Theme Park Adventure has been covering Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt each year since 1994. In fact, I often refer to the mid-late ’90s as the “Golden Years of Haunt”. Knott’s began its annual spook fest in 1973; over the next decade, it would grow into a Southern California tradition, attracting thousands of guests each night. By the time TPA was embraced by the Haunt family in 1994, the Scary Farm was a must-do event for scores of Halloween fans, and we were in the thick of it all, snapping away with cameras and letting our video tape roll.
One of our favorite things to do back in the day was spend hours in Ghost Town, watching the street monsters roam about and do their thing – whether it was scaring guests senseless, acting corny, or simply pulling off outrageous gags with each other and passersby… often at their expense! In short, because I could go on for hours, the Ghost Town Streets monsters of yesteryear were much different than they are today; it’s not a matter of who or what was better. In 1997, when these four pictures were taken, Knott’s was a very different animal than it is now. In 1997, Halloween Haunt was caught somewhere between its gritty origins and guerrilla-style production and the multi-million dollar spectacle that it is today.
One thing that I learned very quickly once Theme Park Adventure was brought into the fold is something that is commonly known these days, but not so much back then – that the Haunt family is truly that – a family. Granted, it’s often joked that it’s one huge dysfunctional family… but a family, nonetheless! I will say – while some may disagree with me, and that’s fine – that the general Haunt bond seemed stronger back in those “Golden Years”. The team was much smaller than it is today, the operation was a lot less corporate than it is today, management was finding its way just like the rest of the park as it continued to evolve and grow, and many aspects of Knott’s Scary Farm were truly akin to the Wild West; almost anything went back then – well, at least once. And back in those days, TPA spent a lot of time hanging out at Haunt, witnessing it first-hand. Thanks to the advent of Throwback Thursday posts, we have a legitimate reason to dig into our archives and pull out a few photos each week to share with you from our past 20 years of adventures!
Now, we know who these Haunt monsters are; you may know who these Haunt monsters are. Out of respect for their privacy, we’re going to keep their real names out of it here on TPA. When we can, we’ll use their “Haunt names” when possible. Interestingly, monster nicknames are something that came about mostly after those Golden Years of Haunt at Knott’s, so very often, the ghouls and creatures roaming the Scary Farm were simply known by generic character names such as The Hunchback, Dracula, The Green Witch and The Bride. In the years and decades to follow, we’d see an evolution and different Haunt monsters would begin to emerge, known by their nicknames – monikers such as Spike, Dusty, Skittles, Lucifer, and Spaz. The list of monster names is endless now – and extends well beyond the gates of Knott’s to every single haunted attraction across the United States; probably beyond. But back in the day – when Haunt was just learning to take big strides, most guests and fans simply pointed and screamed, or laughed at the antics of “that thing over there in the fog!”
The Ghost Town street monsters were always one of my favorite facets of Knott’s Scary Farm. One larger-than-life ghoul was Dracula, a great guy that had a penchant for chatting with the ladies at Haunt. A lot. So much so, that his flirtatious manner was pretty much the stuff of legend already, and quite often, Dracula would have the hammer dropped on him by Haunt legend Craig Harreld, the man tasked with overseeing the street monsters, who would admonish him and warn him not to break character and not to talk to guests. Theme Park Adventure was lucky enough to be at Haunt one night after this had happened – and we caught one of my favorite pictures ever from Ghost Town Streets of Dracula trying his hardest to keep out of Craig’s crosshairs for at least a little while!
So we’re coming to the end of this particular Throwback Thursday entry here, and I am already about to break a rule that I just put in place; I am going to name a Haunt monster by his real name.
Back in the day, Ghost Town was haunted by a Hunchback character. A silent, lurking ghoul that would slink in and out of the shadows – and would often chase the hell out of frightened guests that attempted to run from him. He slunk softly, and carried a big stick – a walking stick that was part of his costume, which made a very distinct sound as he tapped the ground with it or dragged it slowly beside him. His name was Bob Pentzke, and he can and should be credited with bringing me – and TPA into the Halloween Haunt family in those early days of our partnership with Knott’s. Bob embraced us, and invited me to Haunt gatherings and parties, introducing me to a vast array of colorful characters, many of them long-time Scary Farm veterans already by that point, and really opened the door for Theme Park Adventure. Any and all fans of what we do when it comes to our annual Halloween Haunt coverage should thank Bob if you ever cross paths and find yourself in a conversation with him about those special, early days of Halloween Haunt. I can remember him inviting me to parties and introducing me to so many people – many of them that I have stayed in contact with even though they’ve long since “retired” from Haunt; and several very special people who are no longer with us. I owe a lot of gratitude to Bob, and never forget about those early days when I didn’t know a thing about the Scary Farm.
There isn’t a year that goes by now that I don’t think about Bob and the rest of those crazy Ghost Town monsters that we hung out with, took umpteen pictures of, and spent countless hours just watching and enjoying as they wrote the history of Knott’s Scary Farm. Things are different now and the thought of having the luxury of spending between 5 and 8 nights at Halloween Haunt each season is a distant memory. New generations of haunters have come and gone since then, and even the vets of today don’t know a lot of the names that rattle around in my memories. It’s been a 20-year journey; that’s a lot of nights spent in the fog in Buena Park! No matter how the event changes and evolves each season, no matter how elaborate and impressive the makeup and costumes become, there’s a huge part of me that loves to step back in the shadows and just for a moment, see The Bride rushing by, Tay messing with some clueless guests, Gomer walking with a group of girls while making them laugh, and then hear the THUMP-THUD-SCRAPE of Bob’s walking stick as he roams past the queue filled with guests for The Haunted Shack in Calico Square.
I mentioned partial names again; and again, I’ve broken the rule as I waxed nostalgic. I think these guys will forgive me; after all, they broke the rules too, and made new ones up as they went! They were some of the trail blazers at Halloween Haunt, and we adored them! Legends that we had the privilege of knowing and watching back in the day! Friends that I think about each time I step into Ghost Town to shoot another season of Knott’s Scary Farm two decades later.
– Rick West