The Haunted Forest at Schuster’s Farm was not born overnight, but has been a constantly evolving project that started as a simple idea from a Deerfield resident. In 1999, Phil Montalto came to the farm with the request to start a haunted hayride as a fundraiser for the Deerfield Community Center to raise funds for DCC programs. Scary scenes were set up around the farm along a wagon route. The one night event drew a crowd of 199 people. The success spurred another year, and the crowd was even bigger, making a second wagon a necessity. Local celebrity Matt Kenseth was among the group, and his excitement convinced the group that it should become an official “haunt” and an annual event. By the fifth year, the Haunted Hayride had grown to an 8 wagon, 100 actor (all community center volunteers) event with scenes created by inmates from the Thompson Correctional Center as part of the DCC-Thompson Center outreach program. That year also saw the addition of the Haunted Corn Maze, where costumed actors hid in the maze and scared visitors.
In 2004, shifts in volunteer options at DCC caused the partnership to discontinue for this event. A friend of the family was a student at UW Platteville, and he convinced his fraternity brothers at Sigma Pi to come and act as “spooks”. The Haunted Corn Maze continued for two more years but frustration grew due to drought conditions that made it harder to scare people and more difficult to control the crowds moving through the maze. During one night of haunting in the last year, as Don stood looking out over the drought stricken maze, he was able to see his forest, and the germ of a new idea sprouted! Why not move the haunt to the forest, where it could be more permanent and more elaborate? Throughout deer hunting season, he spent time in his tree stand working out the logistics of the endeavor in his head. In the spring of 2006, work began with the help of Mark Phillips, Tom Tallman, and the entire Schuster family. Knowing the Haunted Forest would attract even more people than ever, bigger and better transportation would be necessary, so the Schusters searched for and found old cotton wagons in Missouri that could be modified to suit their needs for hauling the masses to the forest. Don said that the first forest was by far the “hokiest” endeavor, but it was a huge success!
The next five years saw the continued growth and evolution of the forest, and the Schusters continued to work with various fraternities at UW Platteville and UW Madison, but it became increasingly difficult to coordinate schedules and transportation for busy college students. In 2011, the decision was made to go on a search for haunt actors through an extensive interview and audition process, and the farm now employs a very talented group to terrify and delight the crowds! (If you think you are interested and are up to the task of scaring the pants off of people, please see our employment page!) The Haunted Forest’s popularity has grown tremendously, with the lines to prove it. The main advertising has been word of mouth, which is pretty amazing! With the Haunted Forest taking on a life of its own, the farm now has a twisted 12 person crew that works part-time year round to plan, build and set up the forest for each fall. The farm is proud to be the leader of haunt venues in South/Central Wisconsin. Just wait ‘til you see what is being planned for the 10th season of the Haunted Forest…coming in October 2015!