Northfield haunted hayride recalled

Norwich students volunteering at haunted hayride

Norwich students volunteering at haunted hayride


From 1999 to 2008, Norwich took part in helping the Northfield community host their annual haunted hayride, until student apathy, new building construction, and the loss of volunteers caused the event to be discontinued, according to the former chair of the event’s volunteer staff, the Skeleton Crew.

Norwich University was the “ideal place to have [the haunted hayride], for parking and for student location” and to “be in the heart of Northfield,” according to Heidi Passalacqua, the former chair of the “Skeleton Crew” organizing the event. People always looked forward it, she says, and NU still gets calls “looking for the haunted hayride and [asking] why it isn’t there.”

The location for the haunted hayride was no longer available due to the construction of South Hall and parking lot B in 2009 on the upper Disney Field. Also, at that time, the Kreitzberg Arena was being built, as well as the Sullivan Museum, Passalacqua says.

Another situation that caused the termination of the haunted hayride was a lack of volunteers. According to Passalacqua, as time went on, students became inundated with increasingly challenging academic commitments. Also, in the final years of life for the hayride, NU began allowing students to go home for a new three-day break, now known as mid-semester break.

“People would go home and it would be harder for everyone to donate their time,” Passalacqua said.

There had been rumors that the event was cancelled because volunteers had used real chain saws with chains and that people had gotten hurt. Passalacqua dismissed the rumor, explaining, “There were real chain saws, but there were never any chains on them.”

Chain saws are used in almost every haunted attraction you see because they are scary, Passalacqua said, adding that the smell, sound, and look of them is what makes people frightened.

“I think that there is interest in starting [the hayride] up again; it’s just that, unfortunately, it goes back to liability,” Passalacqua said. She even tried looking at the possibility of having the hayride at her own house, but said that the insurance liability in case of an accident or injury was too big of a risk. In addition, there is now limited amount of equipment available to put on such an event compared to previous years.

Much of the equipment has already been sold, she explained, but there are a few pieces of lighting equipment left over and two wagons, according to Passalacqua.

Bizhan Yahyazadeh, who heads facilities operations, agreed that the hayride ended due to the construction of South Hall and parking lot B; however, he adds that it was also, in part, because of “lack of interest from the community.” He said that even though the hayride was held at NU, it was a community event that had a lot of our students.

In the first year there was a haunted house. Passalacqua tried to quickly plan a haunted hayride for the October of 1997, but was not able to organize everything. She went to a member of the Youth Center Board in Northfield afterwards to plan for 1998.

“That year, with a couple of people that I pulled together, we actually had a haunted house at the youth center, which is now at the site of the police center in Northfield.”

Passalacqua referred to Rob Berke, NU instructional developer for information technology services of Northfield, an original crew member for the first year on a haunted house.

“It allowed us rooks to get off campus and do something, but we had no idea what it was,” Berke said, who had been a rook in the NU Corps of Cadets the first year he volunteered. “I know it was really popular because at the time there was nothing like it in the community.”

Once the first haunted house was over, a year-long planning process took place for the first ever haunted hayride in 1999.

“The reason we began the haunted hayride was in a collaborative effort to bring together the Norwich community with the Northfield community,” Passalacqua said. “There was a misconception that Norwich students were a number of rich kids that overwhelmed the community of Northfield.”

“We created this outdoor activity that we used as an event where the Semper Fi Society and the rooks were involved,” and Northfield members had volunteered, according to Passalacqua.

There were some Northfield businesses, such as Northfield Dental Group, China Star Restaurant, and others that wanted to give back to the community, according to a past article on NU’s website (

Passalacqua says that she came up with the idea of the haunted hayride when she lived in Ohio.

“Haunted hayrides were done as fundraising things around the area,” she said. “Different organizations would make money,” Passalacqua said. “Farmers would make large amounts of money” while having big hayrides that lasted around 20-30 minutes and had special effects such as lights and smoke with scary actors.

“We utilized the ages of five through 75,” Passalacqua said. “At the peak of it, there were about 276 volunteers.” Not all of these volunteers could take a part in the actual haunted hayride itself, but they helped behind the scenes with making the different sets, costumes, donations, and other tasks.

“We had people show up one time for volunteering, I don’t even remember where they came from, but they showed up on stilts,” Passalacqua said, remembering the different types of volunteers.

After all of the expenses were paid off, the proceeds were given away to the area youth as well as in a community service scholarship for NU students. The haunted hayrides also “brought people to the university that wouldn’t normally go there,” Passalacqua said. What made this event special, she said, was how “it provided multi-generations to come together and collaborate.”

The attraction was also affordable — only $5 to $8 rather than $25, like the haunted corn maze in Danville, Vt., according to Passalacqua.

“The great thing, also, about the haunted hayride was that it changed and every year we had different themes,” said Passalacqua adding that, “The students, whether it be at Norwich [or] Northfield, were involved in the planning process.”

The haunted hayride made T-shirts to promote their event and one of their most charitable donors was Barry Chouinard, owner of Comfort Colors in Northfield.

Chouinard donated the shirts, and his stepson, Jeremy Drown, volunteered as part of the Skeleton Crew, Passalacqua said.

“For a couple of years we helped generate a drug-free community’s grant,” Passalacqua said. This event had caught the national government’s interest because Northfield had “made more money in in-kind gifts than they actually made in money.”

“In-kind” refers to when the government pays a non-profit organization money for how many hours a volunteer has worked. Instead of volunteers getting money like they would for a job, they would instead log their hours and receive a certificate stating how many hours they had volunteered. “It just goes to show you that we’re a very interesting community that works together and we proved it,” Passalacqua said.

The attraction was so well known that people from Canada, New Hampshire, and surrounding areas would come for the hayride. Passalacqua says that the hayride had joined the International Association of Haunted Attractions (IAHA), which represents an industry that scares up billions in business each year.

The IAHA merged with the Haunted Attraction Association (HAA) in January of 2013, according to the organization’s Facebook web page.

The HAA is an association that helps “advance, promote and educate the world about the haunted house and the Halloween industry,” says the HAA website ( Haunting attractions can network to specialized vendors and conferences, while others can find the Haunting attractions nearest to them.

“We went to a couple of [the HAA’s] conventions where people from all over the country would run [their attractions] for profit,” Passalacqua said.

Passalacqua adds that the other vendors “would look at us like we were the most insane people that we would do it as volunteers.”

Passalacqua says that the haunted hayride was “hard to top” because of the talent of the volunteers. “[The] different age groups are very, very talented and we had a dance group that one year did a Wizard of Oz theme and ‘Thriller.’”

The Skeleton Crew also came up with their own costumes and choreography. “It’s really hard to top because where else can you go and have a performance while on [a hayride]?” Passalacqua said.

The former rook volunteer, Berke, added, “I was sad to see it go; by the time it was done there was a lot of people involved and it was a pretty big production.”

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