

He had snow machines in his closet and a Mrs Claus in his attic with a face based on one of his actresses. He was, and is, a far cry from Santa, yet the unacted-upon longing was there...shades of Jack searching for the mystery behind another holiday's door.

Not every haunted attraction, of course, is besieged and abused by the winter. Disneyland took advantage of its lack of snow and a skeleton that would be Claus and started retheming its Haunted Mansion for the park's holiday events.

What's good enough for the Mouse is good enough for the rest of us. Those lucky enough to have the space simply dedicate one section of their haunted property to what will become a winter wonderland. Others muster up the manpower to retheme their haunt. And for one haunted attraction in Chicago, this year's first attempt at redecorating may be what lets them scare again next year.

It all makes an exhausted sort of sense, really. We come to Halloween as children disguised as monstrous adults; we scream in fear of Santa, longing to be spoiled. We build our haunted attractions, reluctantly locking up our fantasies as frost gathers on the pumpkins. These vague attempts to claim another holiday are smart business as much as they are proof that Halloween is every day. Snow be damned.
elionwyr: (madam spooky)
I haven't grown accustomed yet to being cold at Halloween. I spent eight years worrying about my actors overdressing and being too warm; here, where we work outside without the benefit of a ceiling, there's no such thing as too many layers of clothing. I went on to spend seven years worrying about how to capture heat.

As cold as October can be, November roars in worse. After everyone is exhausted from a month of putting their day-to-day lives on some sort of hold and dedicating every free moment to the haunt, November 1st means a return to the real world, and a disregard for all the work needed to do to put the show back into storage. It's true of any haunted house, and it's especially bad when your attraction is open to the elements.

So the bare minimum gets done - the most fragile things are pulled under some sort of cover. The boss says, "Don't fall in love with anything here. It'll be gone in a few years." There aren't enough hands to move all of the props carelessly left outside to safer ground. Most of the structures that have taken the better part of the summer to build, to fix, are left out to be drenched by rain, covered by snow, bleached by sun.

It's not fair, of course, to say that November is winter. There are still autumn thanks to be celebrated. But depending on the fickle decisions of Mother Nature, winter can hit as early as the last week in October.

And there is something strangely defeating in walking these halls after the temperatures have plummeted, to see props filled with frozen water, pathways filled with snow. Pretty, yes, but heavy - supports break under the weight - and when the snow transforms to water, the walls will wick up all that moisture.

A haunted house filled with snowdrifts is on its way to a haunted house needing to be rebuilt.
elionwyr: (madam spooky)
Most people aren't thinking of haunted houses in December. And yet we decided to leave Philadelphia around 1AM and head to Wildwood, because driving two hours to the ocean now was better than driving seven hours to get there when the weather was warmer.

It's good I wasn't driving. Tired doesn't begin to describe my exhaustion. When we arrived at a mercifully still-open hotel, I wanted nothing more than to be carried from the car to a prewarmed bed.

Alas. Adults don't get to ask such things of other adults.

The hotel manager told us there was no rush to check out in the morning.

"Wow. REALLY? This is the best shore hotel ever! I'm totally coming back here!"

He smiled at me. "Well, in-season is a whole other story."


Not surprisingly - but disappointingly - the room we were given was cold. I crawled into bed still wearing the heavy velvet dress I'd worn to the steampunk party earlier. I may have still been corseted as well...I can't remember, and I wouldn't have cared.

Curled up in a ball, I shivered myself to sleep.

Daylight eventually woke us. Back to the car, and off to meet up with our Wildwood friend. He was a co-owner of a boardwalk haunt that had never quite opened its doors over the summer. I'd been following the convoluted tale of woe from the western side of Pennsylvania, and wanted to see for myself the state of the attraction.

We meandered through a maze of ice and warehouses until we found the one housing our friend. Eric's workspace was vaguely warmed with space heaters and filled with half-finished projects and collected animations from too many places to list completely. I stared at pieces from Castle Dracula, the boardwalk haunt I had loved so much as a child, had written about after it went up in flames, and secretly miss to this day. I looked at the bigger version of the animated dragon head I had worked on in western PA. I listened to Eric's stories of what things were, and I couldn't focus on his words. So much history, and all I wanted to do was stroke the noses of the gargoyles that survived the fire. So much of what I love about haunted houses came from my visits to Dracula's Castle...

Which eventually brought us back to the shore.

The New Jersey boardwalk off-season is nearly empty of people. There are still a few, a very few. Mostly it's the domain of seagulls. We climbed over short fences and walked to the undeveloped sections of Sportland Pier. Real estate at the shore is controlled by the uncontrollable ocean. As the beachfront changes, pier owners are allowed to extend their property. They don't have to use the expanding pier, but if they don't build in a timely manner, they lose the ability to do so at all.

Broken seashells lay scattered across the boards. "Seagulls drop them here to break them open," Eric explained. I picked up some of their mostly smooth shapes, pocketing them for later inspection, and they've taken up a permanent residence in that coat pocket ever since. Past the edges of current amusements were rusted out pretzel ride cars and figures from a long-since-gone funhouse. I hovered near fallen demon and took photos, long since lost to unreliable phone technology.

"This is a movie set begging to be used," I commented. Images like these seem too impossible to be stumbled across in everyday life..let alone on a dock, scented by sea air and surrounded by the remains of seagulls' meals.

We went into the haunt that had brought us there in the first place. Cold and dark, it still smelled like home: paint and woodchips and the vague unidentified scents of a quiet workshop. I'd seen photos of what the place had looked like seven months before. The doors had never opened and yet everything had already been changed. Much was slated to be changed again.

"You just need to open," I scolded. "Money first, then fix it." We commiserated over the waste of space, over hallways designed to be too straight, too long, over rooms build too shallowly. "You can fix it. Later." Holding flashlights, we walked the not-quite-maze, discussing what had happened to several of the past employees.

I can't say it's the coldest I've ever been at a haunt. I can say that the ocean's siren call made me not mind as much as I normally would. Oceans and haunted houses are, for me, a magical combination, perhaps because of my too few memories of boardwalk dark rides. And I've not been back in warmer weather, so Morbid Manor remains a cold place in my mind.

Which isn't such a bad thing, perhaps, for a haunted house.

February 2017

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