And it all began on the L…..Halloween L, that is. Well, sort of. Long time haunter enthusiast, Rucker Posey, joined the List sometime in 1999. On there, he met Ralph and Mel Mitchell (Ironman and Lady Iron), and heard about their haunters’ event “Ironstock” held the last weekend in June each year in Tell City, Indiana. He traveled out to meet them, have dinner, swap lies and voila, the idea to host a gathering in Virginia was born.
Like many beginnings, it was humble….very laid back. On or about sometime in 2000/2001, the very first Virginia Haunt Fest was held in Rucker’s back yard, with the Iron couple on hand to help. Although Virginia Haunt Fest was patterned after Ironstock, Rucker wanted to give it a unique flavor. Ironstock had “Rapid Remains” where teams were given a pile of junk to create something scary, and Virginia Haunt Fest had “Hauntyard Wars,” where individuals and/or teams were permitted to bring one bag full of junk (no premade stuff) to create a scary scene. The first gathering consisted mostly of demos, barbeque and booze (most likely from Rucker’s famous margarita machine), and was attended by approximately 35 to 40 people.
The second year, the Fest was held in a barn at the back end of the property owned by the FOP Lodge in Richmond. Again, there were demos, and people were encouraged to bring their junk to participate in Hauntyard Wars, but this time, power and fog were furnished (getting all big time about it!!!). Enter Professor Mark Cline who brought several creative ideas and many of his goodies for sale, and along with more demos, contests and giveaways, the festival itinerary expanded. Mark and Rucker thought it might be a good idea to move the next gathering to Natural Bridge, given the expansion. In 2001, Mark’s Enchanted Castle Studios had burned, and the haunters attending the festival (and thereafter) raised money and pitched in to help with Professor Cline’s Monster Museum, which became the focal point of the festival the following year.
From 2003 to 2007, the yearly gathering would take place in April or May, and would be hosted by the Clines in Natural Bridge. Along with continued Hauntyard Wars, coffin races (downhill…no brakes…), lights on/lights off tours of the Monster Museum, demos, vendors (some years), giveaways, costume contests, Scaryoke, the Lexington Ghost Tour hosted by “Morgan,” (we'd give his real identity, but we're sworn to secrecy), a field trip to Dr. Pain’s Haunted Asylum, and this author’s personal favorite, “Fear Tactics” were added to the lineup, with the highlight of the weekend being the “after party” at the Museum Saturday night.
As with many good things….sometimes you have to take a break. Even haunter families need a hiatus every now and again, and thus it was with Virginia Haunt Fest. Even in its simplicity, a lot of work and effort goes into it, and it needs an energetic team of people to organize and pull it off.
What Virginia Haunt Fest needed…pardon the pun…was new blood, and that’s just what it got in 2012 with the torch being passed to Chip Wells of Total Terror. Chip, along with members of the Red Vein Army from Richmond, VA, and some of the original crew, revived the Fest at Natural Bridge. Ironically, the Monster Museum caught fire and burned to the ground just one month before the festival weekend. For a split second, it seemed that the planned revival may not go forward. But Haunt Fest isn’t about one building, it’s about the haunters. So the party wouldn’t be held at the Monster Museum, but it WOULD go on! Plus, Scott and Cathy Balsey of Twizted Creationz in Crimora, VA saved the day by providing attendees with a tour of their attraction. Even though it was off-season, many of their actors volunteered to give us a good scare. The weekend was an enormous success, a good omen for the festival’s future. Granted, the Museum burning was a bad thing, but something good came out of it. It served to be the catalyst for moving the festival to another venue the following year. And like HauntCON, a decision was made to move the event around the Commonwealth each year to enable more haunters to attend, and to highlight different haunted attractions around the state.
The 13th Anniversary of Virginia Haunt Fest was held at Ed Allen’s Campground in Lanexa, Virginia. The good people at nearby Journey Haunted Trails very graciously opened their haunt to us, and even joined in our festivities! In spite of the soggy weather on Saturday, the weekend was a blast. Just goes to show you can’t keep a good haunter down. And sometimes you can’t keep a good haunter dressed. But that’s another story. Perhaps we’ll tell it if you can find your way to a future Virginia Haunt Fest. Hope to see you there!
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