If you find yourself traveling along the Illinois/Wisconsin border this Halloween season, it’d serve you well to head a bit further north and pay a visit to the Abandoned Haunted House Complex in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.
The haunt is in its eighth year, with fresh attractions and new props being introduced every season. 2019’s new arrivals include an axe-throwing area and a beer license that allows you to quench your fears with some suds!
I’ve frequented this haunt throughout the years and have always loved my experience there so I finally decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine. I applied to be a scare actor. I got the job and you can now find me lurking in the cornfields in the complex’s Stalker section.
It’s still early in the haunt season, but the biggest takeaway for me so far is how close the actors are to one another. They’re a family- if the family consisted of ghoulishly decorated siblings running around and having an absolute blast five hours a night. It was evident early on in the orientation process that showrunners Corey Stephens, Matt Berg and John Klein have cultivated a positive and supportive culture within their employees and that goes a long way for any newcomers who are learning the ropes.
The veterans take pride in their work. The team at Abandoned work tirelessly to provide the best scares possible. It’s a dedicated crew that refuses to cut corners. Not just with their makeup and costumes, but with their territory within the haunt as well. A handful of vets are designated as leads within the attractions and they take the role seriously, making sure the rookies in their area are well-versed in where their station is as well as providing any form of support needed throughout the night. That goes a long way to creating a comfortable environment and keeping camaraderie strong.
You don’t just become one of the region’s most successful and popular haunts on sheer luck. Co-owner Corey Stephens knows that first hand and looks back fondly on when and how Abandoned Haunted House Complex began.
“There’s a strange story to that. My business partner owns The Burial Chamber in Neenah (the midwest’s largest haunted complex and roundly celebrated as one of the best the country has to offer) and his father owned a jewelry store years ago. When we were seniors in high school, his dad asked if we wanted to clean up the space above the shop and do a haunted house up there. My business partner did that for a few years and then moved away for a while after college. He returned, opened Burial Chamber and that’s when myself and John (Klein) ran that for a while. John and I were both funeral directors- I was looking for a change and we were looking to bring something down south of Milwaukee. We found the property that had been vacant (or abandoned) for about 15 years and it took my partners about a year and a half to talk me into it. I finally said yes and the rest is history.”
Stephens went on to reminisce about how things have changed from Year One to Eight. “The haunted house, inside, has just improved year after year after year. We’ve improved our set design and we’ve added a few spacers that we weren’t originally using. Our layout… for the first two years, we had a military theme in the back that didn’t do really well so then we ripped it out and added the prison. You want to be fresh and we try to improve from what we did in the past so there’s sort of a constant growth and evolution to it. The outside, though, oh my God, the first year we were open, we didn’t have the eight acres to the east that we do now. We had a really small parking lot and there was no fencing beside basic snow fencing to act as a perimeter. The queue area in the back was a single row of rope that wrapped around the ticket booth and we had one light that lit up the entire area- which is pretty boring for people standing in line for two, three hours some nights. We bought the eight acres behind us five years ago, so now we’ve got an extended parking lot and we were able to add the cornfield four years ago so it’s all good stuff.”
“Now in our eighth season, we’ve since added Stalker (haunted cornfield), a merchandise trailer, a video screen that we use throughout the haunt nights, we’ve got flame shooters, the diner and new this year which we are super excited about is the ability to serve beer, White Claw and hard ciders, so it’s exciting.”
For thrill seekers, it’s all that and more that make Abandoned a Must Visit. For the employees of the haunt, it’s all about that family mentality.
First year haunter Dakota said the teamwork and support is what makes Abandoned special. “My favorite thing about being a part of the Abandoned family so far is how friendly all the co-workers have been to the newer people like me.”
Cousin Wyatt, another newbie in the cornfields with me, digs the surroundings. “It’s like a huge, crazy family , the way the lights in the corn are perfectly angled for a pop out scare. I’m excited about meeting new people and making those memorable scares!”
My first venture into the cornfield was a tad nerve-racking. What if I couldn’t pull off a scare? Fortunately, there were veteran scare actors in the general area who not only helped brush the nerves away but also encouraged us newbies to be as wild and crazy as possible. For the actors roaming the haunts, this is a truly awesome release from the daily grind of a “normal job”, bills, and all of that “regular” stuff. There’s something incredibly exhilarating and empowering to be completely let loose, allowed to let your freak flag fly. And boy, do the freak flags fly at Abandoned!
Cletus Crow, a three-year veteran of the haunt, says that one of the best things about being a scare actor is the opportunity to lose yourself in a character. “My favorite part of the haunt is being able let loose and become something different.”
Borden Bear, in her second year scaring the daylights out of you, is all about the creative freedom at the haunt. Creating her characters is what keeps the Halloween season fresh for her.
Fellow second-year haunter Twigs took a break from shrieking in the shadows to chat about her experience with Abandoned Haunted House Complex.
“I think my favorite part is getting to be somebody else, even if it’s for a few hours. I’m a college student with two jobs so life gets stressful. For me, screaming like a lunatic for 4 and a half hours a night is a great stress reliever, and I can be as crazy as I want and no one’s going to care.”
When it comes to the scares, Twigs fondly remembers a moment last year that seems like it was pulled straight out of a horror film.
“My most memorable scare? I’m pretty sure I was the one who was scared, but a little girl came through my room, and I was doing my whole act, (I basically violently rocked back and forth on a table while screaming nonsense) and she walked up to me, stopped, looked me in the eyes, and said very calmly; “I am going to kill you”. Then, as she exited my room she said, “My name is ______ by the way”. I loved that she left her name, like if I was found dead behind the haunt, she would smear her name in blood next to my dead body.”
When it comes to memorable scares, it’s all about the element of surprise. JK, in her third year terrifying the folks of Wisconsin, got some revenge on her daytime boss. “My favorite scare was when my boss came through from my other job. I scared him so bad he jumped back about three feet and screamed! He thought it was great when he realized it was me!”
Cletus Crow takes pride in raising the octave on men’s voices. “My most memorable scare was my very first scare ever. I never heard a grown man scream like a little girl. Since that moment, I was hooked!”
Buddy, a second-year ghoul in the cornfields of Stalker, loves the fresh air. “I love being able to scare people and also make them laugh. I love being outside.”
How does he manage to make people laugh in a haunted cornfield? It might have something to do with his immense voice talent- from evil demon to Mickey Mouse, Buddy always has a fresh approach as each new group walks through. Buddy works the cornfield trail like a seasoned pro, oftentimes scaring the same group “over ten times, just going back into the corn and.. popping out in different parts.”
Dakota enjoys being a part of a tradition that millions of Americans take part in every year- visiting their favorite haunt. “I look forward to the opportunity to be a haunt actor and create memories for family and friends that choose our haunt.”
Borden Bear is chomping at the bit to get the chance to meet you all this season, “I’m excited to make a new memorable scare!”
While the actors are the heartbeat of the haunt, the buildings themselves are the body in which we infest. From my first visit to Abandoned, I noticed right away that this wasn’t your average haunt- no corner goes ignored here. From blood and grue to spiderwebs stretched across rusted cans and kitchen utensils, a walk-through of Abandoned’s attractions are just as visually stunning as they are nightmare-inducing. JK loves that about the haunt and the people working behind the scenes. “The house has so much detail!”
Stephens builds off of that, “We put alot of time in detailing the sets, beyond most haunts, because we want people to enjoy good, quality set design, effects, that sort of thing. That’s why we did the queue area the way we did it- because as you’re waiting in line, that shouldn’t be any less of an experience than the houses themselves. Thats why we’ve got roamers, that’s why we brought the photo op in this year.. we’ve got burn barrels going on when it’s cold.. we just want it to be a really cool vibe the entire time you are here.”
Stephens, Berg and Klein aren’t your stereotypical owners, either. They are fully immersed in the day-to-day operations and there isn’t a second the haunt is open when the trio aren’t walking amongst the crowds. Their enthusiasm is infectious. They truly love this haunt and it bleeds down to the actors and staff.
Stephens knows he won’t be able to scare everyone witless but that doesn’t stop him from keeping expectations at the haunt high.
“There are people who are coming through to get scared out of their mind. There are the significant others who are dragged there by the other. We want the people who come through to get scared get scared. But you’re not going to get that from everybody. Parents bring their kids and sometimes they’re taking a bullet, you know? We want everyone to come through to at least be entertained and have a good time. The complex is meant to scare people but some people just don’t get scared in an environment like that- they’re looking to enjoy the atmosphere and the production of the whole thing. We want those people to walk away feeling like they got their money’s worth, for sure. We want to mix it up and make sure they had a great time. We just want people to leave satisfied that they had a great time and that it was fun.”
As of this writing, I’ve shambled through the cornfields for two of the four nights Abandoned has been open. It’s a physically demanding job and it requires legitimate dedication. Never let anyone tell you that it’s easy doing what hundreds of thousands of folks across the country do every Halloween season. It’s also the most fun I’ve ever had.
That’s music to Stephens’ ears. “It’s supposed to be fun. This shouldn’t be a job that you dread coming to. It should be the one you’re looking forward to Friday on Monday. We’re passionate about it and our team is, too. Seeing this haunt family grow and evolve has been awesome. Year One, we just wanted breathing bodies!” He laughs.
Abandoned Haunted House Complex returned 105 employees from last year. Add in a healthy load of newbies and there’s a fresh scare around every corner of the sprawling plot. With each passing week, each passing season, the proud family of Abandoned strive to bring guests the scariest, most elaborate haunted attraction in the country. Eight years in, and it’s safe to say this haunt has firmly entrenched itself as a leading resource of nightmare fuel.
For ticket information, schedule and directions, please visit the Abandoned Haunted House Complex website!
Be sure to follow Abandoned on social media for your chance at free tickets and merchandise!