Where the Ghouls Are

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by John Gessner

You never know who you might be rubbing rags with these days. You could be sitting at a lunch counter, minding your grilled cheese, and the person next to you could be a murderous clown in a prison jumpsuit. It happened one Saturday morning when our friends from Spookywoods, the haunted attraction at Kersey Valley amusement park in Archdale, mixed and mingled with folks at popular Greensboro locations. Reactions ranged from giggles to gasps to gawks as the actors, dressed in their Saturday-night best, visited a bookstore, a farmers’ market, a jewelry store, a brewery and a drugstore soda fountain. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” remarked 6-year-old Tommy Johnson, who was waiting on an order of Tater Tots at the Brown-Gardiner Drug Co. lunch counter when the aforementioned clown claimed a stool next to him. Tommy, who was with his aunt Lynn Doolittle, seemed nonchalant about the fact that, only a few inches away, a guy named Slash, with tufts of red-streaked yellow hair and a face that only a . . . nothing, really . . . could love, was sitting down to a lunch of orangeade, crinkle fries and a hot dog all-the-way. “I saw them putting on his makeup in the parking lot,” Tommy said, before returning his attention to his electronic tablet, which offered a much more intriguing drama, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on YouTube TV. Scary.

What Tommy saw, of course, is something we forget — something we pay to forget at haunted houses and the like — namely that the seasonal beasties are just folks who put on their blood-splattered pants one leg at a time like the rest of us. Kind of.

Take Slash the Clown.

In real life, he’s 34-year-old Clint Briggs, a Thomasville resident who does home repairs and fixes leather furniture. He started working at Kersey Valley four autumns ago when his girlfriend, Deanna Jones, who’d worked there for two years, talked him into applying for an actor’s job.

Clint didn’t consider himself an actor, but he’d played in bands when he was younger, and he missed the thrill of being onstage. He found it again as a character in Spookywoods, where 120 actors kit out as nightmare fuel to entertain tens of thousands of customers every fall.

“It gives you that performance taste,” Clint says. “They’re not coming to see me, but they love the interaction with me.”

And he loves the interaction with them, especially on the midway, where he jumps out at people waiting in line for the main attraction.

The character of Slash — which requires him to wear bright blue contact lenses and enough makeup to blend with his mottled mask — is among Clint’s favorite roles.

“Some people really love clowns and want to hang out with me all night, and then there are people who absolutely cannot look at me,” he says. “You can see they’re truly terrified.”

Two people have swung at him reflexively — and missed. They apologized for their haymakers after Clint ducked. As a trained haint, Clint abides by the no-touch rule of the industry. He’s also supposed to stay in character, but he has broken the illusion twice, once for a petrified child and once for a woman whose eyes filled with tears.

“Hey, I’m just a regular guy behind a mask,” he told them.

This time of year, Clint spends 60 hours a week working at Spookywoods.

The payoff: pocket jingle and emotional tingle.

“I love doing it, seeing people have fun,” he says. “There’s nothing like it, especially when you’re the one helping them to have a good time. Even the ones that do get scared, 95 percent of the time they’ll be smiling when they leave, and they’ll want a picture with me. All night, I’m taking pictures.”

Good thing his evil grin is painted on.


Writerly Chops

“When I’m not eating flesh, I’m interested in economics and world politics.” So says the leather-bound Kersey Valley Killer — think of him as a not-so-friendly neighborhood butcher — who gravitated to a table of new releases at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro. He might have been projecting when he picked up Shari Lapena’s novel, An Unwanted Guest. His self-assessment was confirmed when he opened the front door for a startled customer. “We had a very in-depth conversation,” he said later. “I said, ‘Books! READ!’ and she scurried away as fast as possible.” Underneath the grisly facade you’ll find easy-going Lee Troutman, 39, of Greensboro. His day job is reading meters all over the Piedmont as a contractor for Duke Energy Co., a monster of a job. Outside of work, Lee enjoys listening to heavy metal music and watching horror movies. Surprise. A five-year veteran of Kersey Valley, he keeps coming back because eek is his thing. “I love Halloween and horror. Spookywoods sort of speaks to the things I love the most, and most of my closest friends are people from there.’


There’s nothing more tempting to bite than fresh peaches, especially these blushing beauties that were trucked into the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market from Kalawi Farm in the Sandhills community of Eagle Springs. But for some reason — and we watched the stand for a while — no one wanted to buy the fruit that was fondled by this ancient vampire. Go figure. This character was conceived and built by the man behind the hoary mask, freelance makeup artist Joh Harp, 35, a Raleigh native who started as an apprentice at Spookywoods 11 years ago. Now, the Archdale resident is hooked on the scare biz. A haunted house is nothing more than an intimate theater, he says, with the safety nets of screen and stage removed. When done well by actors who know how to read their audiences, scaring the daylights out of people is a service to those who can withstand the anticipation. “It’s like taking the big hill on a roller coaster,” Joh says. “When you get to the bottom of the hill, it’s all laughs, but it’s going up the hill that’s the hard part.”

The Ice Lady Cometh

What a coincidence. Schiffman’s Jewelers, a Greensboro institution, is 125 years old, roughly the same age as the Victorian wraith who glided into the Friendly Center store and asked manager Karolyn Fulp for help in trying on a vintage necklace dripping with 16 carats of aquamarine. Too bad m’lady wasn’t toting a carpetbag of old money, too. The necklace (price: $26,950) would have provided a much-needed sparkle for her hollow countenance, accentuated by prominent cheekbones, deep eye sockets and gaping nasal cavity. Believe it or not, underneath the hatpins and black taffeta is the lively Deanna Jones of Thomasville, an interior painter and stay-at-home mom. Now in her sixth season of haunting, Jones, 29, says she loved playing dress up as a little girl, a pleasure she continues at Kersey Valley. “It’s like being a little kid again.” Her 9-year-old son Payton digs the theatrics, too. Last year, he played a character resembling Chucky, the possessed doll from “Child’s Play.” Mom kept a close eye on him, and so did her coworkers. “It’s like a family at Kersey Valley,” she says. “It’s different from the way you might think it is.”

The Addams Family gets it.

A Head For Horror

How ironic that a fellow whose mutilated noggin is held together by rows of staples would be propping up the bar at a brewery called Joymongers, but that’s exactly what’s going on here, as our friend Ruckus, better known to his friends as Puke, sips a glass of fine French Saison. He can’t blame a morning-after headache on the alcohol. A mosh-pit mishap — and a penchant for self-piercing with safety pins — explain the aches endured by our punk rock pal, a creation of Kersey Valley lab manager Matt Patterson, who also minted the Kersey Valley Killer character. Do you see a leathery pattern here? For six years, Matt has run the workshop that makes Spookywoods writhe with original characters, custom-made props and one-of-a-kind costumes, including masks that are sculpted on site, cast in silicone or rubber, and painted by hand. Once a Navy cook and later a professional chef, Matt, 36, found his calling by returning to his teenage job of working in a haunted house to overcome fears that were implanted by watching horror movies as a young child. “I forced myself to face my fears,” he says. Now a full-time employee at Kersey Valley, he doesn’t worry about his greatest fear, having to work a normal job. “You want to hear me scream? Make me go punch a time card for a 9-to-5 job,” he says. “That’s horrifying to me.”  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. Spookywoods, created by Kersey Valley owner Tony Wohlgemuth, celebrates 33 years this season. The 2018 show runs through the first weekend of November. See www.spookywoods.com for times and ticket prices.

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