Haunted houses for thrill seekers and fear chasers

Union photo by Ashley Duong

Nathan McWilliams worked as a pest the opening weekend of Thrashers House of Terror. He and his half-dead clown snuck up on unsuspecting people throughout the night.
Union photo by Ashley Duong Nathan McWilliams worked as a pest the opening weekend of Thrashers House of Terror. He and his half-dead clown snuck up on unsuspecting people throughout the night.

Puke, punches and running through walls are just a couple reactions volunteers at some of the most formidable haunted houses in southeast Iowa have witnessed while on the job.

As Halloween approaches and people begin searching out the thrill of having their wits scared out of them, long-running local attractions are back up and running to fill the need.

Thrashers House of Terror

In Mt. Pleasant, the Thrashers House of Terror is entering its 13th year. Located on the Midwest Old Threshers grounds, the House of Terror takes over the antique car building and transforms it into several rooms of scream-worthy fun.

Annually, the attraction sees several thousand people from all across the Midwest go through (or attempt to go through) the house each year, and is the second most popular event on the grounds, following the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion. According to Grant Davidson, public relations and marketing manager for Midwest Old Threshers, about 7,000 people participated in the event last year. In addition to its haunted house, the grounds also operate the Midwest Haunted Rails, the more kid and family-friendly activity.

However, the real fun for most volunteers is being able to take part in the scaring.

Davidson recalled some memorable reactions including teenagers who have peed their pants going through the haunted house as well as a man who ran straight through a plastic wall from being so scared.

“He just kept on going,” Davidson said. Davidson added that the haunted house is suggested for people 14 years of age and older.

“It’s like our Christmas of the year,” Nathan McWilliams said, as he worked as a “pest” the opening weekend of the House of Terror. Pests bother haunted house goers who are buying tickets, waiting for their turn or just hanging out at the entrance of the antique car building.

“It’s just fun to scare people,” McWilliams added.

An unsightly zombie-like clown was attached to McWilliam’s left shoulder, letting out a high-pitched laugh every couple of minutes to increase the eeriness of the already frightening scene outside of the antique car building. McWilliams would creep up to unsuspecting people and rest the doll of their shoulder.

A host of other pests walked around creepily with masks on and in full costume, sitting idly on benches waiting for the perfect opportunity to catch someone off guard or intentionally slowly stalking toward people, causing some to run away in fear.

Cheryl Bean, a Mt. Pleasant resident and the makeup artist for the haunted house volunteers, says the group prepares for the event all year and attends a specific Halloween trade show in March to buy equipment and find inspiration. The entire house takes up to three weeks to put up. Each night includes a group of up to 60 actors that help make the haunted house and the train rides entertaining.

Garrett and Elliot Cook, 14-year-old twins who attend Mt. Pleasant High School, visited the haunted house for the first time this year on its opening weekend.

“It was pretty fun,” the brothers said and hesitantly admitted to screaming at least once during their first walk-through.

“There was one jump scare but it was pretty calm in there overall,” Garret said.

For the brothers, the coolest part was being able to walk through a room that “exploited the fear of claustrophobia.”

The Haunted House is open every weekend in October, Thursday through Friday, and on the night of Halloween. The Midwest Haunted Rails opens the weekend of Oct. 11 and runs every Friday and Saturday through Oct. 26 as well as Halloween.

For more information on ticket prices and hours for the attractions, visit

Madness in the Machine Shed

Nothing brings chills quicker than being chased around by convicts and clowns. This year, Winfield’s Madness in the Machine Shed, their annual haunted house, will feature actors in real convict suits. For those planning to visit the haunted house this year, they can look forward to a prison break theme.

Ross Buffington, who has helped organize and build the house each year since its inception describes the attraction as an “old-school haunted house.”

“We will physically run you out of the house and back to your car,” Buffington added.

“Some people can’t even get through half of it,” he said.

Buffington, a Halloween enthusiast, enjoys seeing “the sheer terror in people’s eyes.” The Winfield native, who works for a natural pipeline when not busy scaring people, said he first got a taste for it through scaring his nephews and nieces.

“Just the reaction, that’s the funnest part of it. Every person is different. I have a hard time explaining it, and you won’t understand until you get behind the mask and do it for yourself … I just go, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re that scared by this?’”

While Buffington enjoys giving people a good-natured scare, he also noted that the Machine Shed has steps in place in case the haunted house becomes too much for people. Those who say “out” three times will get escorted to an exit immediately. In addition, paramedics and EMTs are often working in the haunted house. Each year, about 25 to 35 volunteers help run the Machine Shed and make the event possible.

According to Lisa Rees, the assistant city administrator, the attraction drew in a crowd of over 2,000 last year. The event started as a hayride that transformed into a haunted house five years ago. The Machine Shed serves as a fundraiser for the Winfield Betterment Development Group. This year, proceeds will contribute to the Henry County Freedom Rock. This year, the group hopes to raise $10,000.

Rees also recalled some of her favorite moments from the haunted house from past years, including watching a group of confident young adults enter the Machine Shed, only to run out at the sight of chain saws.

“They came in and said it wasn’t scary, and they ended up going went through a back wall. They went to the car and just never finished. They didn’t even come back to the front. They found a hole in a chain-link fence and just left,” Rees said laughing.

Madness in the Machine Shed is open Oct. 18 and 19, and Oct. 25 to 26 from 8 p.m. to midnight. The haunted house is at the corner of Hwy 78 and Nebraska Ave. For more information about the event, visit

Mayhem Haunted House

A short drive away in Ottumwa, the Mayhem Haunted House is also known for scaring the living daylights out of people. A joint effort with the local 4-H, the haunted house, which has been going on for more than 15 years, funds the local children’s activities.

Lynn Diveley, the organizer of the attraction, said close to 3,200 people visited the house last year across the six nights the house was open. This year, Diveley divulged that thrill seekers can look forward to being run about by witches.

“We work on it year-round. It’s a fairly good sized haunt. We pay a lot of attention to detail and giving a good scare and we do spend a lot of time on it, it’s not just thrown together,” Diveley added.

For Diveley, the most fun part is being able to get a reaction from grown men who seem like they would be unphased.

“We’ve had people pee their pants, lose their shoes, run over kids,” she added.

In addition to the scary portion of the attraction, the event also included lighted tours of the house for younger children Oct. 12 and Oct. 26, at 5 p.m., two hours before the haunted house officially opens.

The Mayhem Haunted House is open for three weekends on Fridays and Saturdays starting Oct. 11. The attraction opens at 7 p.m. each evening. For more information on the lighted tours of the haunted house, call 641-814-3512 or visit