Oct. 18, 2012 at 10:08 AM ET
From zombie parades and haunted mansions to scream parks, pumpkin patches and maize mazes, the Halloween season has gone way beyond trick-or-treating and morphed into big business.
“It used to be a simple hayride with some high school kids in rubber masks and plastic knives,” Patrick Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association (HAA) told NBC News. “Now it’s much more sophisticated, with many places offering extremely high-tech theater entertainment.”
Konopelski estimates there are now more than 2,500 haunted attractions generating combined revenue that exceeds $300 million each year. His list includes standalone haunted houses, “mega-haunts,” haunted scream parks and themed-amusement park adventures, as well as haunted events at zoos, farms, museums and former asylums and penitentiaries.
Ready to scream? Here are five places to get spooked and startled this Halloween:
Headless horseman country
Washington Irving’s headless horseman still prowls New York’s Hudson Valley. Look (out) for him on the mile-long evening hayride through the woods, with stops at six haunted houses and a labyrinth corn maze offered by Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted House in Ulster Park, N.Y. At Sunnyside, Irving’s former home in Tarrytown, ghost stories, magic shows and puppet shows are offered in the day during Legend Weekends in October. At night, nearby Philipsburg Manor transforms into Horseman’s Hollow, a walking trail where human and non-human creatures lurk in the shadows. There are also candlelight performances of Washington Irving’s classic tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and lantern-light tours of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Irving is buried.
Zombies in 7-D
Fans of zombies, roller coasters, horror films and interactive shooting galleries can combine those passions in San Francisco at the 7D Experience, a digital theater on Pier 39 with full-motion seats and interactive laser technology. During October, the attraction is premiering "Zombies!," which invites audiences to blast away as many Zombies as they can.
Thumbs up inTennessee
During the free Haunted Museum Ghost Story Festival on Oct. 20 at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, there will be a ghost trail through the building with stops at the mummies (a cat and a person) along the way. Costumed storytellers, armed with objects usually locked away in storage, will be telling scary tales, including the stories of the Bell Witch Bucket and John Murrell—a notorious criminal from the early 1800s whose mummified thumb is said to be the digit residing in the specially made coffin in the museum’s vaults.
Frights by thefire
Ghosts and ghost stories are the stuff of campouts, and many public and private campgrounds have Halloween-themed activities and special events during the Halloween season. “Some even have Halloween activities the weekend after Halloween for those that want to go trick-or-treating and dress up once more,” said Jeff Crider, spokesman for the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds. For example, the KOA campground in Hagerstown, Md., is hosting Halloween-themed activities every weekend through Oct. 28 and operates a haunted house on a property next door. Some Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts are celebrating Halloween as well.
While not a special Halloween venue, a visit to the Famous Endings Museum would be a good way to close out the spooky season. The museum contains John Herzig’s collection of memorabilia relating to the funerals and memorials of famous people.
“I've got about 1,500 items,” Herzig told NBC News, “including original flower arrangements from the funeral of Elvis Presley’s mother and items relating to the funerals of most every U.S. president.” Herzig enjoys giving personal tours through the museum, but urges guests to call ahead to make an appointment because the museum is located inside the Toland-Herzig Funeral Home in Dover, Ohio.
Find more by Harriet Baskas on StuckatTheAirport.comand follow her on Twitter.