Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 29 - "This is the Place Haunted Village" in Salt Lake City, UT

     Okay, in the name of fairness, here's another locally appreciated entry, but for the other side of the country. I'm generally not an enormous fan of haunted houses, but when I was living in Utah, I was very excited to check out the Haunted Village at This is the Place Heritage Park every October.

    A brief history lesson for some context, "This is the Place" commemorates where the Mormon pioneers first came into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Upon emerging from a canyon, Brigham Young supposedly sees the desert expanse in front of him and says, "This is the place", the place where they would settle and start their state. For most of the year it is a living history museum consisting of restored or replicated period buildings and guides in period clothing that give visitors an idea of what life was like for those pioneers 150 years ago.

     In October, the park transforms into the, less historically accurate and educational but very fun, "Haunted Village" where visitors now learn what life was like in the 1850s if you had to worry about witches or killers running about. Yes, the park's look still remains basically of that same time frame, you won't find anachronistic chainsaws or horror movie references here. Instead you'll find characters like witches or serial wife murders that have moved into the village. Each year, there is a theme/narrative which is introduced by a very well produced movie( got me, they DO show a movie) that plays while you stand in line for your turn to enter. The story of the haunt is then somewhat played out by the actors providing some exposition and progressing the plot as you move through the park.

     Once you get to the front of the line, you'll be allowed to enter as a group of 3-10 or so (don't want to have too big a group that could dampen the creepy atmosphere and be too unwieldy as to ruin the timing of some of the jump scares) and you proceed into the village, sans any type of guide. I've been to some haunted houses that were guideless, but since you're wandering acres of the park, moving from building to building, spending a lot of time outside on dark paths, I've always thought this was a very cool aspect of the Haunted Village. If any place would have a guide keeping a careful eye on you, it seems like it'd be here. You get to roam between the structures(homes, a butcher shop, the hospital, the school) at your own pace, pretty much. This leads to funny moments along the tour as you run into groups in front of you whose strategy is to go sloooooow between buildings and then you also have groups from behind merge with you, these groups instead choosing to run as fast as they can between buildings.

     Most of the buildings are far enough apart to where the exact nature of the scares ahead won't be spoiled for you, but you do often hear muffled speech and screams in the distance well enough to keep you filled with dread. What also helps on that front is that you never get a break. Being outside doesn't mean you're immune to scares. There are people wearing black hiding in the trees that pounce down beside you, actors in ghillie suits along the path that wait for the perfect moment to rise up, characters from buildings will follow you outside the path and silently walk behind you for a stretch before returning to their base of operations...your heart beat never gets a chance to dip. Only once you've traversed all the cursed acreage do you get to cool down as you exit through the visitors center and laugh and talk about your favorite parts, maybe ending the trip with some hot chocolate or sarsaparilla. 

     I would be curious to hear about any other haunted attractions that are like this, as it's by far my personal favorite and one of the things I really miss about Utah. The only thing that comes to mind immediately is maybe tours through older penitentiaries or hospitals where they're doing a similar museum/haunt type thing, but they don't have the outdoor aspect of the Haunted Village. Please let me know of anything like this out there, I'd love to find something near by to fill this void in my Halloween ritual.

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