Oct 5, 201207:43 AMDaily News
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Ready for a good scare?
Jim Schopf just loves to scare people. It’s just part of who he is, and he’s been that way since he was young.
While in junior high, Schopf and his older brother, Gene, turned their family barn into a haunted house.
While neither was a fan of horror films (they didn’t have a TV until Jim was in high school) they loved haunting people, and their younger sister’s Brownie Troop was their first victim. The girls crawled through a straw tunnel in the haunted barn while the brothers reached out and grabbed them, scaring the young girls.
Their passion became a hobby when Schopf was in college and they created a haunted hayride at their family farm. Thus Field of Screams was born, and it since has expanded to include two haunted houses in addition to games, music and new entertainment every weekend.
As the brothers celebrate Field of Screams’ 20th anniversary, Schopf admitted he never envisioned their little endeavor would develop into the one of the best haunted attractions in the country.
“It’s a little crazy to be honest with you,” Schopf said. “This wasn’t the plan. It’s a good thing, but it wasn’t the plan at all. We started this when I was a junior at Millersville. Not on a whim but with no business plan. Did it for fun. Hoped to make some money at it, but it wasn’t like this long-term vision of this thing being anything like this.”
The brothers had a little money from farming and they already owned basic essentials for a hayride like tractors, wagons and fields. Both had basic construction skills, so they simply adapted what they had.
The Den of Darkness used to be a barn that housed animals. The main plaza of Field of Screams and parking lots sit where crops like pumpkins and corn once grew. The brothers still farm nearby, but Field of Screams has become a year-long job as well as they adjust rooms and scenes each year to scare people again.
A variety of frights
Field of Screams offers three unique haunted experiences: Den of Darkness, Frightmare Asylum and the Haunted Hayride. Although the den and asylum are both haunted houses, Schopf said they’re very different because each has different themes and motifs.
“To me, the scariest personally is the asylum,” Schopf said. “A lot of that has to do with the characters in there and the actors. That has a medical theme. The den’s more real. Real rooms in an old mansion. It’s two totally different houses. The hayride is a different experience because it’s a hayride and you’re in the wagon going through the cornfield.”
The hayride features nine scenes ranging from a pig slaughterhouse to a clown circus tent to a backwoods hillbilly cabin. It features various special effects and actors who never break character as they try to terrify all visitors. Field of Screams features nearly 100 actors working amongst the three attractions nightly.
At the center of all the events is a main plaza area that includes food, games, a souvenir shop and a stage that features live bands. Throughout the fall visitors can check out a Battle of the Bands competition, Field of Screams Idol, a skate competition, hip hop battle and much more. On Nov. 3, Field of Screams wraps up with a snowboard rail jam competition. The Schopf’s set up the ramps and a rail and bring in snow for the annual display of tricks.
Visitors are also treated to videos to watch while waiting in line and the ever-famous scare booths. Users pay the small price to operate a scare, such as the explode commode. While people walk by or examine the display, scare booth users can activate the commode and blast their unlucky victims with water.
Is my kid ready?
For parents who aren’t sure if their child is old enough to handle the attractions, Schopf recommends the hayride. Riders are higher and more removed from the terrifying scenes, and they can look away or cover their ears if they get too frightened. Of course, the characters still attack the wagon, Schopf said, but there’s strength in numbers.
Schopf, a father of an 8- and 6-year-old—neither of whom have gone through Field of Screams—said 10 is usually the age he and his brother suggests to parents. The goal of Field of Screams is to scare adults who don’t usually scare easily, not young children.
“You’re gonna get scared at something, because anything’s startling,” Schopf said. “Everyone’s gonna get scared, some a lot more than others. Even if you don’t scare easy, you’re going to be entertained by the show and atmosphere.”
Although 10 is the recommended age, Schopf has seen 5- and 6-year-olds go through and act like it was nothing, while some adults get out at the nearest emergency exit and say “I’m done, that was terrifying.” It’s hard to predict what will scare people, but a few staples of the haunted community that Field of Screams uses include the dark, creepy crawlers and power tools.
Despite the recommendation of 10 as the benchmark, Schopf sees an increasing number of families visiting, including some who say they loved Field of Screams when they were teenagers and now want to share it with their own children.
“The parents like it, the kids like it, and I guess they don’t care if they’re seen together,” Schopf said. “It’s really interesting to see the range of ages. It goes anywhere from that 12-year-old range to 60, 70-year-old people coming through. We get a lot of 12 to 34. That’s our core group of people.”
Enter the field… if you dare
Guests come from hours away just for the experience. Schopf said it’s like an amusement park, and people will travel for quality.
“A 40-year-old person is going to come through and think it’s money well spent,” Schopf said. “They’ll be pleased out of the value. It’s not cheesey masks and costumes and stuff.”
As Field of Screams has reached national attention—Richard Christy of The Howard Stern Show is a big fan and has gone multiple times—the Schopf brothers have also given a little back to their community. Among the charities they support are the Ronald McDonald House, Rutter’s Children’s Charities and The Boys Club and Girls Club of Lancaster, who have been with Field of Screams nearly since the beginning. Schopf said the clubs have a special program that kids can earn a trip to Field of Screams, and it’s always something they look forward to.
Schopf said they’re always looking to benefit somebody, and they’ve enjoyed working with the various charities through the years.
The brothers have come a long way since scaring the Brownies or seeing their first haunted house many years ago as kids. (He insists the only things that really scare him are real situations, particularly crossing wild animals.) Now when Schopf goes through a haunted house, he just looks at the cool features and thinks about how he and Gene can modify them and use them.
“As kids we always remembered Scream in the Dark, which is a haunted house in New Danville,” Schopf said. “There are haunted houses around, so we knew people liked to do it. But never in a million years imagined all this.”
Kurt Bopp is assistant editor/web at Central Penn Parent. His greatest fear is spiders, and he blames seeing ‘Jumanji’ as a kid for being the source. For families who don't think their children are ready, check out the non-scary alternative in the neighboring cornfield, Corn Cob Acres.