Some part of me feels like my life story is the story of Knott’s Scary Farm. Maybe, it’s because I was born in 1973, the first year the Knott family allowed a little terror into the Knott’s Berry Farm park for a few days a year. Revolutionary at the time, they sent in actors to scare the pants off of the paying guests. Would this work? Or would it turn Knott’s into a true Ghost town during the month of October? Only time would tell. Today, we know it turned into an unqualified success, encouraging other Southern California theme parks to attempt their own version of the haunt. This year as Scary Farm Celebrates its 47th year, Knott’s decided to go back to the future this year, bringing us the story of Knott’s Scary Farm with the Origins maze featuring Sarah Marshall, the original witch of Calico.
It all began with a hanging. The year was 1976 and Knott’s Berry Farm had been running a Halloween Haunt for the previous three years. They had been somewhat successful. And it didn’t drive people from the park. Instead, it encouraged more to come and attend during those precious few days in October. The Knott’s Berry Farm entertainment team wanted to up its game. So it decided to do something even more outrageous than ever before. Befitting of the Wild West, the Knott’s Scary Farm people decided to do a hanging.
They decided to create the most realistic hanging they could possibly think of, bringing all the townspeople to hang a couple of outlaws on a rope. They erected gallows, brought out a minister, and prepared for their eventual demise. Guilty of murder, these criminals must pay the ultimate price. And so a preacher stands before the mob, allowing the criminals to have the last word before they were to be hung by the neck, until dead. And with that first night in 1977, the people of Scary Farm captivated the audience in a whole other way. Life hung in the balance.
Never content to sit on their success, the Knott’s team decided it needed to go further, shocking the audience in a more intense way. But how to do this? Hanging another cowboy guilty of murder would not push the envelope. They needed to up the ante. What else could they do? Then it dawned on them. They could hang a woman. Hence, Sarah Marshall was born.
Ok, maybe only the idea of Sarah Marshall. But they would hang a woman. A couple of questions they needed to answer before they proceeded, however. Would merely hanging the woman be shocking enough? And what would you be able to hang a woman for? They took a little time before they finally came to the realization of what it would take for the town of Calico to hang a woman. Make her a witch.
While this was simple enough, it didn't feel shocking enough to simply hang the woman. If the people hated the witch, to begin with, there would be no payoff. They had to make her seem innocent, at least for a time. They knew if you hauled a screaming woman down the streets of Calico, protesting her innocence, you really had something. All the surrounding people would stare in horror at the person you would be hanging in the streets of Calico.
The audience would stare right up until the proverbial moment you pulled the rug right out from underneath them. Much as the floor would drop right out from underneath the woman to be hung. They decided this Sarah Marshall, the moment the noose made its way around her neck, would transform into the evil witch the town knew her to be. Once transformed, she would curse the town to pay for the evil for which they were guilty. Then she would let out a loud shriek and cackle, followed by the drop and being carried away.
But that first witch hanging wasn’t even enough for the dark geniuses making this Scary Farm. They needed to go further. The witch must survive. Sort of. So, in 1979, Instead of just having the witch be hung, they would drop the rope and the witch would vanish into the air with a puff of smoke and a chilling scream. Instead of getting finality, the audience left with questions and terrors which would follow them deep into the night. And every year thereafter, they would increase the special effects, making the vanishing witch the star of the show. The story expanded as the townspeople of Calico became heirs to the curse, becoming the monsters the witch declared them to be.
The witch hanging show would itself vanish in 1989 as some other Nightmarish villains took over. Moving away from the shocking conclusion of the witch who forever haunted the dreams of those who would attend Scary Farm, they instead roasted the pop culture icons of the day. Hanging only those they felt like deserved it. No one was spared. As for Miss Marshall, the evil witch who vanished every night to terrify us in the shadows? She seemed to be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Until now. This year Scary Farm brought Sarah Marshall back from the ether. She is back to visit the curse she promised all those many years ago to the villainous citizens of Calico. Set before the events of Ghost Town Alive, Sarah Marshall comes back to visit her revenge on the townspeople of Calico for the Halloween season. Those citizens and the “evil founders” who decided she was guilty of unspeakable crimes against humanity and her fellow man must pay for their wicked ways. The people, the animals, and even the babies become hideous beasts, ready to attack anyone who would dare to get in their path. If she couldn’t live in Calico in peace, then no one ever would.
Deliciously haunting, reminding you of the ghosts of Halloween past, and future, the Origins maze reminds you of everything you love about Knott’s Scary Farm. They have outdone themselves with the special effects. And the final haunting scene confronting the now transformed Sarah Marshall will live on in my nightmares for years to come.
So come out and visit Knott’s Scary Farm now, Thursdays through Sundays and on Halloween night. And relive the history and wonder the Scary Farm people have been providing us for the last 47 years. Create your own Knott’s Scary Farm Origin story while you relive the story of Sarah Marshall. I know I will be there. I hope to see YOU in the fog.