You need to go back to The Haunt. After 18 years, haunted house aficionados may think they know West Michigan’s premier scary attraction.
Doug Sheldon, The Haunt’s new owner, begs to differ. “The Haunt is in a new location, and it’s bigger and better than ever.” Sheldon moved it into a 50,000-square-foot space in Wyoming, at 1256 28th Street SW, and filled it with more than 100 actors and 63 animatronics stalking 140 rooms.
“We hired 11 professional make-up artists,” noted Sheldon. “We don’t use masks, and every wall is distressed.” With vast amounts of space, the designers were able to create massive, over-the-top sets and environments. “They truly take you there and put you in the moment,” said creative director and general manager Ethan Turon. The Haunt features four diabolical storylines:
Exhumed – Enter the decaying halls of the Hemlock family estate and discover if the rumors are true. Is it really haunted? Traverse the bowels of the estate and uncover the dark secrets that lay within the crumbling walls. Creatures of the undead are exhumed to bring your most mortal fears to life!
Deranged – You’re at the Vox Sanitarium, where the patients run the madhouse. Are the voices you hear the screams of the doctors or are they merely in your head? Your treatment of pain and torture awaits you. Will you escape with your sanity or will it derange your mind forever?
Immortuos – Clock in for the night shift at the Immortuos Mannequin Factory and uncover the sinister secrets that drive the cogs and gears of this once landmark factory of the Midwest. The assembly line may be shut down, but the factory is still very much alive with the echoes of the factories morbid history. Will you survive your shift?
Bayou – In the depths of the Louisiana swampland there are whispers of a secret voodoo cult. Living in the shadows, the Lougarou and his devotees are plotting to unleash their curse on the inhabitants of the bayou. The jambalaya may be your last!
“You wouldn’t believe the lengths that we went to remove you from a warehouse-style space and put you in a Louisiana bayou. It was, and is, an amazing experience to be able to take The Haunt to that next level,” said Turon.
Last year, The Haunt’s former owner needed to sell, and the owner of The Haunt’s property wanted to move on.
Sheldon, who is a marketing and advertising expert and owner of New Wave Marketing & Advertising had promoted The Haunt for years. He saw an opportunity. “I attended the Haunt,” he said. “I also visited other professional haunted attractions when I traveled for business. I could see the potential of what we have in West Michigan. I decided to buy The Haunt, and then I needed to find it a new home.”
He moved the attraction into a former Jo-Ann Fabrics retail space in the Wyoming Village Shopping Center west of Rogers Plaza. Because he was an entrepreneur and not a performer, he hired a team that can put The Haunt in the top 10 of professional haunted houses in the country. His job was promoting the Haunt through the web, social media, mail, television and radio.
Over 220 people are employed at The Haunt, some full time. Ethan Turon has over 17 years of experience working in haunted houses, including with a top 10 professional attraction. “Working in a 50,000-square-foot facility was an incredible opportunity to create everything from the ground up,” he said.
Karen Murphy was hired to oversee customer service and human resources. Will Holland has an engineering degree and is responsible for the 60+ pneumatics. Matt Alban joined as theme director and costume director with over six years of community theater experience in Grand Rapids.
“I am most proud of my actors,” said Alban. “Scare acting is not an easy job, and the actors are stuck in one spot for four to five hours at a time. They work hard to make sure the audience gets the best show possible. They sweat, lose their voice and get exhausted. I appreciate all of their hard work and dedication.”
Other staff includes carpenters and electricians who keep the rooms working when the actors are overly exuberant. There is professional security and medical and police presence outside.
The VIP experience also sets The Haunt apart. For $50, VIP ticket buyers get parking in front, a FastPass that lets you jump the line, and access to the VIP Lounge with musical entertainment, dance shows and a dinner buffet. The FastPass is $35, and general admission is $25.
“Our goal is for our guests to have the same excellent experience on Thursdays and Sundays as they do on Fridays and Saturdays,” said Sheldon. Unlike some attractions, The Haunt has the same number of actors during the slower days of Thursday and Sundays. Every room is live. There are no blank walls.
The City of Wyoming has jumped on board with the Haunt. It has been an economic driver for the community. Applebee’s is advertising haunted cocktails. Area gas stations are noticing increased business on the weekends. The city has excellent demographics for a haunted house. People like the shopping mall location because of the free parking.
Because lines have been long on Fridays and Saturdays, The Haunt will open at 6 p.m. with the first group at 6:30 p.m.
Word about The Haunt is spreading. Visitors are coming to Wyoming from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. Review companies have named the new Haunt in the top six to see this year nationally.
It is now regarded as a professional haunt, which is a step up for Grand Rapids. The goal is for The Haunt to lurk in the top 10 professional haunts in the country every year.
Producing The Haunt is a business and not a hobby. “We will close, and then we start building November 4 for the next year,” said Sheldon. He has a lot planned for next year, including continued renovations. He also wants to add attractions that take advantage of the building’s 30-foot ceilings.
The Haunt has a high-end brand with a tradition of great actors and great sets. Long-term, Sheldon hopes to take The Haunt national, opening one new one every year across the Midwest. For now, West Michigan can experience The Haunt through Nov. 3.
The Haunt Details
1256 28th Street SW
Friday, Saturday 6 pm – 11 pm
Sunday, Wednesday 7 pm – 10 pm
October 27: Trunk or Treat 3 pm – 5 pm, Kids Haunt 4 pm – 6 pm
November 2 and 3: The Haunt will be Blacked Out.
General Admission: $25
Fast Pass: $35
VIP: $50 — VIP Parking, FastPass and Entrance to The Haunt VIP Lounge.
Must be over 10 years old to enter. A paid adult must accompany children 11 – 15 years.
The Haunt website
*Photos courtesy of The Haunt