By Susannah Sudborough
BU News Service
Litchfield, N.H. — The unmistakable smell of hay. Bright carnival lights. Whispers in the distance. A sudden huge blast of fire coming out of the top of a railroad car. These are your first tastes when you enter Spooky World: Nightmare New England.
The scream-park has been a New England staple for nearly 30 years. Started by Dave Bertolino in 1991 in Berlin, Massachusetts, the haunted attraction had many homes, including Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, before it found its current residence in Litchfield, New Hampshire.
It’s current owners, Mike Accomando and Wayne Caufield, bought the attraction in 2008 and moved it to Mel’s Funway Park, a family-fun park they already owned. Now an operation of over 200 people, Spooky World is made up of two haunted houses, two haunted walks and a mile-long haunted hayride.
Accomando, a 46-year-old Pelham, New Hampshire, resident, said he and Caufield had been looking for a fall attraction to add to their seasonal family fun park since they purchased it in 2005. Always having loved Halloween and knowing of Spooky World’s fame, Accomando said he jumped at the chance to acquire it when it went up for sale.
“We realized we didn’t just purchase a haunted attraction,” he said. “We purchased something that was part of New England.”
Though Accomando wasn’t able to visit the park until he was an adult, he said he remembers always wanting to visit. Having grown up in Lynnfield, he recalled a Spooky World commercial from when he was a kid that featured former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe catching a human head instead of a football. The commercial also featured a catchy jingle that he said is still sung by staff around the park.
“We always knew growing up that Spooky World was a household name,” he said. “When the fall comes, everyone knows ‘oh Spooky World’s coming.’”
Bertolino set the bar high in creating Spooky World, Accomando said, and so he tries to honor that by improving Spooky World every year. They always make changes in every attraction to keep the experience new and exciting for returning guests. It may involve anything from simply placing an actor in a different spot, to redecorating a room or to redoing the entire haunt.
Production for Spooky World begins in April when employees build all the sets themselves, Accomando said. Different attractions are purposefully intended to be scarier than others.
“If I go after you hard through the whole show…you’ll be desensitized,” Accomando said. “You want people to feel comfortable and let their guard down so that you can hit them again.”
For example, Dreamscape, a 3D neon-painted haunted house with a different theme in every room, is supposed to offer more eye-candy than scares, he said.
Similarly, Accomando said the Haunted Hayride is more difficult to scare people on because they are in a group as there’s a sense of safety. But The Colony, a walk through dark woods where it is difficult to see and your group can easily be split up, is a different story.
“Now we’re starting to get you feeling uncomfortable without us even doing anything because you hear something out there and you say ‘Jeez, what was that? Was it a branch? Was it the wind? Could it be an animal?’”
But even through all the changes, the park has stayed true to its original design. Unlike some horror attractions which focus on high-tech special effects, Accomando said Spooky World is looking to get back to the style of traditional haunted houses which relied on actors and sets for scares.
And that’s not the only part of the park that has stuck around. Accomando said that within the multi-generational cast, some of the actors have been there since the attraction’s inception.
“75% of people don’t come back, but 25% get the bug,” he said. “And when they get the bug, they really become part of it.”
Accomando said some actors work on their costumes and acting throughout the year to try to improve their performance for next season.
“We all used to scare the crap out of our brothers, sisters, friends when we were little. And now you get to go out and do it and get paid to go do it,” he said.
But the actors aren’t the only people who return to Spooky World every year. Lowell residents Julie, 28, and Joel, 47, Fearon met at Spooky World five years ago. Both were there with their respective group of friends, and the groups happened to enter The Colony together.
Julie, who was terrified, kept grabbing the person in front of her for reassurance. It happened to be Joel. After completing the haunt, the two groups of friends started talking and went through the rest of the park together.
“I gave my number to Julie not thinking that she would ever speak to me again because that is the weirdest thing you can probably imagine,” Joel said. But Julie did call, and now they’re married.
Though the couple returns to Spooky World at least once a year for their anniversary, they don’t just come out of sentimentality.
“They have all these animatronics and…these big smells and fake things and it makes it so immersive,” Julie said.
Joel remembers one early year in Litchfield when an attraction had a toilet that sprayed guests with stinky water, and directly after a tall man with a chainsaw waited to surprise guests by chasing after them.
“Halloween isn’t complete for me until I’m chased by someone with a chainsaw at Spooky World,” Julie said.
Julie said she’s also been drawn back by the passion Accomando and other staff have for keeping Spooky World alive.
Accomando said he just wants the park to keep going, regardless of whether his kids take it over in the future, so people can keep making good memories at Spooky World.
“I don’t just want them to be scared. I want them to forget about what they have going on in their life for that period,” he said. “I want them to just come out and leave that at the doorstep and come into our world for a while and just have a night of fun.”
For more information, visit Spooky World’s website.