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How one Nashville haunted house is trying to stay safe — and scary — this Halloween

Blake Farmer Oct 13, 2020
Heard on:
Nashville Nightmare owner Brad Webb, left, walks the city’s health director, Dr. Michael Caldwell, through a haunted school attraction ahead of opening weekend. Blake Farmer/WPLN News

How one Nashville haunted house is trying to stay safe — and scary — this Halloween

Blake Farmer Oct 13, 2020
Heard on:
Nashville Nightmare owner Brad Webb, left, walks the city’s health director, Dr. Michael Caldwell, through a haunted school attraction ahead of opening weekend. Blake Farmer/WPLN News

At Nashville Nightmare, a classroom door swings open in its Haunted High attraction, and an actor mouths the words, “Get to class!” The audio comes from a pre-taped track he plays as people pass.

Owner Brad Webb said he borrowed the idea from Universal Studios, and the pandemic workaround may become permanent. He likes that no one is losing their voice.

“The actor’s not screaming. Their head’s not hurting. It’s actually really good,” Webb said.

The pandemic has raised many questions about how to handle Halloween activities safely. Haunted house operators are finding ways to open with modifications. For instance, screaming in peoples’ faces is off limits.

Webb said he plans to keep groups of people moving in one direction and limiting those groups to six people. He also cut the number of actors by half, which helped him maintain ticket prices at around $30.

There have been additional costs associated with infection control. And he’s collecting phone numbers if needed for contact tracing.

Lose the creeping vines

Before opening weekend, Webb gave a walkthrough to Nashville’s health director, Dr. Michael Caldwell. Inspectors had requested modifications: lose all the curtains, push-through doors and creeping vines hanging from the ceiling.

“You’ve removed anything that people would normally touch,” Caldwell said.

Nashville Nightmare has been around for a decade in what used to be an old shopping center. Webb said he tries to add new attractions every year, but this year he had to overhaul his original plans to adapt to the pandemic.

“One of them was going to be a virus-type theme, an outbreak. We scratched that,” he told Caldwell.

“Thank you for thinking of our emotional health,” Caldwell responded, with a laugh.

But ultimately, Caldwell said, attractions like a haunted house could be good for peoples’ emotional well-being — “for those who like these sorts of attractions.” That’s why he found a way for several to open under current local health orders.

He decided to consider haunted houses museums, which can operate at half capacity under current local health orders.

“They don’t want to be viewed as a museum, unless it’s a haunted museum, but I think that’s exactly what it is,” Caldwell said.

Safety tips for makeup artists

Around the country, haunted houses are finding ways to work hand sanitizer stations seamlessly into their themes. The Haunted Attraction Association is sharing tips for makeup artists who spend long hours in the face of actors.

They’re taking cues from the country’s largest theme parks, which opened in Florida over the summer.

Dr. Marissa Levine, a public health specialist at the University of South Florida, has kept tabs on those theme parks. She said entertainment can’t and shouldn’t be locked down indefinitely.

“I do think it’s a great time for informed people to be creative and innovative and come up with some great solutions,” Levine said. “Part of that is to figure out how we can be socially connected and what are those activities that will keep us mentally well but protect us physically as much as possible.”

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks indoor haunted houses where people may be crowded together and screaming as one of the riskier Halloween activities and recommends this may be a better year to try an open-air haunted forest.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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