Last Updated: 10/9/2023
About this Website
Greetings. My name is Allen. Many years ago, some friends and I tried to make plans to visit some Halloween haunted houses around Des Moines. We were unable to find any kind of complete listing of all operating houses. The local Des Moines Register newspaper (and various free newstand publications like Cityview, Datebook, and DMJuice) each had articles, but none listed every haunted attraction in the area.
We were surprised that it was so difficult to find information on these seasonal events. Why was there not a website listing them?
The same thing happened the following years, and by 2010, the situation seemed to have gotten worse! Two of the main newspaper articles discussing “what to do for Halloween” listed a few of the houses, but as we found out after Halloween, a number of other houses were omitted completely, including two of the longest running and well established haunts in town!
With that in mind, I finally decided to put up this site. I hope to proactively collect information on all these haunted events, whether they be commercial, backyard, church “hell houses”, or anything else.
This website first went online in 2010, and greatly expanded in 2012 with a calendar, map and haunted house database. That year we saw over12,000 visitors in October (including one day with over 1000 visitors). By the 2014 season, we were seeing over 1000 visits in a day just one week in to October, and our Facebook page had over 2100 Likes. By September 2015, that number was over 2600, and over 1300 unique visitors to the website by the second weekend in October. In 2016, Facebook had over 2800 Likes, and there were over 1700 unique visitors to the website the weekend before Halloween. In 2018 we’d passed 5000 Likes. I think I see a trend…
In 2020, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the site, it received a complete facelift and all-new directory system. (Of course, that year COVID happened and many haunts did not operate, trick-or-treating was cancelled, etc. What perfect timing to spend a bunch of money on a website project!)
Stay tuned… And, if you run an event, be sure to drop me a note. I’d like to talk with you!
— Allen, webmaster@DMHauntedHouses.com
Hi. I’m old, and I have loved Halloween my entire life.
I “worked” my first haunted house in 1980 when I was in 6th grade. I got to use an air tank and spray people with air as they passed by.
A year or two later, I designed and ran a haunted house at my cousin’s middle school. I built home version of effects I’d seen at Disneyland, including a “changing portrait” (drawing on one side of the paper, skeleton on the back, with a blinking light to make the skeleton appear) and fake flames (wax paper with a red light and fan behind it). I even made a bunch of cardboard bats to hang from the ceiling to make them “fly” around using a fan. For audio, I used answering machine endless loop tapes to have it continue all night. High tech 🙂
During high school, I worked at a commercial haunted house in East Texas. I got to be a disembodied arm that turned off the lamp at the entrance, and ran the screeching tires/blasting horn of a “Christine” car. I also built cardboard tombstones for them, provided some lighting (a disco flickering box loaded with red and orange lights to simulate flames under a cauldron) as well as editing some cassette tapes with sound effects for different scenes. I think that is where this home-made name tag came from (Though I might have done that for my cousin’s haunt. I was a huge Halloween/haunted house nerd at a young age).
The next haunted house I created was for a church I attended. Visitors entered through the classroom side, and we decorated each room to be a scene they could stop and look at through the open doorway. I was proud of taking some portable chairs and making “armrest” out of stacks of hymnals, and then covering it with cloth so it looked like a couch. It ended with a cemetery where my cardboard bats made a return appearance. (I am pretty sure I still have all these bats somewhere.)
I bought every Halloween sound effect tape I found. I had all kinds of flicker bulbs, strobes and blacklights.
I would decorate my home for Halloween. I made a giant hand-drawn cardboard skull silhouette in the window with strobe light behind it. I made hand-made tombstones. I did the same for a shop I worked at in the local mall. (Though it looked much better under blacklight. That corner was where we displayed all our blacklight posters and tapestries, normally.)
After I moved to Iowa, I was no longer involved with designing or working haunted houses but I always liked to dress up every year, decorate my home, and go to haunted houses when I could.
In 2005, I was introduced to Sleepy Hollow Sports Park. A deal had been worked out to move the Des Moines Renaissance Faire there to a new “festival park” that would be constructed for a 2006 opening. Since I did video work, I offered to do their 2005 Haunted House TV commercial. When they learned of my computer background, they asked if I could build haunt prop controllers. This led to me building several of them that controlled a gas chamber figure, props in a “rat sewer” and some other moving figures from their haunted houses. Many years later, one of those controllers was still being used (after I reprogrammed it) to fire off water spraying geysers in the 3-D gallery.
For the next decade I did projects for them every year, from TV commercials to custom sound effects to video projections. The first big audio project I did was for Twisted Tales. I put soundtracks on self-playing DVDs, and all the sounds played automatically on power-up from old DVD players stashed away in the top of one of the buildings. (That was the great idea of their manager, Max. He is clever like that.) There were thousands of feet of speaker wires running all over that side of the park that year. Good times. I still have various DVD and CD music loops made for haunts and other festivals.
I also brought in their first “pre-show” with a projected storybook that visitors would watch and then enter the main haunted house when instructed to (this spaced out the crowds without the ticket taker having to look at their watch).
When Nathaniel (from Urbandale’s Haunted FX haunted house) became their general manager, he brought in DMX lights and computer controls which were first used to make a “torture chamber tour” for the Renaissance faire. This then led to computer- controlled sound and lights in the Castle of Blood, Chaos, Nightmares (giant strobe light), and the trailer-version of Twisted Tales. Nathaniel is a mastermind of haunted houses, and I learned so much from him. I am probably most proud of doing the custom soundtrack for Twisted Tales. It played an underlying song loop throughout the attraction with fairy tale tunes that I made mixed on top for each scene. At one point, my processed voice was heard throughout the park in announcements and almost all attractions.
During this time, I also created custom audio and projection effects for Ankeny Haunted Barn (then, after they returned, wired their new haunt with DMX lights and multi-channel sounds). I created custom sound loops for Tormented Souls and installed speakers throughout the attraction all running back to central control area. I added outdoor speakers to Linn’s Haunted House and hired a voice actor to read the spiel that plays between songs (still in use today, after upgrading the speakers in 2023).
And probably some other things I have forgotten about.
Today, most of my involvement is “haunted support,” running out to see if I can help get a giant dragon or a coffin working or checking on a bad motion sensor or faulty speaker. I’ve never been a “scary” person, so being behind the scenes is a much better place for me.
I may be a bit jaded these days, after going through hundreds of haunted houses in my lifetime, but I still like to help folks with theirs. It does ruin my experience going through most of them, since I am generally too focused on how the audio is, or what they are doing with lights, then the actors that are trying to scare me. 😉
But everyone needs a hobby. Mine is just helping others make their haunted house better.