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

Blake Farmer Oct 13, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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
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

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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