Enter these frightful Halloween haunts if you dare

At the Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe haunted house, the ghosts may be real. And what lurks in a creepy cornfield at Fear Farm in Gardner?

10/16/2012 1:14 PM

05/16/2014 8:00 PM

For this year’s spooky season, think city haunt, country haunt.

First, city haunt.

Edgar Allan Poe is not only quothing “nevermore,” he’s in your face with it, a close-up of his snarly grimace as he flings his arms here and there, until you get panicky about ever getting past his chamber door.

Then the raven shows up.

“There was a moment I was up against the wall, with the raven on one side and Poe on the other,” said Christy Keeling of Olathe. “That set the tone.”

“Game-changer,” said her brother, Brandon.

The Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe haunted house is one of the unsung scares of the West Bottoms, a fright with a literary bent in a foreboding seven-story building that looks haunted even from the outside.

The Poe house has attracted extra attention recently not for its scripted scariness but for its potential as an “actual” haunted place. Two weeks ago, a movie crew wrapped up work on a feature titled “Horror Filmed” at Poe, its paranormal “incidents” part of the action. The house has been monitored by Discovery Channel’s “Ghost Lab.”

Those who work there say there have been “incidents,” and the building has witnessed death: It was here that the former owner, Dennis Kingsolver, died in an accident as he was repairing the elevator. He was 38.

The fall calendar almost requires that true Kansas Citians grab a group and head to the West Bottoms. The Poe house should be this year’s first stop and not just for love of the 19th-century writer or for ghost hunting. What many people don’t know about the goings-on below the 12th Street bridge is the charitable aspect.

A ticket to the Poe house is a donation to the Dream Factory of Greater Kansas City. Same with the Macabre Cinema haunted house around the corner.

As with the Beast and the Edge of Hell haunted houses, Full Moon Productions runs the Chambers of Poe and Macabre Cinema, but the actors donate their time, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the charity, said Amber Arnett-Bequeaith of Full Moon.

Trafficking in the paranormal isn’t a requirement for visiting the Poe house. However, it doesn’t hurt if you’re a Poe fan.

Part of the “fun” is figuring out where in the Poe you are, like when you’re scurrying down the long, high-ceilinged passageways filled with a still fog and creepy organ music.

Christy Keeling, 25, ticks off a few of the scenes she recognized from some of her favorite Poe works: “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the pit viewed from a catwalk above, of course; “The Tell-Tale Heart”; “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

As for the actual haunting of the haunted: One manager at the house said she slipped and fell down the front staircase, but it felt more like she was pushed, even though no one was around. Another worker reported soda cans spinning on their own. An open window in an upper floor should serve as an invitation for a pigeon party, but no pigeons ever venture inside.

“We have coffins plucked from the Missouri River in the 1993 flood,” Arnett-Bequeaith said about props in the fourth floor cemetery display. “That part of the building is always much colder than the rest. I haven’t seen a ghost, but I’ll tell you when I do.”

The Poe house first opened in 2007, and it was a coming home of sorts, Arnett-Bequeaith said. She and her family were longtime Poe fans, and the family’s first Kansas City area haunted attraction was a Poe house near the square in Independence in 1974.

To create the West Bottoms experience, Arnett-Bequeaith visited Poe’s gravesite in Baltimore, the city where he died at age 40, and did research at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Va.

The house’s job, of course, is to creep people out, and the three Keeling siblings found plenty to recommend it — from the room that seems to have no exit, to the hologram ghosts, to the compression chamber that feels like a violent airbag hug, to the revolving drum walkways.

“Anything that spins we really enjoyed,” said Emily, Christy and Brandon’s sister.

Is there any backdrop eerier than the West Bottoms at night, the worn, husky buildings, the train horns echoing off the bluff, the erratic lighting?

How about the middle of a cornfield?

Next up, country haunt.

Four women friends from Gardner and Edgerton headed into the Field of Screams on a recent Friday night, single file, gripping each other like a life-and-death conga line.

“Don’t let go of me,” each said to the other, repeatedly.

Which wasn’t so easy to do over the uneven path and around the twists and turns through the corn, the cover of which allowed plenty of opportunities for psychotic characters to emerge.

“The horse trailer,” said Gena Kent, identifying the low, or high, moment for her, which occurred inside a metal stock trailer in the cornfield. “It’s shaking and you can’t find your way out.”

“The bus scared the bejeebies out of me,” said Brenda Cloud, referring to a yellow school bus stranded all a-kilter in the field. “It reminded me of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street (2).’ ”

After three years of planning, Julie and Kirk Berggren this fall opened KC Fear Farm near Interstate 35 and 191st Street. It’s on property next to their more mild-mannered endeavor, KC Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze.

The Field of Screams, the cornfield hiding 40 or so actors, is Fear Farm’s main attraction, but there are four other walk-through attractions.

Depending on how you feel about clowns, Circus Asylum might be the most disturbing. A series of walls and curtains make it impossible to know when the next wigged and made-up-smile face will confront you. The animatronic clowns are creepier still.

And there’s Insane Reaction, a maze of metal fencing with crazy lights and music and werewolves. And Buried Alive, which is all about claustrophobia. Kansas Twister isn’t scary, just a serious bother to your equilibrium.

The Berggrens wanted to offer a fall attraction for youngsters who first started visiting the pumpkin patch years ago — it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary — and now are in their teens. Fear Farm is recommended for ages 12 and up.

“We knew it was a completely different clientele,” Julie Berggren said. “It’s meant to be scary.”

Kirk Berggren developed the attractions and the requisite gadgets, and he’s proud of them.

“What did you think of the headlights?” he asked, referring to one of the Field of Screams stunners.

Around one particularly dark bend in the path, a pair of headlights flash on blindingly, accompanied by a blaring horn. Through the cornstalks and under a dark blue sky, it’s a surprise.

“We kept getting calls, ‘Is your corn maze haunted?’ ” Kirk Berggren said.

Now it is.


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