I grew up in Marietta, Georgia just north of the city of Atlanta. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s it was one of the biggest suburbs which was about as close to a Tim Burton version of middle class America as you could get. Every house was similar, the grass was cut on Saturday mornings while the kids watched cartoons until eleven o’clock or when high school academic game shows came on. That was a sign to get outside to ride bikes. The ball games were always on an outside radio and errands running families crowded Sears or whatever was on their lists. It was an awesome place and time to be a kid.
One of the Saturday staples was the Chattahoochee Nature Center located right on the bank of the Chattahoochee river. It was a place of many great childhood memories for me ranging from a five-year old to a young soldier at home on leave. The Chattahoochee Center was the place I spun around so fast on a tire swing, I puked in the parking lot and Mom made me take off my pants in front of my preschool class and lay down in the backseat of the car on the way home. Which, of course, resulted in more puking. A place where my best friend Simon teased a goose causing it to chase him around the park, instantly transforming him from a manly seventeen year old boy into a screaming twelve-year-old girl. A place where my other buddy Johnny got so high he went to pee in the river, lost his footing causing him to uncontrollably slide down the embankment into hip deep into the water resulting into the infamous cry of desperation, “OH NO!”. (I still laugh at that today) And it was also the place where I took a long walk with my Dad the night before I headed back to base to be deployed to a combat zone. The discussion we had that night I would not like to have again.
I think my fondest memory of the Chattahoochee Nature Center would be on the month of October, 1988. That was a pretty magical Halloween season for a number of reasons. One, I was finally dressed as something for Halloween my parents invested more that twenty dollars on. I was a knight with full body armor, shield and a sword and aside from the LA Gear sneakers, I was pretty convincing. Also, that year I was able to trick r treat alone without the parental supervision. Looking back, I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal because the neighborhood was barely a mile long.
Just about every weekday night during the month of October, the family did something Halloween-ish. Whether it was carve the jack-o-lantern or decorate the yard, as long as the homework was done, we celebrated. This is probably why I am thirty six with a Halloween Spook Show. Just a theory.
One fateful night, Dad read in the paper the Chattahoochee Nature Center had a haunted attraction featuring the “Haunted Barn” which was run by the local Walton High School. In those days, I regarded high schoolers as grownups so right away I knew this attraction was going to be something of the serious note. My Dad, however, thought much the opposite. In fact, he thought that this was more of a fun and family attraction which possibly had nature conservatory lessons mixed in with a ‘Trick or Treat” motif. That was far from what we would be experiencing.
The Nature Center was a Saturday morning place where every morning Dad and I would drop off bottles and newspapers to the recycle center and feed ducks. That Thursday night the mood was much different. I can still remember pulling into the gravel parking lot with lit jack-0-lanterns spacing the lot. There was hardly anyone there and for good reason because it closed at 9:00 sharp and at 8:30 on a school night most kids had been through the attractions and on their way…to therapy. I had homework and Dad’s work ethic would never allow for fun before responsibility. Makes you wonder what happened to me?
We paid a “donation”, I think. There was no fee that my Dad can remember (we talk of this often every fall season). Just followed the path on the candle lit road which led to the barn. That barn, which was always a place of discovery and cuteness throughout my elementary days with field trips and summer camps, was transformed into “THE HOUSE OF SATAN”.
I shit you not, in Marietta Georgia, The Chattahoochee Nature Center named their barn, “THE HOUSE OF SATAN”.
I have yet to meet a peer or a long time friend who remembers this but I have family who can validate. And for whatever reason had no problem taking me into “The House of Satan”.
I will say, looking back on this event, the high schoolers did it right. They recreated the famous Exorcist scene when the priests read rites which makes a rotting girl screech in horrific tones. The next room had a person rocking in the corner as a defiled and chopped up corpse lay on the floor. After that, a room where a wondering girl kept trying to pull me from my Dad to come with here into the heavens. Holy shit, I remember this with such detail I even remember her shoes. Her shoes!
Dad laughed. That is what I remember but for me, this was horrific. Every room led to more nightmares my brain was not ready to comprehend. That is until we met the stairs. The stairs went up to the loft of the barn and at the top stood a figure.
We didn’t know if we were supposed to proceed up and I remember looking at my Dad. He studied the figure long and hard then looked at me with a shrug. I grabbed his flannel shirt and we head up. But then the figure spun around and bolted down the stairs as if it too was being chased by something horrific.
We miracled ourselves straight through the back door and was chased by a hooded figure almost halfway to the car. I can still to this day remember screaming without care. When you scream without care it is something you never forget. As a child it is something to possibly look back on with a smile but never as an adult. It is animatistic in a way. My Dad stopped, laughing hysterically and so did the hooded kid who removed his said hood and thanked us but said that was where the attraction ended. He didn’t mean to scare us so badly and made an attempt to assuage my fear with a high-five.
I will never forget that night. Forever will Halloween be that barn with jack-o-lanterns lighting the way of a path and the orange illuminated barn filled with monsters and demons who scared me so badly the adrenalin put my feet to sleep. We dumb down so much in today’s society. I feel bad for the kids who will never get to experience something that made me a forever-fan of Halloween. That night forged a connection and even tough it scared me to down to the marrow and I loved it.
Thank God I didn’t have an easter experience. Those people are freaking weirdos.