|The Legacy of Halloween Haunt section
of Ultimatehaunt.com simply would not be complete if Gary Salisbury wasn’t
included. Gary played a huge part in the success of the Halloween Haunt
not only during its first year but also for many years to follow.
Gary was a gunslinger stuntman for Knott’s Berry Farm and was in charge of the characters found in Ghost Town during the first Halloween Haunt. During this interview we are going to learn about Gary’s involvement for the Haunt while he was employed for Knott’s Berry Farm.
We also have a very special surprise for those of you reading this interview. During our meeting with Gary, he shared with us an incredible piece of Halloween Haunt history that we will share with you during the course of the following text.
Gary still has in his possession, the “Knott’s Scary Farm 1976 Halloween Haunt Procedure Manual”. This amazing piece of Haunt history outlines what every department was doing/planning for the 1976 Halloween Haunt. During the interview, Gary shares excerpts from the manual, including the scripts from a few of the shows back then, including the very first Hanging show at the Halloween Haunt!
It is with great honor and pleasure to share this piece of Halloween Haunt history with you. We would like to thank Gary for his kindness and willingness to share his story for all of us to enjoy. The pictures seen on this page are from Gary’s private collection and they are here now for you to enjoy.
Ultimatehaunt: How did you get started at Halloween Haunt and how many years were you there?
June 1st, 1970 was when I started working for Knott’s Berry Farm. I was hired to work in the Pan for Gold. While working in the Pan for Gold, I had an idea of developing a stunt program consisting of gunfighters in the streets of Ghost Town. After working in the Pan for Gold for a little over a year, I was given that opportunity.
I was the original Silver Bullet Cowboy. The pictures on the billboards back then were of me, just like the Silver Bullet Cowboy of today. I also wrote all of the street shows and the original Wild West Stunt Show.
|After 5 years of developing the stunt program I became a supervisor.
I initially supervised the stunt performers, the piano player in the saloon
and the blue grass band out in the streets.
became a Production Manager. In 1978, Knott’s promoted me to Assistant
Talent Manager. In 1980 or 1981 I was promoted to Talent Manager and in
1987, I became the Director of Entertainment.
|In a very small meeting, Bill Hollingshead announced that he had
received a proposal from Seymour’s people to do a show in the theatre;
A weekend Halloween movie fest starring Seymour. We sat in that meeting
and I said, “What if we expand it and added other elements?”
We didn’t know if it would work because we had never done anything like this before nor had anyone else and Halloween was not a big event at that time. Nobody did anything on a large scale for Halloween. I said that I knew of a group that builds a maze somewhere locally for Halloween and I think that the group is called “Campus Life”.
Maybe we could incorporate a maze near the [John Wayne] theatre so people might have something additional to do when they come to the Seymour’s Movie Fest. Possibly we could have some people on the street (on the theatre route) posing as monsters.
Everybody seemed to like the new idea of a Halloween event. Gene Witham, who was there had a movie makeup background and said that he would have no problems creating monsters. Also in this meeting were George Condos, who was the Marketing/Advertising Manager, Martha Boyd, who also was in Marketing and Advertising and Sandy Parker, who ran the John Wayne Theatre
We just got together and started brainstorming a few things and decided if we could get approval from the Knott family to do this, we should try it.
Obviously we got the approval and an explosion of talent emerged to produce Halloween Haunt l [one], the first ever.
Gary Salisbury (left) and John Casino -
Knott's Berry Farm Old Time Adventure Funfighters
|Ultimatehaunt: Without having any true idea
on what the crowd response would be, what was the actual reaction when the
gates opened for the first night?
It was phenomenal. It was a new event. It was clean-cut and it worked!! Everything we did was an experiment….But a very successful experiment. I guess we did it right.
We were sold out! We had not
previously presented events that were sold out. This, to my knowledge,
was our first really big hard ticket special event and it sold out. We
only did three nights and Friday and Saturday were our biggest nights.
Halloween actually fell on a Wednesday that year. We did nothing on that
night for our event was the weekend prior.
Picture above courtesy of Martha Boyd
|That is where I learned that the guests will attack you and how
the employees needed to protect themselves. Also, I had to figure out how
many breaks a monster needs and how long of a shift they can work. One original
guideline that we came up with was that we were not to touch the guests.
That could cause a problem.
We wanted them to scare
the guests and we wanted them to jump out at the guests.
We came up with cans, with nuts and bolts in them and the entertainers
would rattle them at the guests. The reason we did this was because the
entertainers would lose their voices.
By doing this with a “Gruesome”, it gave a lot more
of an opportunity for us to create original monsters. We realized that
the characters didn’t have to be based on a familiar monster.
|Since I was involved with the stunt program and all of the monsters
worked for me as stunt personnel, we took one of our stunt shows (the Main
Street Massacre) and renamed it the Main Street Monster Massacre, which
actually made sense.
We did almost the same thing, except we used our [monster] characters (Gorilla, the Witch and others), but with no dialogue in it. The Witch came out and she shot the Gorilla (who had climbed up the side of the building) and she did a cackle, smoke envelops her and she’s was gone.
We had another show in Ghost Town entitled Forest of the Unfortunate in front of the Bird Cage Theater. We ended up moving the show to the Wagon Camp for there was more seating capacity and renamed it Creature Feature. It was very visual as I had originally written it for mimes. One of the characters from this show, John Casino, works today as Kurt Russell’s double.
The show was about a hunter who stumbles into a forest and he was followed by a vampire. The vampire attacks the hunter and puts him in a coffin on the stage. The vampire then takes a knife out and starts stabbing the inside of the coffin, apparently killing the hunter. Then the vampire takes out an 8-foot long clear plastic tube and sticks it into the coffin/the dead body of the hunter. The vampire starts to suck on the tube and the guests could see blood coming up from the coffin and into the vampire’s mouth (he was really sucking up Berry Punch).
The vampire starts walking away and the hunter (who looked normal
before being attacked) opens up the casket and this horrible monster jumps
out. The monster throws a knife into the back of the vampire (who doesn’t
die because you can’t kill a vampire that way), who runs off and
is later shot off the high-fall. That was the basic idea of the show.
We put entertainment into the lines to entertain the guests who were waiting great lengths of time for their favorite attraction. We had mimes and jugglers and their only job was to entertain our guests in very long lines. Randy Pryor, who is a well-established comedian/juggler, got his start working the lines of the Halloween Haunt. We probably had 12 novelty acts that would just entertain lines.
In addition to the Monster Massacre we produced sideshows in Ghost Town like Spider Woman, the severed head and the severed hands.
|Ultimatehaunt: The Hanging has a long and
interesting history. We’re looking at your Procedure Manual for the
1976 Halloween Haunt, which includes the Hanging. Can you talk a little
bit about the first Hanging?
The Hanging started in 1976. It was called Dead Man’s Hanging.
We wanted to have a Hanging. We thought, of course, all hangings were cowboy-based. We hadn’t developed the witch concept yet, so we hung Bob Rochelle, who was one of our stuntmen. We went down to Grant Boys where they sold surplus army products and I found a parachute harness to use to create the illusion of Bob being hung.
For this show we started the procession down the streets from the hanging platform. The guests would hear through the speaker system:
(Excerpt from the actual script)
“Having been tried and found guilty of murder in the first degree by his peers, it is the sentence of this court that the prisoner shall be executed. Further, let the record show that the judgment shall be accomplished by hanging and the prisoner shall be hung by the neck until dead. This sentence will be carried out immediately in the Ghost Town Calico Square. Court is now adjourned.”
Then you would hear and see a lonely drummer playing a snare drum slowly marching up the street followed by several monsters pulling a two-wheel cart with the prisoner standing in it with his hands tied behind his back. He was paraded up the gallows and the executioner placed a black hood over the prisoner’s head and placed the rope around his neck. The drummer began a sustained drum roll, increasing in volume until the trap door was sprung. The prisoner was hung.
Then, they brought the prisoner back up onto the platform by pulling up the rope and he says:
“Thank you. Thank you for coming to my hanging. It was really quite a nice affair. It was for you, the public, who made it all possible. Thank you again and good night.”
The Hanging had been met with success and so we knew we would bring it back. This time we thought, “Let’s hang a witch!” We had to change the ending to make it more dramatic and more theatrical.
We built a hidden compartment into the floor of the gallows that was not visible from the ground. Everything else was the same in the show: The judgment, the procession and so forth. Except now, the witch had some lines.
She was denying that she was a witch. She was struggling the entire way down the street. She would go up the steps continuing to deny that she was a witch.
Then, they put the rope around her neck and all of a sudden…She changed………
With a calm evil look on her face she cried out, everybody would pay in this town for what they have done to her. She will bring havoc into the town.
She gives a large cackle and they pull the lever and she was hung.
They put a cloak around her body as she was still attached to the rope and at the same time Co2 extinguishers were fired off. She slipped into the newly developed hidden compartment as the smoke from the Co2 covered the stage. When the cloak was taken away it gave the appearance that the witch had disappeared.
The Hanging basically stayed that way for many years until we later added pyrotechnics to it in 1986 and made it even more spectacular.
I remember watching it and the ending was so dramatic that you really believed that the witch was hung and disappeared. We got real good doing the hanging. The audience seemed paralyzed for what they had just witnessed, nobody said anything! There was just a dead silence as the smoke faded into the night’s sky. Then after a few moments, the applause would slowly start and then everyone else would join in. I think our guest were just shocked. It was very real. People would stand around the gallows wondering what happened to the witch, where had she gone. Some stayed for a half hour, sometimes even longer. The witch didn’t want to come out because she didn’t want to expose the illusion.
We started and created the first hanging and contrary to popular
belief it was not a witch that was hung, it was merely a skinny cowboy.
The hanging has become a focal point for present day Halloween Haunt.
However, I will take no responsibility for the content of this show after
We did not do the auditions at first. When we started increasing the amount of Ghost Town monsters, we had to hire outside personnel to staff the positions. We hired mostly from the local colleges.
I started noticing that a lot of these new people did not compare to our previous monsters, which were from our in-house pool of entertainers. Our entertainers were a lot more aggressive and outgoing.
Now, these new people (not all of them, but some of them) would sit back and just stand off to the side during the event, they were afraid to approach the guests.
I thought we needed to have a way of telling which ones were more prone to this type of position and which ones would be better off working in a library! I decided we would do auditions.
I remember thinking to myself, “How in the world are you going to audition people who have no theatrical experience. It’s going to totally freak them out!”
|I came up with auditions that were improvisational.
The auditions, at that time, were held in the upstairs of Independence Hall. We advertised in local papers and colleges and two to three hundred people would show up. There were three of us that sat in the room and judged the applicants.
I would call about six people at a time to come up on the stage and I would say things like, “okay, you’re a gasoline lawnmower.” If the person acted like a gasoline lawnmower, which was really stupid (but really funny to watch), they were a possibility. The others, who would just stand there and didn’t know what we were talking about…well, we would just thank them and they would leave because those were not the personalities we wanted.
The auditions would show that they are not intimidated and that they’re outgoing and can be obnoxious at times. Those were the traits that we wanted in our monsters. It’s a grueling task to be a monster. It looks like a fun job, but it is also a lot of work. We ended up with the right combination of monsters that would run around shaking the cans and scaring the daylights out people.
I know that the auditions really worked. The newly hired individuals were processed and hired on the spot. Human Resources had tables and staff to accomplish this procedure at the site of the auditions.
Now, it became a press event because we invited the press to
cover the auditions for the added free publicity in regards to the Halloween
Haunt itself. It worked, we had NBC and ABC plus all the major papers
coming to cover the auditions, because no one could understand how we
could possibility audition for monsters. We certainly showed them how
it was done. However, it was never intended to be a press event. As a
note of interest, we always invited the press to cover all of our regular
auditions not associated with Halloween Haunt.
Ultimatehaunt: Can you share some excerpts in the Procedure Manual to allow us to visualize some of what was happening at the event in 1976? Also, how was this book developed?
This book came about because we didn’t keep great documentation
of what was happening at the Haunt. Each year we would lose [managing]
personnel and so the next year, we would ask each other how we did particular
things the prior year and nobody could remember. That’s why this
book was put together.
The person who put this together was Don Dale.
“Halloween Haunt 1976 Production Manual
Produced by Knott’s Berry Farm’s Entertainment Division
Tommy Walker: Director
H. Hanson: Manager”
Staff: Don Dale
The people listed above would go to the different divisions at Knott’s Berry Farm and would ask each of them, “Okay, what do you do for Halloween Haunt? What are your plans for this year?” The information gathered was compiled into this book, which became our operations manual.
The following are some excerpts from this manual:
The Mad Magician of the Midway. This was a melodrama show at the Bird Cage Theatre. They used the same cast from the regular melodrama show, but now it had a Halloween theme.
This was a show where you had these hands that were suspended and very
eerie looking. It was in Ghost Town, on Main Street at the General Store
on the wooden boardwalk.
‘Folks, the horror which I’m
about to tell you this evening began shortly a century ago. A creature
roaming the country in the dead of night seeking blood from the throats
of its victims. It was the fiend called Dracula. Mere bullets could not
All that was found was a dagger and
two severed hands: Still chained to the post. Some say that the hands
still seem to be alive and that they rest undead behind this very door."
|Another show was The Headless Lady:
“Barker: ‘Ladies and Gentleman,
see the legend of Elvira Smith: The Headless Lady.
The effect was her head floating with a sword through it and
she would look around. It was a great prop.
Once, in fact, one our passengers was
so frightened he tried to bail out and remains forever suspended in time
just outside our observation window."
"We hope you have enjoyed your
Sky Cabin trip. We are now descending back through the clouds to Earth
and out of the grasp of that strange unknown force. But as you disembark,
remember that all the restless spirits of the night are waiting to greet
you as you walk the streets of Knott’s Scary Farm”.
Advertisement flyer - 1976
|Ultimatehaunt: Do you have any fond memories
of working for Walter Knott?
My fond memories are working for a self-made man. I admired Mr. Knott and Cordelia Knott. I knew both of them. They were, to me, the biggest icons I had ever met, because of what they stood for and what they were able to accomplish with hard work. Talking to both of them are fond memories. They knew me by my first name.
The fondest memory of all was being given a job as a cowboy doing
stunts. It was like a dream come true. I hated my days off, I would have
done this job for free.
Ultimatehaunt: Do you have anything you
would like to share with the fans reading this about the legacy you helped
Halloween wasn’t a big event prior to the Haunt. Then all of a sudden in 1973 a little family owned amusement park in Buena Park, CA came up with an idea that changed the course of Halloween forever. I am very proud to be a part of this very small group of individuals that charted a course that created Halloween Haunt.
On behalf of Ultimatehaunt.com and each
fan taking the time to read this, Gary we thank you for sharing your stories
with all of us. Your hard work and devotion for 19 years at the park helps
the growth of our Legacy of Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt here
on Ultimatehaunt.com and to shed light on the story and history of the
event. You have helped to keep the history alive.
Interview conducted 4/28/07
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