Haunted house goes out of business. “I can’t compete with reality,” owner says.

Melrose, Ia.—Jerry McCormack has been scaring children and adults each October for 22 years at his farm just outside his hometown in southern Iowa. Farm Fright Extreme has been a good side business and a source of pride, but this year he’s mothballing idea.

“Usually, it’s pretty quiet around here. Not much to do, so a good scare’s kinda nice, gives people something to do, but this year…just feels like 2020 grabbed America by the balls and won’t let go,” McCormack said. “I can’t keep up.”

McCormack showed reporters photos and video of previous haunted houses he’s hosted in the outbuildings on his property.

“We started in ’98. My wife dressed up as a headless Monica Lewinsky. Had the blue dress and everything,” he said. “In 2000, we had a Y2K theme. All the tractors and row graders went haywire and started chasing people.”

Chad Evans of Ottumwa remembers his first FFE experience in 2012.

“That was the year the Mayan calendar stopped, and people thought it was going to be the end of the world,” Evans said. “Me and my buddies were walking toward this huge barn and all of a sudden there’s a huge ball of fire in the sky. I don’t know how McCormack did it, but then we hear this voice coming from every direction, ‘Mayan warriors, arise!’ And then all these zombies start digging their way out of the ground. We got the hell out of there. It looked so real.”

“I strung up some nitro between two trees, rigged a PA system, and then had some high school kids hiding in an old root cellar I’d covered with a burlap,” McCormack said. “That was a pretty good one.”

Capitalizing on the swine-flu epidemic of 2009, McCormack trained 50 of his hogs to cough on unsuspecting patrons.

“Seems in poor taste now,” he admits.

But in a year that began with a presidential impeachment and devastating wildfires in Australia and continued through a pandemic, racial strife, police killings, the deaths of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and a heated election, McCormack has decided to open Calm Farm – a series of stations around his property designed to soothe attendees. One will feature a television playing a YouTube video of a panda and a lemur playing soccer followed by a clip of a white nationalist slipping on a banana peel then farting so forcefully his pants fly off; another station will have an actor playing imaginary President John Smith signing a bill that bans future presidents from tweeting. After receiving a free teddy bear or blanket, guests will be invited to a bonfire fueled by 2020 calendars.

“We were going to give out hugs but the health department wouldn’t let us,” McCormack said. “Everybody will get a gift bag with a six-pack, hot cookies, and some Vitamin D to boost your immune system.”

Calm Farm will be open on sunny days from noon to 5 p.m. the rest of October.

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