It’s Beginning to Feel A Lot Like the Season for Screaming

I’ve always been an avid fan of crime dramas and novels, horror stories, Halloween, and the like.  No doubt about it, I’m the only person in my drab office eagerly anticipating this year’s batch of haunts, mapping out my must-see’s with the concentration of a four star general on whose shoulders rest the fate of an entire nation.  From my first foray as a trembling eight-year old to a Jaycees haunted house in Atlanta, gripping my dad’s hand and wheezing through what would turn out to be a wretched case of pneumonia, to last year’s trips to Pennhurst Asylum and the legendary Bates Motel in Pennsylvania, I’m a haunted house addict.  So, with the leaves starting to turn and that first faint whiff of autumn in the air, I’ve started to itch with anticipation.  If you happen to follow me on Pinterest, no doubt you’ll soon witness an epic number of pins to my “Autumn Leaves” and “Scares & Screams on Halloween” boards.  Fall can’t get here fast enough!

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to revisit past haunts and explore this year’s options – For those of you in the South Jersey/Philly area, feel free to chime in with suggestions & comments.  This is the first installment, featuring the now-defunct Haunted Woods and Eastern State Penitentiary (an upcoming post will feature Night of Terror at Creamy Acres, the Bates Motel, and Pennhurst Asylum).

The Haunted Woods (closed???)

Ah, the Haunted Woods.  Most spectacular of all New Jersey haunts.  You’re sorely missed.  I only visited this haunt twice before its untimely demise, but the one time their corn maze was functioning was a truly epic evening.  The place wasn’t much to see on first arrival, and was easily missed as the entrance was obscured by a large cornfield on a dark country road.  Being used to overdone, commercial types of haunts, my friend and I weren’t sure what we’d gotten ourselves into, but we figured we’d driven 45 minutes and may as well give it a shot.  This place was a prime example of why you should never judge a book by its cover.

The haunted trail was a long, dark walk through the woods with about eight other visitors and one guide.  After years of being disappointed by haunted houses with signs informing visitors of prohibitions against “creatures” touching guests, imagine my IMMENSE glee when one creepy, masked murderer stuck a REAL KNIFE in a tree about two inches above my left shoulder!!!!  I was SOLD.  Add to that the trip through the dark, plastic-wrapped maze which finished off with all of us falling in a heap in a giant leaf-filled hole (my lawyer mind thinks this is probably why there is no more Haunted Woods), and I knew I’d found my perfect haunt.  The trail was capped off by a frenzied attack from four or five chainsaw-wielding maniacs, and I figured it couldn’t get any better than that.

But we still had the corn maze……Could it get better?  Yes, my friends.  YES.  IT COULD.  Let me preface this by saying, being from the Atlanta area, my friend and I were prepared for something geared toward children.  We were completely unfamiliar with the practice of constructing terrifying nightmare worlds in cornfields.

It was the PERFECT night for our first corn maze – Full moon overhead, a breeze rustling through the corn and masking the sound of approaching predators, and my overactive imagination running full steam ahead.  I mean, seriously, if you were a killer, what better place to get your jollies than a haunted corn maze on Halloween?  This thing was in a cornfield on the side of the road.  Actors were scattered throughout in masks with real chainsaws and knives.  People were EXPECTING to be attacked.  How easy would it be to walk in, score a kill, and walk out with no one the wiser until someone got around to searching the corn?  Sick, I know, but that’s exactly what was running through my head as we entered the maze and started down the first path.  After ten minutes with no exit and nothing scaring us, I started thinking it was just a maze for kids, but it was still a nice stroll on a beautiful evening, so we kept going.  Needless to say, when the guy with the Jason mask and the chainsaw JUMPED OUT OF THE CORN, I freaked the hell out and hauled ass!!!

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This pretty much sums up my take on running. If you value your life and you ever see me doing anything more than a brisk walk, you will heed this advice.

My friend was clearly lacking in the reaction time department (I still pat myself on the back for my quick response, and am glad to know I won’t hesitate to ditch my companions and run for my life if ever attacked by a maniac in a farm field).  I didn’t realize she wasn’t behind me until I made it around a couple more bends in the maze.  When I finally stopped, I was serenaded by the sounds of rustling corn, a chainsaw, and screams.  I was starting to think I might have been right about this whole real serial killer in the corn thing, but I crept back to check on my friend nonetheless.  She was cornered in a dead end, screaming “I’m a lawyer!!!  I’m a lawyer!!!  GET AWAY!!!” while the corn maze killer ran the saw about three inches from her face.  Do I need to tell you how TOTALLY AWESOME this was?!?!?!?  Finally, he stopped, looked at her, and quietly walked back into the corn.  CHILLS.  We were on pins and needles for the rest of the maze.  Between the eerie corn maze and the obstacle-ridden trail, I rank the Haunted Woods right up there with the best haunts of all times.  A+ all the way.

Unfortunately, the next year the corn didn’t grow (WTF?) so the maze was a no-show.  The trail, however, was as awesome as ever, as proven by the excruciating bump on my head from colliding with my neighbor as we ran full speed into a field to escape a crazed killer with yet another chainsaw, but I was very disappointed by the maze’s absence.  That was the last season for the Woods, and I’ve yet to find another maze as terrifying.

Eastern State Penitentiary: Terror Behind the Walls

If you’re not from the area, ESP is a wagon-wheel shaped prison that opened in 1829 in Philadelphia, PA.  It closed in 1971, after 142 years, during which time it housed such notable inmates as Al Capone and “Slick” Willie Sutton.  In 1991, preservation efforts commenced and continue to this day.  I haven’t visited the site during the day, but I’d absolutely love to.  Since I saw Alcatraz as a kid, I’ve been fascinated with prisons and institutions in general, especially old, crumbling, abandoned ones.  I was extremely excited when I found out they host an annual haunted house at the prison, which I have repeatedly seen ranked as one of the best haunts in the country.

It’s been about ten years since I visited Terror Behind the Walls, but, to me, it was the king of all let-downs.  We paid a lot of money for advance tickets, and then stood in line for over two hours.  When we finally got inside, we were escorted through a wing of the prison in a single file line, with my friend and I near the rear.  Ghouls reached out from prison cells, and various other standard haunted house tricks occurred along the way, but despite being hyped up on the anticipation of a haunt in a REAL prison, we found ourselves at the end of the tour totally unimpressed.  I think our reaction might have been different if we had been near the front of the line – Unfortunately, the single file method meant that people around the third person in line were shocked and scared, while those of us near the back of the line already knew what to expect when it was our turn.  The surprise element was lost, and we ended up with really nothing more than a nighttime tour of the prison wing.  The best part was the fried Snickers bar at the end, and the prison museum.

Reviewing their site for 2012, however, I’m tempted to give the place another chance.  They’re up to six events now, so I’m thinking there must be something truly terrifying in the mix – With all that potential, how can there not be?  They’ve added a section where you’re left with flashlights and no guide, which sounds promising.  Honestly, all they’d have to do would be lock me in a cell in the dark and leave me there for an hour.  I’m pretty damn sure I’d freak myself out more than any blood-spattered psych ward prison inmate ever could.  That being said, it’s made my tentative list for this season.  I’d really love to be able to report back with a glowing review, but I was so disappointed the first time around, I don’t know what to expect.

There Ain’t No Sexy in This City.

So I had to apologize to my friend, Tracy, tonight.  For years, my fiance and I have been busting her chops for whining about how hard it is to be a single woman in Philadelphia, and I realized tonight how tragically misguided we’ve been.  I’m so glad I’m not single because there’s not a whole lot out there.  And what is out there ain’t pretty.  And what’s pretty is, more often than not, gay.

That’s all well and good when, like me, you’re happily attached and simply open to making some new friends.  But when you’re a single woman looking for a guy, it’s tough out there, ladies.  It really is.  And I had no idea how tough.

We attended a dinner event tonight – A popular chef was cooking at a local establishment, the price was right, and it sounded like a fun time.  Beforehand, we picked up some wine at a nearby store.  Let me explain that red wine gives me headaches.  I’m not a huge wine fan anyway, and the red stuff kicks my ass to the curb, drags it down the street, and smothers it in bum vomit and dog shit.  So I opt for white.  Regardless of the meat being served, if I’m having wine, it’s going to be white.  Knowing this, Tracy asked the wine guy for a white that would go with lamb, and he picked a dry Greek wine.  Which made sense to me.  Greek = gyros = lamb, right????  Sounds legit.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we found five small tables for two lined up in a row.  Two people were already there.  They weren’t together, but were seated next to each other on the same side of two different tables.  For purposes of the story, let’s call them Peter and Wilhelmina.  Tracy and I promptly seated ourselves at the farthest table.  Some time went by while the little, white-haired, French chef rattled around setting the stage and welcoming people to the event.  Peter kept making excuses for his “friend” who had cancelled at the last minute, although the entire outing had been her idea.  I’m pretty sure she was fictional and intended to make him appear more appealing to whatever stray single ladies might be within earshot.  “Look!  I have female friends!  I’m not a total loser!”  Newsflash douchecanoe – Some women have bad taste.  Even the imaginary ones.  Especially the imaginary ones.

Meanwhile, Wilhelmina kept dropping Spanish words and chatting about living in “Philadelphia by way of Montreal by way of Memphis.”  She ripped Memphis a new asshole, and said she “might” give it another shot if it ever got it’s act together but she doubted that would happen.  Memphis, if you’re reading this, you just keep on keepin’ on.  Wilhelmina vacated your area, and you’re better off, believe me.  Then she talked about how she “totally clicked” with the chef when she met her at some cocktail party, and she immediately told her “OMG!  You’re ME in thirty years!!!”  Um, yeah, Wilhelmina…I’m pretty sure you’re not fifteen.  If you are, put down the wine and stop flirting with the pedophile.

A little later, Brad arrived, British accent and all (swoon), and seated himself on the other side of Wilhelmina.  And Wilhelmina promptly dropped Peter and gave her full and undivided attention to Brad, who was unintentionally (and quite flagrantly) attired for Flag Day in a red, white, and blue checked shirt AND a red, white, and blue striped blazer.

At some point, the topic of our wine choices was raised.  Everyone had their bottles of red.  Then the waiter came out with our white and Peter audibly gasped.  “WHITE wine with LAMB!?!?!”  OMG.  THE HORROR.  I casually leaned around Brad and said, “It’s GREEK.  So it’s okay.”  DUH.  And Peter just stared at me, mouth open, sweat beads popping out under his combover, totally at a loss for how to respond to my complete ignorance of wine etiquette.  Whatever, Peter.  At least I know how to pick pants that aren’t four inches too short.  Seriously.  I wanted to shove the wine bottle up his ass, but I thought he might enjoy it too much.  That guy was far too attached to his wine.

Wilhelmina spent most of the meal (which was scrumptious, by the way) alternating her attention between Peter and Brad, giggling like a schoolgirl, and gabbing on about topics I’m sure she researched just so she could sound intelligent in social settings.  (BACKFIRE, Wilhelmina.  Backfire.)  She unabashedly flirted with Brad, who I’m 99% sure was gay, and Peter unabashedly flirted with her (Ladies, believe me when I say Peter had not a snowflake’s chance in hell in a contest against Brad, and I say that despite being 99% sure that Brad was not interested in that way and wanted nothing from Wilhelmina other than for words to stop coming out of her mouth).

Meanwhile, Tracy and I ate mostly in silence, speaking via glances whenever one of the other guests said something particularly pretentious or outright assholish.  I apologized about fifteen times for often backing out at the last minute and forcing her to attend things like this one her own because….DAMN.

Then we all had to take a group photo (from which I half expected (hoped) we would be excluded as the weird girls with actual friends who sat one table away from everyone else).  Then Brad ditched Wilhelmina for an older lady who arrived late.  And Wilhelmina shot him longing glances from across the room as Peter clumsily attempted to graze her arm with his hand.

Mother of fucking god.  If this really was a good indication of the singles scene in Philadelphia, I don’t know what I’d do.  I don’t have a poker face, and I’m pretty sure my expression was reading something along the lines of “WTF.  Did I inadvertently wander into the Pompous Pseudo-Intellectual Blowhards of Philadelphia meeting?  JESUS.”

Before I left, I apologized once again to Tracy, and admitted I may have been wrong to suggest she attend cultural events and visit museums in an effort to meet smart men with shared interests.  Let’s be honest, your chances of meeting a straight guy at a knitting class are slim, and you’re only going to meet snotty assholes at an art museum cocktail party where the focal point of the event is some priceless work of “art” a three-year old could do in five seconds on half a napkin.  No, I’m pretty sure the answer is sports bars.  When your first impression of a guy is him in a wing-sauce stained Eagles Jersey shoving a cheesesteak down his throat while chugging a Yuengling and screaming “COWBOYS SUCK!” it can only get better from there.

I hope.

I Want to Adopt……A Skull.

So the Mutter Museum, which I LOVE, is having a “Save our Skulls” campaign – It’s $200 and you get to have your name by the skull, and you get to pick which skull you want to adopt.  You might have to pay twice.  It’s hard to tell from the blurb.  But it pays for restoring the skull and fixing everything up nice.
And I’m kind of tempted, as weird as that is.
I’m thinking the Lithuanian girl on page 3 (b/c she’s the only Lithuanian and part of my family is from there) or maybe the famous criminal on the last page.  If I do it, I don’t really want a suicide or a child murderer or anything.  And there’s an inordinate number of suicides on the list.  And convicted criminals who were hanged or otherwise disposed of.
Also, if I do this, I want a skull with a known cause of death and a name.  I guess I’d takean anonymous-no-one-knows-how-this-one-kicked-off skull if I could make up a name and a COD, but I doubt the museum would add that to the plaque.  And then I’d just be the donor who got my money in late and didn’t get a cool skull.  (Is it weird that I feel like the anonymous skulls or  the ones with unknown COD’s should be cheaper???  I mean, seriously – The two taken ones are a famous murderer and a famous hooker.  Clearly there’s a demand for the skulls of famous depraved people.  I think unknown skulls should be at least 50% off).
Here’s the link if you’re curious or just have a skull fetish:
***In all seriousness, this is a worthwhile endeavor and one that should be supported.  The Mutter Museum is a phenomenal museum, and anything that can be done to preserve their collections should be done!  If you’re in the Philly area and you haven’t been to the museum, I highly recommend a trip.