The haunted attraction industry has undergone a great deal of growth over the past 10 years. As haunted attractions have transitioned from the typical boo haunt or typical weekend family visit, they’ve become destination spectacles, place a greater emphasis on things such as acting, high tech animatronics, world-class special effects, and visualizations that transform environments into a movie come to life. Even the smallest haunted attractions have moved in a direction that is more immersive in their approach, trying to bring the customer into the show or at least provide quality entertainment that reaches each person, the guests that visit their show. If one were to attend a trade show or professional seminar, haunter strategies such as “actor training” and theme development would be considered “cutting-edge.” Believe it or not, almost twenty years ago a haunted attraction existed that focused on staff/actor training, had a professional management system in place, focused on a custom built quality show and developed larger than life scenes in an era in which the industry was in its formative years.
The legendary Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride was a special place where people wanted to be, teenagers grew up, copious amounts of “spirits” were consumed, craziness ensued that made an insurance adjuster squirm, and at the end of each night, a first-class show was presented every single season. No other haunt has left a lasting impression on a generation and a mark on the area and we are proud to share you this story.
Innovation and creating lasting memories are what makes a “haunted attraction” special, and it is those haunted attractions that forever remain in our memories that we hold dear. One of those special haunted attractions was known as the Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride (also known as Bald Mountain Haunted Trail and hosted Bald Mountain Holiday Hayride). Which operated from 1991-2001 (“Holiday Hayride “closed in 2005). The Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride was an innovator that didn’t know it was innovating, and many still talk about this haunted attraction and consider it as the best they’ve ever been to. Stories of this historic attraction have evolved into legends, and nostalgia has fueled a renewed passion for a show that inspired a generation of haunters.
Perhaps as we reflect on the Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride there is a little bit of looking at things through rosy glasses. At the same time, many haunted attractions have died and gone the way of the dinosaur over the past 10 to 15 years. Even its largest competitor at the time Dracula’s Forest, Ransom, PA (35 Years in Operation-Final Year 2018) has now ceased to exist, and many haunts rarely make it past the first two years of existence. Now sit back and we will take you back to a time in which the industry was in its infancy and the Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride was on top of the haunt industry.
Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride operated during a time in which the industry was in its infancy, and massive conventions such as “Transworld” were not the norm. Haunted attractions mainly existed on smaller scales, for charity, and were really on there own in terms of design, planning, and management. Trying to recreate one’s nightmares (and holiday dreams) the incredible team and family behind Bald Mountain designed an outdoor custom made entertainment center ahead of its time. with massive structures such as a “Pirate Ship” or “Alien Spaceship” built in-house. The staff and members of the Rosenkrans & Malatesta Family who owned and operated and operated this iconic attraction gave their hearts and souls to this innovative attraction a special place that inspired haunted attractions (and holiday attractions that are popular today.
The Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride’s inaugural season was in 1991 inspired and created by the late Mr. Thomas Rosenkrans who launched the attraction in conjunction with his wife, Gennine Rosenkrans (who along with several family members provided their time and content for this piece), the Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride, which cost guests $2.00 to ride, later $3.00 per person, served as a means to make extra money for the farm which is typical of the agricultural-entertainment industry. However, what is not typical is the real “underlying” passion for which the “Haunted Hayride” existed.
Mr. Rosenkrans loved all things Christmas, and essentially used the “Haunted Hayride” to self-fund the creation of a Holiday Wonderland, custom designed, featuring real live “reindeer”, candy cane lane, six-foot tall Christmas “candles”, a hayride of lights, and as expected visits with Santa Clause (played by Mr. Rosenkrans himself). His love for the Christmas holiday added a few years to the overall entertainment attraction featured at Bald Mountain, as the “Holiday Hayride (1996-2005)” outlasted the “Haunted Hayride” closing in 2005. Today people can enjoy a “Holiday Hayride” at the Bates Motel Haunted attraction outside of Philadelphia, as well as a variety of popular light shows. According to his family the “Holiday Hayride” was the favorite show to put on, and likely would have continued past 2005 if Mr. Rosenkrans did not begin to have health problems. Again, innovation is a key word in this discussion as Christmas-themed or holiday related hayrides are atypical and slowly becoming more popular in the immersive entertainment industry (see Koziar’s Christmas Village and Bates Motel Holiday Hayride). From the perspective of the entertainment industry in Northeast PA, to have a “Christmas Village” over fifteen years ago is rather incredible as these attractions have only recently hit their stride in terms of popularity and growth.
In discussing with the family who owned the attraction regarding what made this place “special” one common factor came up in our conversations, the quality of “people” who worked for this attraction. Management treated each “actor” and staff member as family and actors had specific scenes they were placed in based on and given specific roles in what now would be considered actor-training. At the attraction’s high-point, over fifty “scare actors” per night would descend upon the mountain each motivated by the family-like atmosphere, and willing at times to take rather crazy risks to garner scares and reactions from each guest. At the end of each evening, a staff bonfire would commence, and the team-building approach likely undertaken just by actors building strong bonds with one another. The people (guests and staff alike) had fun at this attraction, made lasting memories and still share stories to this day. (Important to note that haunt regulations and safety rules were not as strict as today)
During its first year, the attraction was staffed by volunteers, family, and friends, as they did not anticipate much of a crowd. Guests would line up from the launching point to the edge of Bald Mountain Road, and over time the family added more actors (who were provided dinner and also paid, along with an end of season party), additional wagons and a pavilion for guests to line up under and avoid safety concerns. The pavilion would serve as a staging area for “Santa Clause” and his live reindeer during the Christmas season. Little downtime available between seasons and both attractions were a year-round project for the family. Treating staff and actors “right” is imperative to a good show, in which today’s industry quality “scare acting” makes the difference in a show’s performance. Showing gratitude and thanks for each actor’s work build’s loyalty, and again a major way Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride is comparable to today’s modern attractions.
The Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride not only was an innovative attraction, but it was also the first in many regards to how it treated the greater community. The attraction was one of the first “handicap accessible” haunts of its time as Mr. Rosenkrans constructed a custom ramp to help guests get on each attraction. Patients from St. Joseph’s Center, including one who was bed-ridden, were served at the attraction’s pumpkin patch. Security and guest safety was also paramount as the attraction had an on-site security guard once it began to draw more than 500 guests per evening. Managers would monitor the evening festivities moving throughout each scene to make sure actors were being safe, and not always taking too many risks to entertain each guest.
The Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride, at its high-point, featured twenty-three unique, custom designed scenes each with specific actors and memorable moments likely still ingrained in the memories of those who visited this attraction. The variety and quality of each unique scene rivals’ modern attractions and one can only wonder “what if” the attraction continued to grow and evolve to this day. Scenes featured rudimentary “sound systems” which actors would bring massive stereos, and the music was played on every tractor (many haunts in 2018 still fail to recognize the importance of sound).
Bald Mountain encouraged its actors and staff to be creative, and in some scenes, actors would be able to hide their cars in the woods to use sound systems/lighting to create unique effects. Scare actors worked tirelessly to garner reactions, some would stay on wagons, others at times would chuck “smoke bombs” onto tractors (obviously not possible today) and go all out to not only have fun but to create a memorable experience for each guest.
Featured Scenes (A Mile-Long Hayride Trail with a Corn Field)
“Three Little Pigs” with Butcher and Wolves
(Three Little Pigs and Butcher Shop Shed (Violent Take on a Childhood Fairy Tale!)
Camp Crystal Lake
(The iconic scene of slasher “Jason Voorhees” rising out of “Camp Crystal Lake” submerged in water, filled with the floating heads of “Jason’s” victims. “Jason” would submerge himself in the water, then rise for each wagon and attack)
(Dark Tunnel attraction, which featured spiders, dangling, as well a scare-actors who would descend upon the hay wagon from the ceiling (dropping down on the wagon)
(Hay wagon would be chased by a real “bulldozer” and the wagon was lifted at the end briefly into the air. Sometimes on wet evenings, the “bulldozer” would collect water and dump it on unsuspecting guests for an added reaction!)
Flying Saucer and Alien Invasion
(The spaceship that was controlled by a crane, lifted into the air and then lowered to the ground with a live “scare actor” “Alien” coming out from its hatch.)
(Custom built Pirate ship featuring live-action cannons and numerous themed “scare-actors.”)
(A stuffed doll would drop from the ceiling and a large air-horn would give a jump scare, along with chainsaw maniacs!)
(The train was custom built, it was an old, big fuel tank. Christmas became Thomas the Tank Engine.)
Haunted Corn Field
(Actors dressed as violent Native Americans (Non-PC Attraction) and would threaten guests and the wagon with spears.)
Other attractions cycled in and out throughout the season included, a movie-like “Headless Horseman” chase scene (featuring a live horse and actor), car crash scene, a tribute to the movie “Psycho” and Witch/Coven Scene!
The End of a Legend
One of the most pressing questions is why an attraction that was perceived to be such a major success stop operation after ten years. From custom built quality designs, to crowds that at one point were the best in the industry, the major question is “Why did the Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride close?” Rumors have persisted, from wild stories of actors and guests being injured, a haunt war with its closest competitor Draculas’ Forest (brief battle in which haunts would tear down each others side, in the end, both would call a “truce” and develop joint advertising)., actors being crippled and other crazy tales to lawsuits forcing the attraction to close, all of those are conjured by rumors and unfounded stories in the end, it was truly a combination of three key factors that lead to the legendary attraction’s demise.
Factor #1: Insurance Costs and Government Regulation
- Accidents-Even when promoting a safe environment accident due happen in the “haunt” industry. Some actors were hit by wagons as they would wedge themselves in between the tractor/wagon in their performances, a girl had her hair caught in a chainsaw (but luckily was not drastically injured), an individual who had a torn spleen, a minor burn case from gunpowder used in a scene and other minor injuries occurred from the bulldozer lifting the wagon but nothing that caused the attraction to close. Management had to monitor some of the teenage actors who would once in a while try to sneak in a few beers, or in some cases became overzealous in their “haunting” techniques jumping from wagon to wagon and causing themselves injury. From time to time fights would occur among guests which were broken up quickly by security staff. (Similar incidents happen at ALL major and minor attractions. We have heard of stories that guests fall, some have lost teeth, props have injured guests etc. difference being that haunt’s now can purchase attraction specific plans)
- Insurance Costs-Insurance costs continued to rise, as this was the time before haunt-specific insurance companies existed. Scenes such as the bulldozer dumping water on helpless guests shocked the traditional insurance company. (Again traditional insurance companies likely are less understanding of the industry and its facets)
- Government Regulation-OSHA became involved in the operations of the attraction to ensure environmental safety and added a layer of paperwork to operations each season. Once local government got word of the popularity an Amusement Tax was placed on the attraction.
Factor #2: Industry Economy
When the Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride first launched, it was incredibly popular for its first few years in operation. During its first few years, they did almost 2,000 guests per evening which started to dwindle as more attractions opened. Towards the end, the attraction averaged only 300 guests on an evening, which was a far drop-off in interest from its prime seasons. The haunt industry itself would not really rebound in terms of popularity until the roughly mid-2000s.
Factor #3: Family Decisions
Mr. Rosenkrans began to slow down as his health declined and other family members along with staff members began to go to college, get married etc. Rumors persisted the family lost the land but that is also not true as well as rumors that lawsuits ruined the attraction. In the end declining attendance, family health, and burn-out lead to the closure of the Bald Mountain Haunted Hayride in 2001 and Holiday Hayride in 2005.
In the end, the Bald Mount Haunted Hayride was a special place that still holds a spot as one of the most innovative haunted attractions many of a generation have ever visited. Way ahead of its time in terms of theme development, management and staff team building, those who worked at this attraction truly had a deep passion for scaring. The attraction paved the way for haunts of today’s era and they were essentially “innovating” on the fly, building a first of its kind entertainment venue that in today’s market would be staggering to operate. One can only speculate how successful the attraction would be if it kept its innovative spirit, survived the economic downturn and was able to hit the “boom” period of today’s industry. The family has not completely ruled out a “return” and the ominous trail still exists. Perhaps future generations will once again get to experience a haunt that was all about “entertainment”, fun and innovation focusing on giving people their money’s worth each and every evening.
Electroshock Entertainment would like to extend its sincere gratitude to Mrs. Gennine Rosenkrans for inviting us into her family’s home, Lisa Bewighouse for providing the amazing pictures and help with coordinating this project and the entire Rosenkrans & Malatesta family for their contributions to this article. We would also like to thank supporter Bill Aniska who helped us get in contact with the family and move this project forward.
Haunted Hayride Exclusive Image Gallery
Holiday Hayride Exclusive Image Gallery