The epicenter of the folklore of the Halloween Haunt revolves around one being – and one being alone: The Witch

The stories told indicate that the during the Witch’s Hanging, the accused Witch would deny that she was responsible for the strange and mysterious happenings in Calico.  However, just as she was about to be hanged, her true colors would surface and she would curse Calico.  The curse entailed such things as each October, the dead would rise from Boot Hill and the terrible citizens of Calico would have their true selves rise to the surface and expose their true ugliness (thus, the reasoning behind the man-imal creatures seen in Ghost Town).  Of course, this explains the presence of a green witch in Ghost Town. 

Well, what took place before those Hangings?   

This is the story about the history of the Witch at Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt.  With respect to the “backstory” of the event (albeit somewhat unofficial), the Witch is at the center of it all.  At the time of publication, the Witch character is the longest-running recurrent character seen at the event and has been presented in one form or another for the entire 36 years of the event’s history.

Let’s take a step back for a second and check this out: A woman named Diana (Kirchen) Kelly previously worked in radio on the air and was also Music Director at KWIZ in Santa Ana. Later, she taught radio broadcasting classes at Fullerton College and eventually finished her Master's degree and Ph.D. in Education and went on to become a community college administrator in 1993 (Associate Dean, Cuyamaca College in El Cajon).  In 2007/2008, Diana was Interim Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at San Diego Miramar College, and currently she works as a consultant to community colleges. 

But before ALL of that – she was the very first Green Witch at Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt…


Diana was hired at Knott’s Berry Farm in October of 1972 as an additional ‘meet & greet’ character for a show that was taking place in the John Wayne Theatre at the time, H.R. Pufnstuf. Not an actual performer in the Theatre, Diana simply greeted guests outside in the theater in-between shows, dressed as one of the Pufnstuf character costumes.
In April of 1973, she became the Knott’s Berry Farm character, “Whittles” (the costumed character version of the miner icon that appeared on brochures, tickets and maps at the time for the park) greeting guests at the Main Gate.  When the costume was being cleaned, Diana received approval from her supervisor at the time, Dale Shaddox, that it would be fine to try on the Annie Oakley costume and help out with the Knott’s Berry Farm Funfighters (gunfight/stunt performers) in Ghost Town.  She continued in this capacity as well as introduced country-music performers in the Wagon Camp and when October, 1973 arrived, the stunt performers and Entertainment Department performers were utilized for the Halloween Haunt.
Diana was simply assigned by Knott’s Berry Farm management to be “Spooky the Witch” in Ghost Town for the first Knott’s Halloween Haunt. 

In the years of 1973 and 1974, Diana watched Wizard of Oz numerous times as well as the H.R. Pufnstuf character, “Witchie Poo” while audio tape recording the witch voices from both programs as a reference tool to create her Witch voice….

Diana Kelly as the Green Witch - 1974

“I developed the voice partly by watching the Wizard of Oz a million times, and partly by watching 'Witchy-Poo' in the H.R. Pufnstuf show. Witchy-Poo was an inspiration for my voice, but I had to watch HR Pufnstuf on TV because it wasn't running in the John Wayne Theater by Oct. 1973 -- I just remembered that she had a great voice.  So I would watch the HR Pufnstuf children's show on Saturday morning and record her voice on a cassette tape, then I'd play it back and try to copy her voice. (Remember - this was BEFORE home VCRs!) (The show ended in 1972 - I started working at Knott's as a Pufnstuf character outside the theater from Oct. - Dec. 1972).  Also, at the first Halloween Haunt in 1973 I was interviewed on the radio by Mark Denis and Paul Freeman of KEZY at that time - and Mark gave me some great coaching on the witch voice before I went on the air with them”. 

Diana provided us with this great picture she obtained through the Orange County Archives - Mark Denis (at the table, left) with Seymour in Ghost Town at the 1973 Halloween Haunt (Gary Blair, Seymour's manager is standing on the right).

As we read in Gene Witham’s interview, the makeup department, even in the early years, was a factor of the event that was taken seriously -

“The makeup was amazing  – Gene [Witham] really did an incredible job.  I knew Gene from working with him when he played the “comedy” gunfighter – he just did crazy things on the streets.  You never knew what he’d do next – he was really wacky.  He also did some amazing tricks with his whip. I had no idea that he had such an impressive background in makeup, particularly with Planet of the Apes.

Diana and Gene Witham - 1973 (Dig Gene's killer Seymour Shirt! How cool is that? Also notice that the Witch was in flesh tones in 1973. She would not be turned green until 1974)

When he did the makeup for us the first year, he was all business – no messing around.  He really knew his stuff and made us look great.  W e each had to come in well in advance to get a plaster cast done of our face.  That was fun – he put plaster of paris all over our faces and gave us straws to stick in our nostrils so we could breathe while the plaster was setting!  Then he could make the latex pieces exactly to fit each face.  I still have some of my make up pieces – a couple of noses and a chin!  One year he gave me a large face piece – forehead, nose, and cheeks.  But it was really difficult to get on and off (particularly to get it off to preserve the piece for the next day), so after that we stayed with simpler face pieces – noses and chins.  

After the first year, Gene brought in Abel Zebellos from Cal State Fullerton to help out.  And after that they ended up training quite a few people to do the simple make up – it became like an assembly line in the back area of the Good Time Theater.

We got our makeup done in the women’s dressing room of the John Wayne Theater because it had good makeup lights around the mirrors. The first year I remember getting my makeup done right next to Seymour!”


Halloween Haunt 1973 - Colleen Hodges (Left) as "Lily Munster", Larry Vincent (Middle) A.K.A Seymour: The Master of Macabre; Diana (Right)

According to Diana, that first year in 1973, she, along with her fellow monster characters, simply roamed the streets of Ghost Town, mingling and frightening the guests. 

Ghost Town Monsters: 1974 - Mic Rogers (Left) with the REAL killer chains!; Larry Charbonneau (Middle - as "The Hunchback") and Diana

In 1974 and 1975, Diana became involved with the Market Street Monster Massacre:

“We did this show once an hour. As I remember it, the Monsters (aka gunfighters) started the show near the Calico Saloon and worked their way down Market Street, shooting and yelling – but I never got to see that part because I was waiting for them on the roof of the hotel.  I could just hear them shouting.

Eventually, they got to the hotel at the end of Market Street, and someone (George Lovejoy or Jim Poslof, I think) shot the big double-barreled shotgun at me as I was standing there on the very top roof of the hotel.  At that point I screamed “EVERYBODY KNOWS MONSTERS NEVER DIE!  HA-HA-HA-HA-HA” and I disappeared into a cloud of smoke (created by someone shooting a fire extinguisher CO2 from behind me on the lower back part of the roof).  I had to crouch down and quickly move back a couple of steps so I’d be out of view from the front where the crowd was gathered below.  
One night I got into the moment a little too enthusiastically, and I stepped right off the back of the roof!  It was about a 7-foot drop, and I landed on the fire extinguishers.  Nobody could see this from the front, but Gary [Salisbury] was watching from the side of the hotel, and he was horrified when he saw me fall!  He raced up to the roof to be sure I was OK, and I was!  I was just a little surprised to find myself on top of the fire extinguishers.  The next hour I did the show again and was a little more careful not to step back so far!”

Diana’s dialogue can possibly looked upon as a predecessor to the dialogue that would eventually take place in the Witch’s Hanging a few years later with respect to a curse taking place on Calico.

In 1976, a part of the disco music movement, Diana worked as a part time DJ at dance clubs in the Southern California area.  It was her idea to approach Knott’s Berry Farm with the idea to allow her to try working as a DJ at one of the venues inside the park.

"Earlier in 1976 I started working in several discos in restaurant lounges around Orange County (Jolly Ox in Anaheim and Mission Viejo, Plush Fox in Anaheim, and another place in Orange). I recommended to a manager in Entertainment that we should start a disco at Knott's because they were becoming very popular. 

So we got some very minimal equipment together, including two turntables and a very basic lighting board - all installed upstairs in the 'Airfield Eatery' (which isn't there anymore).  I ran the 'Haunted Disco' from the balcony overlooking the dance floor, including the lighting, and I brought in all of my own 45's that I normally used when I worked in the other disco jobs.

Diana Kelly - 1974
During the day the 'Airfield Eatery' was a fast food place with indoor seating -- it looked like an airplane hanger, with a few planes hanging from the ceiling.  But at night when we did the disco, they moved the tables and chairs to the sides of the room to create a nice big dance floor.  At the same time, the 'Cloud 9 Ballroom' also had entertainment, but it wasn't a disco - they had live bands (including big bands) for dancing. Knott's re-opened the disco in the Airfield Eatery during the two weeks of Christmas/New Years, then started operating the disco on weekends beginning in January 1977 - and I transitioned from working as Annie Oakley in Ghost Town to being the disco DJ in the Airfield Eatery. 

At some point (after I left Knott's in 1978) I think the disco moved to Cloud 9 Ballroom, and then Gary Salisbury started the very successful dance area called 'Studio K'. I guess what's interesting about all of this is that the very first disco at Knott's actually happened during the 1976 Halloween Haunt!"

Not only was Diana the "Disco Witch" in 1976, it was also 1976 that The Hanging would premiere as the “Dead Man’s Hanging” [for the script of that first Hanging, click here as it is contained in Gary Salisbury’s interview]. 


Although it has been over three decades since working the Halloween Haunt, Diana's memories of those early years are looked back upon fondly:

“Overall the experience of working Halloween Haunt was fun - but at the end of it we were exhausted!  And in those days we only did one weekend the first few years, and in the subsequent years they added one or two more weekends.  Now it seems like Halloween Haunt goes on forever, so I have no idea how they cope!  Also, it took a long time to get all of the green makeup and spirit gum off -- my skin didn't forgive me for at least a month!  But overall, it was REALLY a fun time.  It was a chance to be like kids again, just playing around as monsters and witches for Halloween - and helping Knott's guests get into the spirit, too.

We were such a great team, and I'm so proud of all of the guys I worked with who have gone on to do great work as stuntmen in films. That was the most fun job I've ever had, too, working at Knott's as Annie Oakley (1973-77) and being the first ever Halloween Witch for the Halloween Haunt!  It doesn't get much better than that”.

Halloween Haunt - 1976 - Diana (Left) and Barb Best (Right as Medusa - Ghost Town character). Notice the costume upgrade that took place for the Witch in 1976. It is very similar to the costume used for the Witch to this day!

Halloween Haunt - 1976 - Dracula's Daughter

Halloween Haunt - 1976 - Dracula's Daughter and Medusa

The front of Seymour's "Monster Mobile" - Dig the cool paint job, the lanterns on either side, the velvet curtains inside, the gothic-ish grill and yes, that's a toilet seat on the front of the grill!

 In 1977 the legacy of the Witch would continue.  A “Welcome Witch” was present at the Main Gate of the park and was described as “Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt opens with a Shakespeare-spouting witch, directing haunters to the ghostly apparitions to appear throughout the event”.  The Hanging would also be billed for its second year and described as “There will be a ‘hanging’ of a heinous murderer – but with a knotty ending”.  More than likely, this was somewhat similar to the Dead Man’s Hanging that took place the year previously in 1976.


It was not until 1980 that the event would host a “Witch Hanging” as part of the official bill.  In fact, there the Hanging was not billed in 1979 at all.  Also, not to be confusing – the character of the Witch within Ghost Town was typically not the same witch that was hung in the Hanging shows.  However, the folklore does not separate the two and is described where the witch of the Hanging and the witch roaming in Ghost Town are one in the same. 

In 1983, the legacy of the Witch in Ghost Town continued with the next chapter of this legacy. Many of you readers out there realize that in October, 22, 2007, a woman named Charlene Parker was featured in the Orange County Register as celebrating her 25th year as the Green Witch at Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt.  Let’s face it – 25 years doing ANYTHING is an accomplishment and as the nights have increased over the years for the Halloween Haunt, it sure does not appear to be an easy task. However, Charlene Parker’s story at the Haunt is for another day.  Today is a salute to the first Green Witch appearing at Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt.  

It is people such as those mentioned in this article: Diana Kelly, Larry Vincent, Dale Shaddox, Gary Salisbury, Gene Witham, Abel Zeballos and Charlene Parker that all have played large parts in establishing the magic and foundation for this incredible event known as Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt. 

We would like to take the time to give a HUGE thank you to Diana Kelly for her kindness in sharing her pictures and stories with all of us so we may better understand the event’s history – it is because of her important past at Knott’s Berry Farm that she has cursed her way into the Legacy of Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt.
August - 2008