by Dan Bolles
Though it was a fictional story, much of the "Fright Night" piece in this week's print edition was based on actual events that happened on a recent visit to Dead North, the haunted corn maze in North Danville.
My girlfriend and I did pass by a creepy abandoned farmhouse on our way to the maze. We were frightened by various ghouls and spooks moving through the corn. There really is a Marko the Magician. And the chainsaw-wielding gentleman pictured to the right freaked us both into a, ahem, dead run.
(The back story about the Butcher Brothers and the traveling circus was based on literature passed along by the folks at Dead North and is fiction … I think.)
Having just finished its 13th season, Dead North, which occupies part of the massive Great Vermont Corn Maze for two weekends in early October, is a monstrous undertaking. DN comprises about a 3/4-mile walk that leads through dozens of frightening scenes, including eerily quiet paths in the corn, a demented fun house, a slaughterhouse and the ghost town of North Village. Its spooky environs are populated by some 100 ghouls and ghosts.
The Travel Channel recently documented this year's Dead North fright fest for an episode of the show "Making Monsters," which airs this Sunday, October 27. In advance of that airing, Seven Days spoke with Dead North owner and operator Mike Boudreau to ask him about what goes on behind the scenes of a haunted corn maze.
SEVEN DAYS: Where did the inspiration for Dead North come from?
MIKE BOUDREAU: We used to do a starlight maze with our neighbors, where people would just come out and do the maze at night. But it became kind of a pain because people would come out drinking, teenagers were unsupervised. It was a mess. Anyway, at the end of the night, when our wives would go through, we'd take turns scaring them. Eventually, our neighbors insisted that my wife and I do something haunted. We love Halloween, so we took a look at the numbers and decided to do it. We decicded we were going to build it, pay for it, run it. We told our friends they could come and help if they wanted, but that we really just need people to show up to scare.
SD: How important is it to have volunteers?
MB: We couldn't do it without the neighbors. Right now we probably have about 100 volunteers every night, but that changes from night to night. And that's everyone from the guy parking cars to people out there scaring. I have one guy who comes in from Northfield, lives up here for a week and helps with all the animatronics. Another guy takes two weeks' vacation to come help build stuff. Another guy comes from Atlanta, who moved away but comes back for a weekend every year. And we get groups now, too. For instance, the clown trailers were all members of the Lyndon State Twilight Players Theater Club. They add a more theatrical quality, which is fun. Most of our neighbors are policemen or loggers. They just want to scare the hell out of people hard and fast.
SD: How many "scenes" are there?
MB: I think this year there are 43 locations, that's from the ticket booth through the Butcher Brothers scene. As far as haunt actual scenes … [starts counting aloud] … about 60 in total.
SD: I noticed signs warning us not to touch props or people. Do you have problems with scared visitors fighting back?
MB: Oh, yeah. We tell the kids who come to scare from a distance. Some of us who have been doing this a while, I'll get right in there. I'll lean over your shoulder, let your wife hold my hand and walk for a while. But you take a risk of getting hit. It's a reaction, sometimes it can't be helped. But when you get a guy out there pushing people, grabbing, they're done. Everything stops, the masks come off and we take them out of the maze. We want everyone safe.
SD: How many visitors per year?
MB: It's about 2000, or 500 per night.
SD: It must take a while to clean up.
MB: [Laughs] I have about a month of cleanup ahead of me.
SD: So when do you start planning for next year?
MB: I actually started last night.
For more information, visit the Vermont Corn Maze website.