Fright harvest nightly at farm

Halloween: Bleak Hill near Westminster proves to be the perfect setting for a haunted house and hayride.

October 31, 2002|By Emily Benson | Emily Benson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Rolling hills and vibrant fall leaves that dance in the sunlight are the backdrop to what appears to be a typical Carroll County homestead. At night, however, ghosts, witches and maniacs straight out of Hollywood seize control, and Bleak Hill Farm becomes a stage for heart-stopping Halloween chills.

Frightmares at Bleak Hill Farm opened this fall on a farm south of Westminster - at the exact spot where a barn burned to the ground decades ago. Organizer and tenant Steve Sloman says he turned the rebuilt barn into a temporary spook house to give youngsters something to look forward to at the end of October.

"Growing up here, there was not a lot more to do than trick-or-treating," said Sloman, a Carroll County native.

He said that until he organized a haunted house, he didn't realize how much he liked them.

"I was a fan ... but I didn't really know it," he said.

The production, open from 6 p.m. to midnight daily through Saturday near Route 140 and Reese Road, will include a haunted hayride and food and crafts stands. But it is the barn - where costumed ghouls spring from the darkness to startle the unsuspecting - that draws die-hard Halloween fanatics.

"Extremely scary," said Charlie Herman, 15, of Hampstead.

"People jumping out of the walls were the scariest," said his 17-year-old sister, Becky Herman.

As part of the attraction, Sloman cooked up a history of the property that might be a little bit exaggerated. A Web site established to promote the haunted house states that Bleak Hill Farm once was owned by an infamous geneticist named Dr. Valasko Morley. Abandoned for many years and rumored to be one of the most haunted farms in the nation, the farm offers visitors a chance to explore the "dark secrets" of Morley's laboratories and surrounding woods.

The 136-acre farm is about 200 years old, Sloman said. The original house and barn burned down and were rebuilt in 1954. The original smokehouse stands between the two buildings.

The barn was not Halloween-ready, though.

"The place was a mess," said Sloman, 36, a technical consultant who is leasing the property for the haunted house.

Work on the barn started in March and lasted all summer. Six men worked for a week to clear hay, then found that the dairy cows who once frequented the barn had left something else behind that needed to be cleaned up.

A small shed was filled with trash, burlap bags and leftover feed. It is now a ticket booth. A path was cleared for the hayride, and roads were cut to lead to the barn.

Sloman said getting the barn to code for an entertainment business required a lot of work and expense, including installing a sprinkler system.

Sloman said he had intended to donate the proceeds to charity, but poor weather has kept attendance lower than he expected and admission fees have only covered his expenses. Admission is $10 for the haunted barn, $5 for the 20-minute hayride.

On good nights, Sloman said, as many as 1,200 people have passed through the haunted barn or taken the hayride. On a recent weekend, he said, the actor who portrayed the Pinhead character in the Hellraiser movies visited and signed autographs. Anyone passing through the barn - a two-story labyrinth of terror - might notice allusions to other horror classics, such as Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

About 60 people - some volunteers, some paid - work together to put on the show. Monsters lurk behind corners, ready to jump out. Ghouls follow visitors. One scene features what appears to be an operating table for a homicidal surgeon. Screams, creepy music and strobe lights add to the effect. Surprises continue throughout the tour.

As the end nears, and the last turns reveal darkness, some guests might feel they're finally safe.

They're dead wrong.

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