Column: Scared wordless

Lisa-JardineThis was, by far, the scariest story I have ever written.

In the interest of full disclosure, haunted houses are my worst nightmare. You won’t find me anywhere near one. But I didn’t let my lifelong fear get in the way of a good story. I received an email from a reader telling me about a Westchester haunting in which he thought I might be interested. Before agreeing to the scary visit, I did a little research about the haunted house industry. I wanted to make sure there was an allure for readers older than 15.
What I found was pretty shocking.

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The props are even scary in the daytime.

According to The Haunted Attraction Association—yes, there is actually such a thing—haunted houses are a $300 million industry with more than 2,500 haunted attractions worldwide, with a majority of them in the United States, and the ticket holders are predominantly in their 20’s and 30’s.

My interest was piqued.
Marc Mancini, one of the four partners behind The Weschester Haunt at Rocky Ledge in West Harrison explained that, as a teenager in West Harrison in the 1990s, he spent a lot of time spooking up his parents’ home so it would be the scariest on the block and attract the most visitors. Over the years, word spread and the yearly haunting became too big for the neighborhood.

“At first my parents hated it but, over time, my father’s opinion of the haunted hijinks changed,” Mancini said. “My dad said, ‘hey, I think we’ve got something good going over here.’”

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A few spare bodies.

Mancini decided it was time to look for a bigger space.

In 2008, after a search, the family came upon the Rocky Ledge Swimming Association; an eight-acre wooded site in North White Plains the Mancinis felt would be the perfect location to unleash their scariest fantasies. “The Haunt at Rocky Ledge” had officially begun.

Fifteen years after he first got his kicks scaring the neighborhood kids, Marc’s now a grown man, an electrician by trade, who, along with his brother and two friends, take pride in scaring large crowds of Westchester residents the old fashioned way. Every year since 2008, for the two weeks leading up to Halloween, they take over the multi-acre facility and transform it into the most terrifying haunt in Westchester.

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This sign is posted on the road at the entry to the West Harrison haunting.

I met Marc at the facility during the daytime and it still gave me the creeps. Even driving there was scary. Once you exit 287, you travel a winding, twisty road with barbed wire fencing on one side that borders the Kensico Dam and several miles of dense forest on the other.
At night, I’m sure it’s terrifying.
When I arrived for our interview, Marc and his father, Tony, were at the park making last-minute preparations. We walked the trail together and he explained the experience to me.

“It takes about 25 minutes from beginning to end. It’s a self-guided walk, which includes two different haunted houses, a haunted trail through the woods, a terrifying cornfield and multiple hair-raising walk-throughs.”

This is not an experience for the faint of heart—or this writer.

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Marc Mancini in the cornfield he grew this summer. Photos/Lisa Jardine

It was an unusually hot afternoon for October, yet I felt a real chill. The haunting was going to be one scary experience. Marc offered to take me inside both of the haunted houses.

I declined. It was scary enough from the outside.

A lot of time and effort go into making this event happen.

“I build all the props during the summer in the driveway of my home, which my wife doesn’t always appreciate. We also grow the cornfield in the summer as well,” Mancini said. “We hire lots of kids from SUNY Purchase and Craigslist to help with the fear factor. They are scattered throughout the park with spooky agendas.”

As scary as the live-action element can be, the Mancini’s have a strict no touch policy for their hired haunters, which is one less thing to worry about. I can’t imagine my heart rate if a hand came out of the tall corn stalks and tapped me on the shoulder.

Safety is a big concern and the Mancinis only allow groups of six or fewer to enter the park at one time.

“There are a few weeks after school starts and before the holidays begin. The weather gets a little colder and the leaves fall. It’s an eerie time of year and we take advantage of it. This year, our theme is the Abandoned Asylum,” Mancini said. “It’s an old-school terror experience. This isn’t Disney. We play on your fears and we try to jog your senses. But it’s not all scary. We always hear kids laughing as they walk through the park.”

You can tell he’s passionate about what he’s accomplished with this haunt.

“We used to do all this work for one night only. Now we open for two weeks leading up to Halloween. We just want to share it with as many people as we possibly can.”

If you love haunted houses and all things Halloween, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

And this year, “Scared By the Sound,” which used to be held at Playland, has moved 30 minutes up north to Cortland but, unlike “The Haunt at Rocky Ledge,” the experience is completely indoors. In my uneducated opinion, it’s got to be scarier outside where the fear is only limited by your vivid imagination.

My advice? Wear running
shoes…you are going to need them.
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The Haunt at Rocky Ledge
Oct. 11 to Oct. 27, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
If using GPS:
1446 Old Orchard Street,
West Harrison, N.Y. 10604
Tickets can be purchased
ahead of time for $17 online
at their website: www.hauntatrockyledge.com
or bought on site. Like them on Facebook
and get a discount coupon.
There is parking, bathrooms
and a snack bar. Arrive as early
as possible; lines form
30 minutes before the opening.

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“I’m always on the lookout
for a great story, an amazing
restaurant, an unusual day trip
or a must-see cultural event in
Westchester County.”

TO CONTACT LISA, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter,
@westchesterwand