For 16 years, the Cheeseman Fright Farm staff members have become naturals at scaring and entertaining their customers.
At about 16 miles south from SRU’s campus, Cheeseman Farm is one of the closest locations to SRU that offers a haunted attraction to the public. Owner and coordinator of the farm as well as 1999 SRU alumna Jennifer Cheeseman said that from the end of August to September 18, four people work about 18 hours a day to build the unique, haunted corn maze and hayride attraction.
“We have a couple weekends where we have a whole bunch of people come in for the corn maze because the corn maze takes forever, but I’d say about four people build the whole thing,” she said.
She said that all props that are used in the corn maze are handmade by her brother. Cheeseman said that both she and her brother are horror fans.
“In the spring, there’s always a Halloween convention and it used to be in Vegas, now it’s in St. Louis,” she said. “What we end up doing, because we don’t have a budget like Kennywood is they take pictures and talk to people that build it and they come back here and they build it themselves.”
She said that the structural supplies are reused yearly, but that thousands of dollars go into building new props and decor.
Cheeseman said that on an average night they will sell a couple thousand tickets, but that on a slow night they will average about 300 tickets. Tickets are $16 for both the hayride and the corn maze.
Cheeseman said sometimes customers find the price of the tickets too expensive, but that there is a lot of money that goes into the process, as well as the hourly wage of the employees who work there. She said that it takes about 80 people to work a night: 20 people to sell tickets and concessions and about 60 to work in the maze and hayride. Employees make $8 an hour.
She said that the haunted attraction started out with her, her brother and a couple of friends in 1999.
“Now you have to be certified to build it, everything has to be inspected,” she said. “We’re inspected as an amusement park and it’s scary how legit it has to be. No more just throw whoever you want out in the field, so a lot has changed.”
The employees who work in the corn maze are trained to keep the flow of customers moving through the maze and how to keep everyone safe. She said those employees work on what is called “the dark side.”
“Their training is kind of like who can scream really loud, who is loud, who’s big and can just tower over people, who is little enough to fit in this bin,” she said. “So that’s the training they have to go through. It’s a whole different process of trying to get a job here, for sure.”
She said people who work in the kitchen have SafeServe certificates and that anyone who works in the ticket booth or concessions work on “the light side.”
She said that they stay competitive among other haunted attraction because she thinks Cheeseman is a household name. She said she feels that she has done minimal advertising this year, but that they’ve still received so much business.
“I’m thinking people are just used to coming here,” she said.
Cheeseman said the best part of being in the horror business is simply doing it.
“How many people can say ‘I do weddings and a haunted house?’ That’s what I do,” she said. “So it’s just kind of a neat job.”
Cheeseman said her family has owned the farm land for a long time and the Amish built Betsey’s Barn in 1999.
“We built this barn in 1999 and the Amish built it and the every couple of years since we’ve put on additions like where we’re sitting, there’s a back deck, a bathroom, the front deck, so it’s expanded quite a bit,” Cheeseman said.
During the fall season, the family utilizes the barn as a shop where they sell pumpkins, pumpkin crafts, Halloween costumes, Halloween decorations and Cheeseman’s Fright Farm clothing.
The haunted attraction is just one of the many services that the family offers.
“We do weddings in May through August, then we do [the haunted attraction] for six weeks,” she said.
The Cheeseman’s also rent the area where the corn mazeis done out to campers.
Cheeseman Fright Farm will be open until Saturday, Oct. 31. Haunted hayrides start at dark and tickets are sold until 10 p.m. or until the last ticket is sold. The hayride and corn maze are gauged for customers 12 and older.
The farm is located on Kennedy Road, Portersville, Pennsylvania.