Nebraska is perhaps one of least artsy places on planet earth. That’s not to say that there aren’t talented people here in Nebraska or that there’s NO art happening at all, ANYWHERE in Nebraska…but just that there’s a LOT LESS of it, relatively speaking, in terms of the rest of the world. As a Nebraskan kid, I was always able to draw and I was musical. I wrote a lot. But my Nebraskan parents didn’t ever encourage my artsi-ness as a potential profession. As a teenager, I never would’ve believed that I would use art to make a living, especially since I spent so much money in school studying things like medicine and psychology, professional disciplines that seemed like they’d be so much more profitable than art. But there’s a need for “art”, especially in Nebraska because there’s so little of it here. But by “art” I don’t necessarily mean the kind of stuff you’d find in a cathedral in Rome. I mean the stuff that doesn’t conform to a pattern.
Art takes many forms and in fact, a haunted house can be a work of art. This may be a stretch for some people, but John and I spend a lot of hours designing the concepts for School District 13 Haunted Attraction. I do concept drawings and John does sound effects and special effects. Besides set design, we also develop new characters each year that are entirely unique to our Halloween festival in Brule. We don’t use movie characters or characters you’ve seen in famous cartoons because School District 13 is its own little work of art. I have several large binders filled with concept drawings that match the haunted attractions we’ve built. We don’t use pre-made plans for our haunts. They’re all original designs because we enjoy creation and design. School District 13 isn’t just a business, it’s a work of art.
Not all haunted houses in Colorado and Nebraska are works of art, but some of them definitely are. The haunts that are entirely unique and not just a copy-of-a-copy are the ones I’m talking about here. Mystery Manor is one of the haunted houses in Omaha, NE that’s a work of art, in my opinion. It’s been carefully designed from top to bottom to deliver both a story line and a series of carefully timed scares. Of course, the 13th Floor, one of the most famous haunted houses in Denver, CO, is also a work of art which is why it stands out among haunted houses in Colorado and why patrons flock to it each year.
But while there are truly unique haunted attractions in the USA, there are also a lot of knock-offs that were built
from a pre-made plan. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between a totally unique haunted house and one that’s just like a hundred others throughout the nation, which is why copycat haunts can make a profit. But I’d like to think that the vibe around a copy is different from the vibe around a project that’s been loved and nurtured like School District 13, Mystery Manor, or the 13th Floor. For folks who care about things like “vibes” and “art”, that might be an important factor to consider when trying to decide which haunted attraction to visit this Halloween season.
And for Nebraskans and Eastern Coloradoans who look out each day into a vast ocean of sandhills and scrub-brush, wishing there was more art and more creativity around them, just remember, the art is there, but it might be in some strange places like tattoo parlors and haunted houses, not just the local art council.