Spook City: Los Angeles Haunted Hayride’s lofty scares enlivened by local lore
Scare actors roam the grounds of the “Los Angeles Haunted Hayride,” a Halloween festival that takes place throughout October in Griffith Park. While the attraction is man-made, the actual land is rumored to be haunted. (Eli Countryman/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Oct. 17, 2018 12:38 a.m.
Los Angeles is supposed to be the City of Stars, but once those stars fade, where do they go? Do they stay behind, forever attached to their final location, spooking guests who dare to enter their domain? Or do they just simply disappear? Each week, Daily Bruin columnist Eli Countryman will set out to discover the truth by exploring supposedly haunted places in the Los Angeles area, rating their spookiness so you don’t have to.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride may be a park filled with man-made scares, but the land itself is known for haunted happenings.
The Griffith Park event takes place throughout October as part of the ghostly festivities leading up to Halloween. Local lore says it’s a place to encounter supernatural entities ranging from a mysterious beast to murder victims, with hikers even discovering a human skull in 2016. Remnants of an old zoo are scattered throughout parts of the park, and everyone knows anything abandoned is haunted – or maybe it’s just my paranoia speaking. The land is also supposedly cursed by the niece of former owner Don Antonio Feliz, who did not pass the estate on to her. The niece, Dona Petranilla, is said to have rendered the area unprofitable and dangerous for future owners. Yet, with all the stories surrounding Griffith Park, visitors come in herds to experience the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride and its various attractions right atop the cursed grounds.
So I journeyed to the park, hoping the spooky stories would enhance the jump scares waiting ahead. After paying a terrifying price of $53 – and experiencing the fear of watching my bank account balance drop – I entered the first attraction of the night. The “House of Shadows” is a maze lit by strobe lights and filled with actors in gruesome costumes. While the scare actors were not allowed to touch attendees, I still dropped to the fetal position on multiple occasions when monsters jumped toward me through the disorienting lighting. However, I brushed myself off each time and told the murderous maze characters to leave me alone because “I’m not OK.”
After escaping the maze thanks to the fearless leadership of my friend, who dragged me through the house, I entered the main portion of the park, known as “Purgatory.” Creepy characters roam free in the open area, preying on distracted guests, who shout customary screams and profanities in response to the sudden scares. For people who stayed alert, however, the monsters were harmless and entertaining.
I finally let my guard down after getting in line for the hayride, which turned out to be a mistake. One of the actors snuck into the line with a (nonfunctioning) chainsaw and revved it in my general area. In response, I fell to the floor again – I had gotten really good at stopping, dropping and screaming at a moment’s notice.
But eventually my friends and I got onto the “Haunted Hayride,” which I felt confident about since I would not have to worry about monsters getting in my way, lest they get run over. The confidence turned to cowardice within minutes. I got distracted by an actor throwing a papier-mache rock at our group, laughing at the the fact that he missed us. As I chuckled at his failure, what can only be described as a demonic cult man jumped on the edge of the wagon – right behind me. I screamed, cried and threw myself into the center of the cart, yet again imitating an armadillo. Similar occurrences took place throughout the ride, with the park’s actors honing in on the guests who were noticeably uneasy.
After I apologized for my extreme reactions to the many guests in my wagon, I exited the ride and allowed myself a few minutes to calm down. The hayride had incorporated aspects of the old zoo, and the possibility of actual supernatural visitors kept me even more on-edge than I already was. I had to keep reminding myself that I was dealing with human actors, not the ghosts rumored to stalk the land. That would, though, help explain the strange feeling of being followed and the multiple times I saw humanoid figures in my peripheral vision, only to find nobody there when I turned around. The shadow persisted into “Trick or Treat,” the final attraction at the park.
“Trick or Treat” is exactly what it sounds like. Guests knock on doors and are met with monsters who either give out candy or exist solely to send me into my fifth and sixth fetal curl of the night. On one occasion, I was sure a character was following me, yet when I turned, I was yet again met with nothing. Shaking it off, I continued hunting for the candy-bearing actors.
After snatching candy from the few monsters who were not terrifying enough to discourage me from my mission, I left the attraction and exited the park. I did not see the beast that supposedly haunts Griffith Park or come across any verifiable ghosts, but I did leave the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride with a pounding heart and an uneasy sense that something had been watching my every step. Though the fear I felt was often the result of jump scares, the location’s spooky history enhanced the nervousness I felt, ensuring I was terrified in every square inch of the park. Oh, and I’m still haunted by the price.