Haunted church at Eagle Hollow Haunts
An old church greets customers at the entrance to the haunted trail.

At Eagle Hollow Haunts in Eagle, performers began preparing for their first dress rehearsal of the season on Oct. 1. Actors clad in black robes and practicing their lines waited for their turn in the makeup trailer where they were turned into creepy ghouls and monsters.

But for this season’s haunt, the scares aren’t only at the haunted house.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made running haunted houses a little more challenging, but many of them remain open.

For those who own and operate haunted houses, the planning for each season is year-long. This year, however, was different.

“Starting the first week of January, we have our first staff meeting where we set our calendar for the next five months,” said Rebecca Rose, owner of Eagle Hollow Haunts.

The meetings determine the themes of the season and casting and building for the house, Rose said.

Typically, haunted house owners from all around the world gather for the TransWorld’s Halloween and Attractions show in St. Louis, Missouri, where they take classes and purchase items for their attractions. This year, the convention was canceled because of the pandemic.

“Our big convention got canceled, and that’s when we knew that it would affect our season,” Rose said. “By April and May, we were already having the discussions on what we felt was feasible, what our comfort level was for our staff if they were comfortable with doing an indoor haunt.”

In May 2020, phase 1 of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 response was enacted, but as of Sept.21, the state is moving on to phase 4 of reopening.

The restrictions include indoor venues being allowed up to 75% capacity while outdoor venues are up to 100%. Masks are still being required in Lincoln per the mayor’s mandate.

“Our two indoor haunts have been shut down just because we couldn’t guarantee the safety and all the different rules,” Rose said. “We ended up with the decision to only open ‘Darklands’, which is our walking path, and we expanded that.”

Corn Maze Picture 300x225 - Escaping Reality: How Haunted Houses in Nebraska are Handling COVID-19
Eagle Hollow Haunts hosts a new corn maze to help expand their outdoor attraction.

For the haunted house at Bellevue Berry Farm in Papillion, the size of the attraction leads to more ease with social distancing.

“Our haunted house is big enough where the actors can stay six feet away,” said Tyson Schaefer, a manager at Bellevue Berry Farm. “The rooms are big enough where they don’t have to be right in people’s faces.”

At Eagle Hollow Haunts, they are utilizing timed ticketing, which has customers buy tickets for a single half-hour block of time where they can go into the attraction. Customers are able to come early for other attractions at the haunt such as firepits and concessions. Each half-hour block has a limited number of tickets to help reduce the lines at the attraction.

Timed-ticketing is new for the haunt this year, but they are also utilizing methods that have been used in the past to keep groups apart during the attraction.

To keep groups moving, it is common for actors to either slow down a group or speed them up to keep groups moving in order to avoid groups catching up with each other.

“We really work with them [actors] on knowing their scene, knowing their character and how to slow things down when need be or speed things up,” Rose said. “If they want you to move faster the scare forward a lot, where instead of jumping out in front of you they’re going to jump out behind you and lurk which tends to speed up the group.”

Rose said hosting the even for people to have a mental escape was important.

“If we can provide that safely, then we want to be able to give people that escape from reality,” she said.

Casey Christensen is a senior Journalism and Sociology double-major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.