Spooky, scary town staple

McHenry’s Haunted Hayride provides local people with a Halloween attraction, and students with community service hours


Bella Alexander

Though McHenry's Haunted Hayride is well-known spooky tradition in the area, few know that MCHS students volunteer each year to play ghouls and zombies.

Stacy Correra, Staff Writer

The wooden cart bumps down the path of Deadwood Forest as the smell of hay and truck exhaust fills the air. A teen-aged girl stands in the back of the truck that pulls the cart, telling the passengers the story of the forest, and all the spooky things that live in it, sending shivers down the passengers’ spine. Then, out of nowhere, multiple teenagers, including a boy dressed in ragged clothes with smeared makeup covering his face and a girl in pigtails with the face of a clown, jump out of the darkness and onto the side of the moving cart. They scream warnings to the passengers that they will die if they enter the forest, igniting the desired fear the passengers paid for. 

The Haunted Hayride is an annual event organized by the Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team that features participants of all ages, spanning from as young as 5-years-old to fully-grown adults. Most of the volunteers are students of both McHenry High School and Prairie Ridge.

“A couple of years ago, the Haunted Hayride just came up as an outside activity for community service in our theatre troupe, and I ended up actually being a part of the process of making it what it is,” says West senior Chloe Amelse, who is involved in the production of the event. “I’ve done this since my sophomore year, so this is my third year now doing this. Basically what I do is I help write and direct the scenes. I mostly do it for community service hours that I use towards NHS.”

There is more to the ride than cheap jump scares and barely audible scenes happening on the side of the cart. The scare factor of the hayride comes from the actors making the experience a personal one that doesn’t allow for the riders to fall asleep, even after the ride is over.

“What we like doing is actually interacting with the crowd. We’ll go onto, and into, the carts and scream at them,” Amelse explains. “sometimes that ends up not being great because people don’t like being scared all the time even though they’re at the Haunted Hayride, which is the point; but we enjoy getting up and personal.”

The ride is safe for kids and, after experiencing it, is geared more towards them. The scare-actors target children because they are more easily scared or impressionable. It’s all harmless, of course. The actors are not allowed to physically contact the passengers.

“A lot of what we do is improv. We’ll have a couple of lines that we can throw out there to build upon, but most of it is [that] we have a scene, we have a set plot, and we give our actors the creative license to do whatever they want,” she says. “One of the biggest rules we have is if you touch people, expect to be touched back. We get up and personal, but we don’t actually touch any of the people on the ride because that’s just wrong, and crossing boundaries.”

October is widely known as “spooky month” or “spooktober” due to Halloween and its scary connotations. It’s the time of year where people choose to feel uncomfortable but have fun doing so. In McHenry, and areas around it, there aren’t a lot of activities, places, or events that families can go to that celebrate Halloween all month long. The Haunted Hayride is a staple of McHenry because it gives access to a fun and family-friendly Halloween tradition.