The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 14, 2011

Dark Shadows Mansion hosting its final fright

MANKATO — At the end of this month, Halloween-centric Dark Shadows Mansion will terrify its last ticket-buyer, creep out its final customer and gather up all its ghouls and bloody tools.

After a 10-year business run, the haunted house and grounds on St. Andrews Drive is driving a stake through its own heart.

Warren and Beverly Smith say they’re hanging it up because their lease has expired on the property owned by adjacent Drummers Garden Center & Floral.

Will they miss their annual October forays into fright nights? Sort of, Beverly Smith said, suggesting that hirees have become a hassle.

“Workers are not as reliable as before. That’s why I always hire a few more than I really need.”

It takes 40 or more worker/actors to put on the evening events, which this year are being held the final three Fridays and Saturdays in October.  

The employees are given orientation sessions and then sent forth to frighten. The attraction charges $8 a head, including severed ones.

Smith designed all the rooms in the mansion and has made most of the costumes worn by the characters. Props were gleaned from garage sales and antique shops, and authentic coffins came from someone who had stored them in an attic.

She said the attraction has never been horror-lite.

“All the actors are adults. It’s meant to scare.”

Smith said although small children are discouraged from participating, that decision is best left to parents.

“You really have to know your own kid — how they’re going to react.”

About 7,000 customers pass through each year. It takes 30-45 minutes to take the haunted tour, though an express lane can be implemented for the inebriated.

Those who take their boos boozily get the short route, she said. “They just don’t know they’re getting it.”

The Dark Shadows grounds include a haunted trail, a granary and a century-old “mansion” that, according to its discomforting back story, was once lived in by a bachelor brother and his spinster sister.

The house likely will be razed and its haunting materials — lighting, sound system, costumes, dummies — will go to the new owners of the business, Allen and Amy Schmidt. 

“They couldn’t find any other insane person to buy it,” said Allen Schmidt, a Mankato police officer whose family also operates a photography business and a deejay light and sound service for weddings and other events.

Schmidt said his seasonal haunted house business will be called Raven’s Nightmare and he’s in the process of securing a warehouse site for it.

He said 25 rooms already have been designed and the attraction will be heavy on horrific sounds and visuals.

Even while customers wait in line.

“For them we’ll have an ‘execution’ going on every half-hour.”

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