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Some of the forest's scariest ghouls emerge from their hiding places to warm up by the fire. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Some of the forest's scariest ghouls emerge from their hiding places to warm up by the fire. Photo: Zach Hirsch

The stuff of nightmares: An outdoor fun house

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It's the season for spooky things - scary movies, ghosts, haunted houses. Here in the north country: creepy forests. But, why? Why do we love to scare ourselves, or family and friends?

Earlier this month, Zach Hirsch went to a haunted forest in northern Lewis County, right on the border with St. Lawrence County, to look for some clues.

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The sign for the haunted forest on Pinner Road. Photo: Zach Hirsch Trudy Mansil was able to gather most of the demonic-looking staff for a photo op. Photo: Zach Hirsch

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

It’s Friday night, around 8, and the village of Harrisville is peaceful. Except for one pocket of woods, just off Pinner Road.

A ghostly figure circles a red lamp as she sings the Freddy Kruger song. This is one of many scenes on the haunted trail. There’s also the human butcher shop, the graveyard, and “the hills have eyes,” to name a few.

It takes Trudy Mansil 15 minutes to walk through whole course, to make sure everything is in order.

"I’m in an office Monday through Friday, and then on the weekends, my kids are my life, so this is what we do!" she said.

Trudy and her crew of family and friends have been working on this haunted trail for two months. We’re on Nikki Baker’s property.

"It’s just something about being out in the dark, in the woods, versus being in a house. It’s just, it’s awesome!  I get a kick out of it, all the kids screaming. Adults screaming!"

"Nikki is actually a childcare provider," Trudy said.

Nikki and Trudy usually open these woods only to family and friends. This year they’ve expanded the trail, and for the first time, the public can pay to enter. They’re using the money to help fund the high school juniors' prom party. And it’s mostly the high schoolers themselves – about 40 of them – that haunt the forest. 

It’s chilly. About 75 people are standing in the moonlight, some near the bonfire, eagerly waiting their turn. One group – a few kids and their grandmothers - has been waiting more than an hour.

"They are ready to be scared," said Sherry Kelley.

"And we hear people screaming, just off in the distance and we’re like, 'Oh! Do we really wanna go?'" said Cecilia Stohl. 

Sherry and her grandkids all say they’re nervous to go in – but, really, they kinda seem like they can’t wait.

"But no nightmares, right Maddie?" Sherry asked.

"No!" said Maddie Kelley. 

But inside the haunted forest is the stuff of nightmares. Trudy is leading a group of nervous children.   

"Ok, this is the graveyard scene. It's foggy. Dark. And a dead child just popped out of a coffin!"

It’s dimly lit. The trail winds past disturbing scenes. There’s a mad scientist with a knife; there’s the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, threatening to happen all over again. Invisible creatures growl from unknown vantage points.

Of course, it’s all in good fun. The monsters never touch you. And the ghouls aren’t that scary. Most of them are just regular, human teenagers - like Chris Sharon. 

"Who are you?"

"Freddy." 

"Freddy Kruger?"

"Yeah. They pretty much think they're done, but then I come down as they come out of the trail, and swing down on the zipline as Freddy Kruger. I actually had one of the little kids that came through, they ended up crying, because they thought they were done. Yeah, it was pretty epic," he said.

On the outside of the trail, I catch up with Sherry Kelley and her grandkids, the ones who waited so long to get in. Sherry’s expression is grave now, and her group is practically running for the car. As it turns out, it was a couple of monsters buried in leaves - Austin Spencer and Gabby McIntosh - that did them in.

"I think it was Ms. Kelley’s kids. They walked past me, and I jumped out at them, because I didn't know it was little kids. And they left the trail. They quit the trail!" said Austin. 

Trudy has called an official intermission. It’s a bizarre sight - all the masked, undead, bloody, and evil-looking creatures emerging from the forest, helping themselves to hot chocolate and popcorn. They’re only about halfway through the night. They’ve got to refuel so they can get back to work, terrorizing all who dare to pass through the haunted forest.

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