Haunted Overload is back for the season with the goal of providing guests with a spooky experience that will prioritize safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Susan Barnes, the devoted actor of Maggie McPumpkin, expressed, “we’re a family and work together to put on a great show. The nights are long and can be quite cold, but there’s nothing like roaming the woods with kindred souls. I’m grateful to be able to experience that again this year.”
Demeritt Hill Farm’s annual Haunted Overload event, located in Lee, intends to match the level of fright that it has offered in past years while making adjustments to accommodate the new challenges the COVID-19 pandemic poses. According to their official website, Haunted Overload is voted as one of the top 13 haunted attractions in the country and admits an estimated 15,000 guests annually. The combination of eerie scenes and nightmarish characters makes this haunted walkthrough a top destination for those who seek an intense Halloween fright. This year, Haunted Overload has laid a foundation of procedures that will aim to prioritize the safety of patrons and staff, while also providing another season of screams and Halloween scares.
In past years, tickets to the Haunted Overload Main Event sold out within the first week of operation and the extensive line into the event was tightly packed with eager guests. This year, however, this event and other crowded occasions must adhere to procedures that will ensure the safety of staff and patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Haunted Overload, this means proper distancing of actors and patrons, a mandate of face coverings, a reduced number of tickets offered, and additional training for all staff members.
These procedures are outlined in what the event is calling its First Edition Plan. This plan contains information about the expectations of both patrons and actors for the 2020 Haunted Overload walkthrough. The procedures were developed by senior staff and they adhere to all New Hampshire state policies and CDC recommendations relating to COVID-19. The official document is available on the Haunted Overload website and patrons are encouraged to read it before attending the event. Staff members are required to comply with a different set of protocols than the guests, which includes additional procedures of training, sanitation, and distancing.
On August 11, 2020, Governor Chris Sununu released an emergency order that mandated the use of face coverings at gatherings of 100 or more people in New Hampshire. Haunted Overload will adhere to this protocol by requiring both staff members and patrons to wear masks at all times during the event. Breana Jade, a local who is passionate about the season of scares, is entering her 4th year of acting in Haunted Overload as the character “Jinxx.” She stated that actors are expected to “incorporate masks into their costumes if they don’t have a scary mask covering their face already.”
Attendees are expected to maintain 6-foot physical distancing during the event and while waiting for entry. According to Haunted Overload’s official First Edition Plan, they “have made considerable investments in expanding a wide gravel road leading to the main trail…and ask each person/group to adhere and respect the space of others around them.” The expanded queue line intends to allow for more effective distancing of patrons.
Distancing expectations for actors will differ the experience from past years, as well. Barnes expressed that “the big difference for the actors this year is that we have to scare from a distance. Many of us are usually right up close to patrons, so we need to be even more creative when going for the scare.” She is prepared to adhere to Haunted Overload’s procedures of social distancing while also incorporating the same level of enthusiasm in her role.
“We’ve designed some ways to maintain distancing between patron groups that fit in with the scenes. Actors who are known as roamers will remind people to follow protocols,” Barnes continued. Staff members are hopeful that the combination of strict procedures, roaming actors, and given distance between patron groups will minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
In past years, Haunted Overload has decked out their walkthrough with ropes and hanging decor that patrons brush by while making their way through the trail. This year, Haunted Overload’s Plan asks “all guests to limit touch in every area of the trail. This includes ropes or rails in the queue line, surfaces in the ticket area, and objects inside of the trail.” The frequent sanitation of these common surfaces will be more manageable with their plan of allowing fewer patrons to attend each event.
“We will have a reduced number of tickets available per half hour show times [which] will significantly affect the amount of people going through the haunt each night,” said Tom Sadowski, stage manager for Haunted Overload. He hopes to minimize exposure at the event by spreading out and limiting the number of guests per time slot.
The First Edition Plan also combats the transmission of the virus by installing hand sanitation stations in common areas that will be available for both guests and staff. According to the document, stations will be accessible “in all common areas of the park, attraction entrances and exits, porta-potties, and concessions,” and will be identified by highly visible signs. They ask that all patrons use these stations as frequently as possible and immediately after they interact with common surfaces.
In addition to taking preventative steps, Haunted Overload has developed a plan for those who may show symptoms of the virus while attending the event. The First Edition Plan states that “fire watch [and] medical personnel will be hired and have additional training to manage and monitor staff and patrons with any symptoms of COVID-19.” All members of staff have also been instructed and trained to watch for any warning signs of the virus during the event.
Sarah Grandy, a returning guest who fell in love with the haunt in 2012, plans to attend this year’s event with her family and hopes that the patrons around her will be responsible and follow the safety guidelines. She expressed her hope that “if you spend that money on a ticket, you will respect what is expected of you and make it fun for everybody.”
Staff also expressed hope that guests will comply with the new protocol. “I feel confident that our crew is going to follow protocols because we want the season to continue, but I’m concerned about the patrons.” Barnes continued on to say that she takes COVID-19 very seriously and has been diligent about lowering the risks in her personal life. She hopes that patrons will be respectful towards the policies that Haunted Overload has developed, especially the mandate of masks. “People are so looking forward to an escape this October; the staff and the patrons need to work together to make that happen.”
Sadowski is confident in the First Edition Plan this year and expressed that, “as with any plan, things can change. As the state of New Hampshire updates policies and new information comes to light, certain procedures [may become] unnecessary.” For now, Haunted Overload is looking forward to another season of scares. Tickets and the Official First Edition Plan are available on the Haunted Overload website, here.