I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
October 27, 2015
After years of waiting, Dennis and I decided this year that our children, ages 11 and 8, were finally ready for their first haunted house. Some might find this decision at odds with our ban on PG-13 movies or anything on television with blood and gore. But it all made perfect sense to me… If our kids are going to see fake blood and guts, at least let it be LIVE!
Seriously, though, the decision didn’t come easily– I worried that exposing them to the horrors of a haunted house at such a young and impressionable age might lead to years of very expensive therapy and cause at least one of them to paint portraits of serial killers for an entire year in Art II, which is not an easy thing to explain to the other parents at the end-of-year art show and yes, I am speaking from experience.
Before I could make up my mind one way or the other, my kids had caught wind of our tentative plans. They begged me to tell them all about Halloween haunted houses and what happened inside of them. And so I described the dark plywood mazes, the costumed ‘monsters’ lurking behind each twist and turn, the strobe lights, and the scenes of oozing nastiness.
“Oh, and there’s always a guy in a mask with a chainsaw at the end,” I told my kids, who listened with open mouths.
“A real chainsaw?” my son whispered.
“Oh yes,” I said.
“What does he do with it?” my daughter wanted to know.
“He chases everybody out,” I said. “And so everyone runs out screaming and trying to get away from the guy with the chainsaw. And then everyone waiting in line sees people running out of the exit yelling, and it makes them more excited to go inside.”
At that point, I realized that being chased by a guy with a chainsaw has become an American Halloween tradition, sort of like hunting for Easter eggs or putting out cookies for Santa. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that one of my most important jobs as a parent is to pass down traditions. If I didn’t make sure my kids were chased by a guy with a chainsaw each Halloween, how would they know to do the same thing for their children one day?
It was decided. We were going.
Since we were visiting my stepdaughters in Chattanooga the weekend before Halloween, we chose Blowing Screams Farm at the base of Lookout Mountain for our first haunted house experience. Owned and operated by the people behind Rock City, it seemed like the most family-friendly of our terrifying options. When we arrived late last Saturday night, I was encouraged by the number of families with children who were leaving the farm. Seeing neither tear-streaked faces nor signs of pants-wetting, I deduced that this was going to be just fine.
Unfortunately, the kids weren’t so sure. “I just don’t know how I’m going to feel when something jumps out at me,” my daughter whimpered as we stood in line. “I don’t know if I’m going to like it or not.” My son, picking up on her anxiety, grew pensive. “I don’t like this,” he finally said. “I don’t like it one bit.”
As we inched closer to the entrance, we tried to reassure the kids that it was going to be okay. “It’s scary like a roller coaster is scary,” I assured my daughter. “You’re nervous, but you know nothing bad will really happen, and that makes it fun!”
“Remember that everyone in there is just a normal person wearing a costume,” my husband added. “They won’t touch you, they’ll just jump out and try to scare you.”
A few minutes later, it was our turn to go inside. The maze began with a long, black tube slide lit only by rows of LED lights- It was the best part of the whole attraction and a fun way to start things off. I rode down with my daughter while my son rode with Dennis. Once at the bottom, a man dressed as a soldier yelled at us to MOVE, MOVE, MOVE! (part of the maze’s futuristic backstory, which we never quite figured out), and the six of us dutifully began feeling our way through the dark rooms. Both kids kept their fingers in their ears and their eyes squeezed almost shut the entire time, while Dennis and I herded them through the maze. It was satisfyingly long and there were many monsters and no gore and the cast clearly took it easy on us since we had kids and it was a perfect first haunted house experience. Once we got outside, the children uncovered their ears and drew huge breaths of relief.
Cue the chainsaw.
The masked man jumped out of nowhere, his massive chainsaw roaring to life. Dutifully, we all screamed and ran. Afterward, the kids were exultant.
“That was SO MUCH FUN!”
“I wasn’t ONE BIT SCARED!”
“I LOVED it!”
“Can we do this EVERY Halloween? PLEASE PLEASE PLEEEEAAASE?”
Dennis and I smiled smugly at one another. We had kept the ancient chainsaw rite of passage intact.
But while most parents would be satisfied with that, as usual we had to push our luck. Dennis read the next morning that nearby Ruby Falls also had a haunted Halloween attraction. Called the Haunted Cavern, it was listed by Rand McNally as one of the best haunted houses in the country.
“It’s owned by the same people who do Blowing Screams Farm, so it can’t be that bad,” Dennis reasoned. Fueled by the kids’ squeals of excitement, we decided to go that night.
When we arrived, it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a very different experience. The line, which snaked out of the building and down the length of the parking lot, was entirely filled with teens and adults. And the costumed ‘monsters’ mingling with the crowd were much, much scarier. Once again, the children grew nervous, and once again, we spent most of our time in line reassuring them that all of us would survive.
After securing our tickets, we boarded an elevator that descended 26 stories into a cave. Yep, the Haunted Cavern really is a cavern, and that alone makes it so unique that not much more needs to happen for you to get your money’s worth. But the cave wasn’t all that made the Haunted Cavern stand out– The actors, costumes, and makeup were all top rate. Every monster was intensely creepy and well-versed in the storyline, so that the plot held up throughout the experience. And the creatures held nothing back, even with the children. They leaped out at them, followed close behind them, even threatened to make them their playthings or eat them for dinner. Once again, our kids adopted their now-standard defense pose of hands over ears and eyes squeezed shut and very slowly, we all made our way through the labryinth to the other end of the cave, where we were met with a fantastic surprise– I won’t spoil it for you in the event that you ever pay the Haunted Cavern a visit yourself (and you totally should).
We finally emerged back outside, breathless and sweaty– and that’s when a school bus pulled up and we were ordered to get on board. The bus took us down a windy mountain road to a ‘mad house,’ part two of this attraction. It was a more standard plywood haunted maze, populated with some of the most creative monsters I’ve ever seen. We were besieged by killer clowns, insane asylum patients, mad scientists, and much, much more, and we all grew hoarse from screaming and laughing.
To exit the maze, each of us had to squeeze our way through what felt like eight-foot-tall springs on either side of us covered in black cloth- You could push your way through them, but they immediately sprang back so that you couldn’t see anything in front of or behind you. My stepdaughters went first, followed by my husband and daughter. I stepped inside next, holding my son’s hand behind me– and that’s when I heard the chainsaw fire up at the other end. Suddenly, I felt something pushing its way back toward me. Confused, I stepped back out of the springs. Seconds later, my daughter emerged in a total panic. “I can’t do it!” she screamed over the chainsaw’s noise.
“What?!” I said. “We’re at the end!”
“I can’t!” she screamed again. “I CAN’T DO IT! I CAN’T GO THROUGH THERE! I CANNN’T!!!!” I turned to see if there was another way to get out and saw only a growing group of people behind us, all staring at the melodramatic soap opera playing out before them. It was time to get tough.
“Both of you, follow me!” I shouted at my kids. Before they could even think about it, I grabbed their hands and yanked, backing my way through the springs as quickly as I could. Within seconds, we popped out on the other side, where the masked man with a chainsaw was waiting. As his chainsaw roared just a few feet away from them, both children froze in terror.
“RUN! RUN! RUN!” I screamed at them, pushing them into action. At the same time, my husband, who had been waiting on the other side, swooped in like a special ops commando and helped me hustle the kids into action. The four of us ran for our lives screaming our heads off, just like characters in an action film trying to escape a giant fireball. We didn’t think! We ran! And we screamed! And then we stopped short– noticing for the first time the large group of people at the exit who were all staring at us like we were the biggest dorks in the world. My stepdaughters were part of that group. They pretended not to know us.
“You guys are so weird,” one of girls said to Dennis and me once they’d caught up to us in the parking lot. “I mean, I get that the kids were scared, but why were you both screaming like that? So embarrassing!”
“You don’t understand,” I said, still trying to catch my breath. “We almost died.”
“Mom tried to kill me,” my son announced. “She tried to push me into the guy with a chainsaw.”
“I didn’t!” I protested.
“I WAS TRYING TO SAVE YOUR LIFE!” I insisted. “You might not be here if it weren’t for me!”
He gave me a severe, disbelieving look and in that moment, I caught a glimpse of the father he would one day become– a dad who’ll one day take his children to a haunted house and once there, shove them at a chainsaw-wielding monster before screaming at them to “RUN! RUN! RUN!” It will totally happen– Of this, I have no doubt.
It’s a Ferrier family tradition.
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