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Drop by Dead Land for a scary journey

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Welcoming visitors to Dead Land Haunted Woods are, from left, murderous farmer Kyle Murphy, werewolf Nick Marchetti, vampire Tyler Carden, old crone Cat Mathews and Confederate ghost Kirk Knittle. TMP/K. Beck
Dead Land Haunted Woods is no walk in the park. It’s a nocturnal hike into a frightening forest filled with ghosts, goblins and ghouls of every ilk.

Making its second season in Wilson County, the bedeviled patch of ground lies about 15 miles north of Murfreesboro on Highway 231. Its 1.2-mile trail of terror features 50 live actors doing their dead-level best to scare your pants off.

“The difference here between our haunted woods and other haunts around is that it has no commercial scares. You’ll not find Mike Myers and Freddy Krueger here. You’re gonna find a bit of history for a more lifelike scare,” said Dana Chapman of Lascassas, the madwoman behind this Halloween-timed production.

Helping accelerate the maximum sensory experience are strolls into or past a haunted barn, tunnels of spiders and snakes and the Dead Man’s Dip (a shallow, open grave). Hikers must crawl through a mid-1950s Cadillac hearse and tiptoe around an abandoned, fog-encrusted cemetery with 95 tombstones.  

The actors portray such creatures of the night as werewolves, vampires, ghoulies, voodoo priestess and rodeo clowns. Their growls and groans along with the cool costumes and masterful makeup jobs will raise the goose bumps on plenty of folks and may even give them the heebie-jeebies. Thankfully, the monsters are not allowed to chase or touch.

“We had 3,200 people come through here last year. We’re hoping we will have 6,000 this year,” said Chapman, who masterminded the family scare affair with her father, Bob Mossberg.

Joining in the nepotism are Dana’s husband, Gerald, daughter, Arielle, and son, Justin, as well as her sister, Denise O’Connell, nephew Greg O’Connell, niece Megan O’Connell and Megan’s husband, Mike O’Connell.     

“One of the reasons we decided to do this was because my mother died last year. We decided to keep busy,” said Chapman. “Me and my dad talked about it after my mom got sick. We decided to bury ourselves in this.”

“It’s been kind of cathartic,” said Mossberg, who lives just a couple of miles from the site, in the Majors community.

“It’s so much fun because we are on a tight budget, and we have to be real creative,” said Chapman, who lived in Wilson County for the past 20 years but recently moved to a farm in Lascassas in Rutherford County where she trains horses.

“I’ve done Halloween parties at my house for my friends for the last 12 years. It got so big, it was taking me too much time to set up for a one-day event, so in the spring of 2009 we began designing Dead Land.

“We want to make this huge. Right now, we have 50 employees, and I really would like to make it so we have 100 employees. It is very much a production. We work with the actors on what they are going to do. We practice screams and scares. We use a lot of  kids  from ages 18 to 20 who attended Lebanon High or Wilson Central, and a few of the actors are from Murfreesboro.

“A lot of these kids want to be actors in the professional theater. Some of them are very, very good. Some have a long way to go,” Mossberg said.

Portraying a ghastly Confederate captain is Murfreesboro’s Kirk Knittle, who last year this time worked in Texas at the Dallas Scareground. “I like being out in the woods and getting creative,” he says. “My character is a demonic Southerner.”

Cat Mathews, a friend of Chapman’s for years and also of Murfreesboro, returns for her second season as an old crone, sort of a hag. “My favorite thing about doing this is making the illusion believable,” she said. “My job around here is to mother hen all the actors.”

Dead Land Haunted Woods lies on 38 acres of land leased from the Huddleston family, whose descendants began farming here years before the Civil War. Several ancient log structures beneath one roof serve as the costume, makeup and dressing rooms. Patrons will buy their tickets here and pass through a hallway of the shed as they walk to the trail entrance.

The site was selected because it had lots of trees and was located near the midway point between Lebanon and Murfreesboro. Scary music plays across the forest, and cries and screams are heard continually, some from the creatures and most from the vocal cords of those paying for the right to be spooked.

“We use low-voltage landscaping lighting (a mile and a half of wiring) for the paths, and there are a few lights in the trees,” said Mossberg. “We tweak it and mess with it. We don’t want too much lighting. You can’t get lost. The light directs you.”

Chapman said most nights there are about 150 to 200 people in the woods at a time. She recommends groups go through with no more than six in a pack to get the maximum boo for their buck. It takes about an hour to explore the woods and absorb all the frights.

“It’s a date night for sure,” she says, “But we have a lot of families and a ton of church groups come through. I don’t have any devil stuff. I find it offensive. There is a minimal amount of blood and guts. I don’t think anybody will get offended here.”

Last year, Spirit Ghost Hunters, paranormal investigators out of Murfreesboro, explored Dead Land and snared a photo of a ghost and recorded the voice of what they believe to be a Civil War soldier.

All Chapman knows is that her haunted woods will be filled with real people pretending to be creatures of the night so that guests can enjoy a chill-filled evening. She says that many of the patrons like to have their pictures taken with the monsters at the end of the trail.

Guess that means her werewolves and vampires have to say “Cheese!” Happy haunting!

Dead Land Haunted Woods

Dead Land Haunted Woods presents a nocturnal hike through a mile of terrifying woods.

It is open 7 p.m.-midnight every Friday and Saturday from now through Halloween night. Admission is $15; $12 for groups of 10 or more.

It is located about 15 miles north of Murfreesboro on Highway 231 (7040 Murfreesboro Road) and two miles south of the entrance to Cedars of Lebanon State Park.

Dead Lead Haunted Woods is not recommended for children under the age of 9.

Guests should wear proper running shoes (no flip-flops).

For more info, go online to www.deadlandwoods.com.

Ken Beck can be contacted at KBTAG@aol.com.
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