By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
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.
The Manor, Joplin
For years Devin House has worked security at Raycliff Manor. Now that he is general manager of The Manor, its new name, he gets to scare people instead of protect them.
“I get to interact with the crowd a lot more, and I’ll actually be dressing up some,” House said. “I’m loving it.”
The Manor will feature a reworking of actors, equipment and more this year at both the manor and carriage house attractions. The cast includes veterans and newcomers, and the frights will be revamped.
House doesn’t want to spill the beans about all the changes -- he’d rather fans be surprised.
“There’s a few different props and a little bit different scares,” House said. “It’s not the same manor. It’s totally different, and I want to leave it as a surprise.”
The Manor is located at 4706 Gateway Drive and begins operation Friday. It is open from 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays until Nov. 3. It will also be open on Oct. 18, 25 and 28.
On Nov. 2 and 3, attendees can go through the Carriage with only the light of a glowstick.
Admission: $10 for the Manor, $5 for the Carriage House, $14 for both. Line-skipping passes available.
Asylum Nightmare, Chetopa, Kan.
One of the larger haunted houses in the area, Chris McGowan and others behind the Asylum Nightmare have filled an old nursing home with about 40 minutes of haunts.
The idea started about five years ago, when he and others put together a haunted house in a friend’s backyard.
“We had such a blast running around and scaring kids, that we thought why not do this on a larger scale,” McGowan said.
The attraction now has a staff of about 150 characters and security workers in the facility’s rooms.
Asylum Nightmare is located at 938 W. Elm St. in Chetopa. It is open Fridays and Saturdays until Nov. 3, and consecutive days from Oct. 25 to Oct. 31.
Admission: $12, $10 for kids 16 and younger. Group discounts and line-skipping passes available.
Twisted Forest, Joplin
The Twisted Forest is open from dark to midnight Fridays and Saturdays until Oct. 27 and Oct. 25 and 28. It is located at 601 Reddings Road.
Fear Factory Haunted House, Carthage
The Fear Factory opens at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from Oct. 5 to 27 and from Oct. 29 to 31. It is located at 2455 South County Lane 121, two miles east of the roundabout in southern Carthage.
Admission: $8. Group rates available.
Barns on Haunted Hill, Oronogo
The Barns on Haunted Hill, in its 12th year of operation, features more than 90,000 square feet of terrors, including three barns, two trails and more.
It is open from 7:30 to midnight Fridays and Saturdays until Oct. 27, and from 7:30 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 18, 21, 25, 28, 30 and 31. It is located at 23162 Maple Road, near Oronogo.
Admission: $10. Group discounts available. Proceed benefit the Jasper Junior Commerce Club.
Wolfman’s House of Screams, Carl Junction
Wolfman’s House of Screams opens at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays until Oct. 27 and Oct. 25 and 31 and runs from 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 18, 21-24, 28 and 30.
Admission: $10. Group discounts available. A portion of proceeds will be donated to Shriner’s Children’s Hospital.
Dexter’s Haunted House of Horror, Columbus, Kan.
Set in the old Simpson Funeral Home, Dexter’s Haunted House of Horror features three levels of spooks.
It is open from 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays until Nov. 3. It is located at 323 S. Kansas Ave.