Henleyfield Haunted Hayride returns for third year

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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It’s a cool Saturday evening in Carriere. The sun is setting and the smell of fresh popped popcorn hangs in the air.

In the woods, off the George Wise Road, skeleton gunfighters square off in front of a saloon. Weird screams and cackles drift from within and, in the gloaming outside, children giggle and nervously chatter as families line up at a wooden ticket booth. They are buying tickets for fear.

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But not too much fear.

Bonnie Stritzinger mans the ticket counter at the Henleyfield Haunted Barn and Hayride and she reassures worried parents it’s all in good fun, though she’s sometimes surprised at who gets frightened at the haunted barn.

“I had two 17-year-olds that would not go through and four 3-year-olds that went running through,” she said. “So…” she shrugs.

It is still weeks away from Halloween, but Stritzinger said the haunted barn and hayride, which opened for the first time this season last weekend, are as popular as ever. Friday, the evening of the grand opening, Stritzinger said she had 300 visitors go through the barn. This is the third year the business has operated at the Carriere location and considering last year’s total visitors numbered about 1,000, she said she’s expecting a good year this year.

The barn is largely a labor of love.

Stritzinger, who is originally from New Orleans, said the barn grew out of elaborate Halloween block parties she and her husband would organize in that city. She and her husband were raising seven children, so celebrating Halloween was a family tradition. Even as the kids grew into adults, Stritzinger said the holiday meant a large family reunion.

“Everyone does Christmas,” Stritzinger said.

Then the family celebration grew to include friends.

“We talked some people into coming and they’d tell me they never wore costumes,” Stritzinger said. “If they didn’t have a costume, I’d get my makeup kit and dress them as something.”

Soon, other houses in their neighborhood got in on the fun.

“We started with three homes and within three years we had 25 houses involved,” she said. “It was fantastic.”

For years, that’s all it was—a neighborhood holiday celebration in New Orleans. But then, 10 years ago, Stritzinger’s husband was killed in a car crash on New Year’s day. Stritzinger said she might have been killed too, except she was at home with a sick pet.

Stritzinger’s children are now adults, and some have children of their own. But, Stritzinger said, the family wanted to do something to remember her husband and their father.

“My children said, ‘mother, he used to get so involved in Halloween,’” she said.

He also had 15 acres of forest in Carriere. After his death, it was still there, wild and undeveloped.

“There’s no electricity back here,” Stritzinger said. “He never would put it here. It was his private forest,” she said.

These days the forest is home to a replica Western ghost town, much of it made from old, reclaimed wood to add to the authentic feel.

Much like the skeletons and ghosts inside, the wood, she said, is also resurrected. Stritzinger said most of it came from cabins and barns destroyed by Katrina.

“It’s like 10 buildings wrapped into one,” she said. “It’s very sentimental to me.”

There’s a wagon out in front of a saloon, piloted by a skeleton, and inside visitors make their way through tight, dark turns, while underground piping releases bursts of smoke. Volunteers—some 30 local kids—dressed up as ghouls and ghosts, wait in the black recesses for their chance to frighten unwitting visitors.

Stritzinger said it takes her and her family three months to prepare for October. Each year, for the past several years, she’s added on to the display, adding rooms, buying new spooks—some of which can cost hundreds of dollars. The whole exhibit costs about $4,500 to put on, and she said she’s not through expanding yet. Next year, she plans to open a zombie laser tag course out back near the tombstones, as well as a corn maze and a pumpkin patch.

This year, she added some portable toilets for visitors. Initially, she said, the haunted barn just had a sign pointing toward the woods that said “restrooms, this way.”

“We had so many people who would walk around and say, ‘Well, how far that way?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, just pick a spot,.’” Stritzinger said.

Despite all the changes, Stritzinger said there’s still no electricity at the barn. The lights, the fog machines and the animatronic ghouls all run off generators or from extension cords.

“This is a tribute to him,” she said.

The Henleyfield Haunted Barn and Hayride is located at 206 George Wise Road and is open every Friday and Saturday in October. Stritzinger said the facility may also be rented out for private parties. Tickets are $10.