JOPLIN, Mo. —
Something about Dover Hill Park called out to Becki Gooch.
It’s not like most of Joplin’s parks, because there is nothing there -- especially since the city banned sledding a few years ago. The park’s only amenities are a paved road for cars and gates to keep cars off that road.
But next month there will be much more to see, though the faint of heart may not want to see it.
Gooch, the director of the Dream Theatre Company, and others will fill the park with creatures, scares and other Halloween haunts. Activities will include an outdoor haunted attraction, stories about Joplin’s haunted past and a festival of vendors.
“We’ve always wanted to see a Halloween festival, and we’ve wanted to be a part of it in some capacity,” Gooch said. “A lot of us have spookhouse industry background, and we enjoy doing it. What better way than a spook trail?”
Strangler’s Grove will feature a return of the troupe’s historic ghost tours and will also add an outdoor spook trail and festival. The Halloween festival is one of several changes to the Joplin area’s Halloween haunts.
Raycliff Manor is now under new ownership and called The Manor, which has been reworked into something “totally different,” according to the new manager.
And after Halloween, the Manor and the Asylum, in Chetopa, Kan., will offer a terrifying enhancement by taking away a crucial feature: Light.
Strangler’s Grove will have three main components this year:
The Strangler’s Grove haunted attraction: This is a 1/3-mile haunted trail that winds through the park and exposes participants to terrors like they’d experience in an indoor attraction.
Based around the crash of a circus train, the trail gives the opportunity for actors to provide the scares, not special effects. Most of the sets are made from donated or recycled items and decorated to match the circus theme.
“We really wanted to do a hillbilly, Baldknobber kind of circus,” Gooch said. “A lot of haunted attractions just pour money into stuff, things people run by screaming, and they never look at it. We wanted to emphasize our actors. An animatronic is one thing, but a human being that can feed off you is something else.”
All the costumes were made by Gooch, and most of the lighting is solar powered. And a nearby train track, where trains stop and pass each other, may provide the most blood-curdling scares of all.
“When they stop, they make a horrible, wretched screaming noise,” Gooch said.
Historic Ghost Tours: Instead of walking through downtown Joplin, storytellers will tell their tales at the top of Dover Hill. That way, more people can hear, and the vantage point makes for easy pointing.
The troupe has run these tours for almost two years, Gooch said. Most know basics about the stories, so storytellers enhance them with more in-depth information and research.
Telling the stories from one spot will allow more to hear the tales, Gooch said. When walking through downtown Joplin, storytellers could accommodate only groups of 30. With a single spot, Gooch thinks they can double the amount of listeners.
Scare Faire: An outdoor group of Halloween-related vendors. A major component of Strangler’s Grove, the festival is something that the group has always wanted to see happen.
“When we first looked at it, we were pointed in the direction of other companies who would run it,” Gooch said. “But we didn’t want to charge admission to vendors. So in order to be free to the community, we had to do it ourselves.”
The festival will include vendors, live music and carnival style entertainment.
Though the festival is free to attend, admission to the haunted trail and storytelling are $10 each. Value bracelets for both are available for $17.
A portion of proceeds will be donated to the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department. The rest will help Dream Theatre acquire and establish a permanent location for future haunts.
“Our management isn’t getting paid this year,” Gooch said. “After we pay off our overhead, we’ll put it into a permanent location. This is the beginning of a snowball.”
All events will run from sundown to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays in October, starting Oct. 5.