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|So we can get an idea of what was happening
in Ghost Town in those years, what type of scare tactics were you using
to scare back in those days?
We were pretty much making it up as went.
No one had thought of Shaker Cans or things that would make loud noise. Great idea, but at the time nobody thought of it yet. The thing we had on our side the first year was that no one was looking for us.
The really timid people would make a bee-line down the safe center of the street thinking the scares were only featured inside the buildings and along the walks (which they had been up to that point). So, of course, the first year that's exactly where I would go. And they were so busy huddling together and looking to the sides they never saw me coming!
But by my second year the word was out - people were expecting to see us and we had to come up with more creative approaches. Since there weren't as many restrictions, one of my favorite ploys was to find a girl who was getting a little hysterical. While she was busy looking elsewhere I'd move her boyfriend out of the way and gently take her hand. It's amazing how long it sometimes took before a victim realized they were holding a monsters hand. If they gave me the reaction I wanted I'd stalk them into another section of the park, wait until they finally relaxed and then go in for a second strike! That would really freak them out!
Every Monster has one. Any special moments in your scaring that you would like to share?
As I mentioned: By my third year people were getting used to seeing us in the streets and it forced us to be a little more creative.
One night I got to wondering,
"So if they expect to see us on the streets, what are they NOT going to expect?"
Though the monsters were born out of the "peek-ins" that had quickly become a thing of the past once we were let loose. So since no one expected THAT anymore I decided to try it for an hour to see what would happen.
I went into the Chinese Laundry and stood perfectly still looking out of the small window in the door. People would come up, see the stilted animatronics of the guy ironing next to me and think it was perfectly safe. Eventually they let their guard down and most couldn't help but to step closer to get a good look at my face… and that's when I'd get 'em!
Well, eventually a woman came up with a young child. She lifted him up to the window and gently assured him,
"Look see? He won't scare you!"
They were both only a couple of inches away looking right at me - never suspecting I was real. I'll never forget their response when I suddenly jumped forward and shrieked at them. Just like in those old classic cartoons they both went stiff as a board and fell backwards without catching themselves - landing hard on the blacktop.
I felt awful and ran out the back and around the building to see if they were all right. They were still out cold and stayed that way for quite a while. A security officer ran up and had the presence of mind to tell me to leave the area.
"You're not getting near them!" he said. "They'll both be traumatized again if they see you when they come to!"
I had very mixed emotions as I walked away. On one hand I worried and hoped they were okay. Yet at the same time I couldn't help but realize the significance of what had just happened. It had been two people at one time!! A double faint! I had caused people to pass out before - but never a double faint!
Not too much is known about the mazes in those years. Do you have any recollections of what the mazes were like back when you were working the Haunt?
One of my friends from school worked in a maze dressed as Chewbacca. I'm not sure how that kind of character fit into a scary, Halloween maze - except that Star Wars was really big in 1977; so someone must have decided it would be cool to throw him in there. By the way, the biggest problem my friend had was keeping himself from being set on fire. He said that several times a night he would get a sense of heat and turn around to find someone trying to ignite his fur with a BIC lighter.
The mazes were mostly long dark hallways made out of black plywood that would lead you to rooms featuring various gruesome scenes and monsters. Black lights, strobe lights, fog machines were all common in these early versions.
I remember specifically that in one of them they kept playing the music from "The Omen" over and over again.
In 1978, they had a maze near the Ghost Town graveyard that featured a lot of "fun house" trappings. They must have hired a Carnival company to bring in one of those mirror mazes, cause that's the first thing you went through to enter. Which brings me to one of the strangest things I remember about those early mazes.
One of the first things you encountered in this "fun house" maze was an upright coffin, which featured an authentic dead body!
His somewhat cracked skin had turned brown and his mouth was pulled back in a ghastly death grin to reveal his yellow teeth. He still had wispy black hair - even tiny eyelashes. I asked the guys that worked the maze what the story was behind the dead body. (I doubt if Knott's actually owned it. They must have just rented him for the Haunt). Come to find out he was actually an old outlaw that had been hung or shot before the turn of the century. It was a common practice back then to mummify these guys and parade them around to show kids what would happen if they were to step outside the law. Most of the mummified outlaws eventually ended up in sideshows or as a prop in carnival dark rides. (They found another mummified bandit in a funhouse when they tore down the Long Beach Pike. Up until that point they thought he was a wax figure).
It might seem a bit far fetched today, but trust me: He was real! [*Note: The actual name of the maze was "Black Bart's Trail of Terror. Perhaps it was the actual Black Bart that appeared in the maze...?*]
What was going on with the Calico Mine Ride back then?
The Haunt immediately took its toll on the Mine Ride.
Before the Haunt, the Mine Ride featured a room that had stalactites coming from above and stalagmites coming from the bottom. Now, if you notice, there's not too many stalagmites left. That's because during the haunt they used to stop the train in this room, play scary organ music and the "undead" would emerge out of their coffins and walk towards the train cars.
A couple of buddies of mine who worked in that room said they were constantly tripping and breaking off the stalagmites because they couldn't see them in the dark. Most of the mannequins in the Mine Ride had masks on so you didn't know who was real and who wasn't. They had a lot of ghosts floating around in "the Glory Hole."
My cousin actually worked the first year of the Haunt and built one of the props that was featured in the Mine Ride for quite a while. It was a retrofit of two animated miners driving a spike into a beam. My cousin - who is an artist - built a head that they could be driving the stake into. Inside the head was a hidden pump that would continually cause blood to flow out of the victim's mouth.
| How about the Log Ride? What was happening
with that attraction back then?
Same thing as the Mine Ride. The existing mannequins were made up to look like monsters. Only now they were busily doing things like sawing people in half.
I had a couple of school buddies who worked the Log Ride as well. They were supposed to suddenly rise up over the edge of the flume - seems like they may have been using something like shaker cans or air horns - and scare the riders. But many times they would get purposefully hit by these rowdy, young punks…What is it about being in a moving vehicle that makes people feel like they can be jerks?!?…
Anyway, my friends eventually got wise to it and started bringing walkie-talkies to work with them. If they got slugged they would radio ahead to guys farther down the line and say,
"Car #5-guy in the back with the red shirt." Payback!
One of the cool things about the Log Ride was they had this guy that was like a human bat. It would be really dark and all of a sudden a strobe light would start flashing from above. You would look up just in time to see this ManBat thing with wings jumping straight down on you! The first time I ever saw it I remember thinking, "This poor guy's totally lost it and he's taking all of us with him!" You were absolutely sure he was going to land on you. At the last minute a bungee cord would pull him back up to his perch.
About halfway through the '77 Haunt I learned that one of the guys in my college dorm was the doing the ManBat gig. I was jealous and said,
"Man, you got one of the best jobs in the place! That's the coolest effect out there!"
"Ohhh, no!" he said. "At first it was pretty great, but you don't want to know how many blisters I've gotten from that stinkin' harness! And now whenever I do it, it just rips them all open again!"
|Did you ever see any of the Wolfman Jack show?
My best memory of the Wolfman Jack show…
"Man, do you think you could introduce me to Wolfman Jack?" I asked.
"Yeah, he's right over there!" he said and introduced us.
So, I got to meet the legendary Wolfman Jack - very nice guy! I was thrilled enough! But then my friend turns to me and says,
"Hey, do you wanna be in the show?"
"Heck, Yeah! What do I do?"
"Just go out there and do what we do!"
At first I didn't think he was serious, but how often do you get a chance to be in a live show with Wolfman Jack?!? So I did it -or rather - faked it! I'm sure it wasn't very pretty.
But nevertheless, I actually shared the stage one night with the Wolfman! And it was a kick!! [*Note: For more information on Wolfman Jack, check out the official Wolfman Jack website*]
Any final thoughts looking back to those early years of you working the Haunt?
It was truly one of the best times of my life! Looking back, things seemed to come together by sheer happenstance.
I wish I could brag that one of us came up with the great idea of street monsters, but it was something that we totally stumbled into. An accidentally locked door literally opened the way for a new, redefined job position and line of characters. To think I may have played a small role in shaping the Haunt's history and rich tradition is an absolute honor.
Interview took place on 08/17/2002.
The words you have just read are priceless in the world of Halloween Haunt.
In regard to Bob, it's not over yet though... Bob's last visit to the Halloween Haunt was back in 1983. Although he makes periodic trips out to Knott's Berry Farm, he has not been back to the Haunt in almost two decades. However, things are about to change for the 30th Anniversary!
Bob has agreed to visit the Halloween Haunt with his family this year and he has also agreed to let Ultimatehaunt.com RE-interview him after his trip to the Haunt! You will now be able to hear his comparisons, detailed experiences and memories after this coming Halloween Haunt. Something like this only comes around once...
Bob and his family ready to go into the 30th Annual Halloween Haunt.
|Since Ghost Town was your Haunt "home" for
three years, what are some of the design changes that you notice now compared
to how it was when you last attended the event? [cobwebs, lighting, etc.]
There's a lot less light and a lot more fog in the streets today - which I think is a vast improvement! The monsters can really get lost in the shadows/fog and they are on top of you before you know it.
Seems we used to have the buildings dressed with spookier looking cobwebs. They were somehow more realistic looking. And there were more of them. The art directors also used to hang large swaths of a special material across the streets that looked really cool. It was made to appear very much like hanging Spanish moss - and gave an overall peculiar musty smell to Ghost Town - that I still remember to this day.
What was your impression of the Scare Tactics [sliders, etc.] that are currently used by the Haunt Monsters? How are the new additions and what did you see out there that you used to do?
A lot of the Scare Tactics are exactly the same - simply because certain classic techniques will always work if done well. But I've never seen anything like the "sliding" technique before. Very cool!
While I was nearing the old windmill in ghost town, a slider came skidding down the boardwalk alongside of my family. The clackity-clackity-clack sound he made sliding over all those boards was bone chilling!
In regard to the mazes and attractions (Log Ride and Mine Ride), what are some of the improvements that you noticed and is there anything that you feel they might be missing compared to how they used to be?
Both rides had strong, focused themes that were very cool. A few more monsters popped out at you than in the old days. But both rides also seemed to have some dead, dark stretches that could be fixed up.
In the log ride it was the inner room you drop into down a small waterfall. Nothing seemed to be going on in there. Could have used some "more eye" candy to look at. As for the Mine Ride: when you first enter you come into the steam room with all the boiling pools of hot water. Currently it's just dark, but in the old days that room had bodies boiling in red-hot pools of blood - the flesh splitting right off them. I remember one pool was full of bobbing eyeballs. Personally, I'd like to see that again.
In your opinion, does the Halloween Haunt still capture the same feel and aura that it had while you were there and if so, why?
To be honest, before going to the new Haunt I was trying to lower my expectations. I mean, I had heard it was a lot bigger and much more elaborate - but that's not always a good thing. I was a little afraid that it might have lost a lot of its original charm. Not so! With a few exceptions - the Haunt is bigger AND better! My family can't wait to go back!
Now that you have seen how the event has grown in the last 20 years, what can you say to the current Monsters who make up the Haunt about the legacy you helped to create?
I really appreciated that the monsters still had the same spirit and professionalism we tried to bring to the Haunt in the early years.
Let me try to explain it this way: Since working the Haunt I've gone through a few amateur "haunted houses" near where I live. You could tell these "monsters" were just kids. They didn't know how to make a truly startling "approach" and then, typically, they mugged and screamed annoyingly in your face - not knowing when to stop. My wife and I were both struck with how "classy" - if you can call it that - the roaming monsters of the Haunt were. They each had highly developed individual personas, made truly startling "approaches" and moved on before you had too much. It can probably be summed up in one word: Professionalism.
Very rarely do things in life get better. Usually you yearn for the good ol' days before things went downhill. But I can honestly say that the current Monsters are still moving the "art of the scare" forward and taking our early techniques to a whole new level. I'm simply proud as I can be to have been part of the Haunt's legacy! And to be quite honest - after getting a small taste of it again the other night - you have no idea how much I'd love to hit the ol' Ghost Town streets again!
There you have it folks! For all of you Street Characters... be it Gauntlet, CarnEvil, Swamp and especially Ghost Town, what you have just read are words from a true Haunt Forefather. If it wasn't for what he did in Ghost Town that first night out of the Peek-In, there certainly may have not been a Haunt for you to enjoy...at least not the way we know it today. As you will soon discover, the Legacy of the Halloween Haunt is built upon a series of fluke incidents that came together at just the right place and the right time. The puzzle pieces have somewhat fit together perfectly.
On behalf of the Halloween Haunt fans in the world, we would like to thank Bob Vernon for his willingness to share his story with Ultimatehaunt.com and to help all of us understand the roots of the event.
Bob, although your start in Ghost Town was a fluke, you taking like a "fish to water" did indeed revolutionize this enormous event. Thank you.