hayrides tap into the Halloween spirit
I can make a grown man jump, really jump, just one time, then
I think you’ve got your money’s worth,” says Leo Martin, who
has been in the business of spooking Capital Region residents
for 15 years. As owner of Double M’s Haunted Hayrides in Ballston
Spa, he’s persistent in achieving that aim, creating an atmosphere
of suspense that begins the moment visitors push open the
Loud, abrupt shrieks and long, high-pitched squeals reverberate
in guests’ ears immediately. The screams emerge from undisclosed
locations that surround visitors in a semi-circle of intermittent
Outfitted in scarves and hooded sweatshirts or bundled in
winter coats, guests pass through the doorway of a Hollywood-style
Old Western storefront and enter Double M’s ghost town—of
the non-American-West definition. A crazed cowboy stalks a
preteen girl, who squeals as she panics and opens her stride
from a brisk walk to a full-out sprint. A broad-shouldered,
seven-foot goblin slowly saunters over to a conversing couple.
He stands motionless behind the inattentive pair until, after
several seconds, the woman senses the presence, looks up,
The dense, gray clouds are impermeable tonight. Strategically
placed artificial lighting provides only shadowy illumination.
To the right of the entryway, smoke oozes from the rear of
a Munsters-style hearse. A group approaches the passenger-side
window curiously. Each slowly leans forward to peek into the
front seat. All five jump back in unison at the sound of a
loud thwack upon the glass from inside the hearse.
“It’s a person! It’s real!” one exclaims.
Such unexpected events set the tone for the Double M’s experience
even before visitors board the hayride wagon. (Expect unpredictability
from the disc jockey’s music collection as well. It abruptly
shifts from Halloween classics such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”
to ’90s pop, including “The Macarena.”)
It’s only 7:15 PM, but already several tractor-drawn hay wagons
have disappeared into Double M’s haunted forest.
As the next tractor pulls into the loading zone, the wagon’s
tour guide unfolds a yellow fleece blanket over her lap. She
goes by the name “Boo” and will serve as narrator during the
ride. She’s dressed in all-black attire, except for her face,
which is painted in chaotic strokes of orange, red and green,
and is vivid in the darkness.
A staff member with a glowing cigarette pinched between his
fingers positions a step at the base of the wagon and invites
the front of the line to board. A group of about six preteen
girls rush the wagon like wild children, spewing hay to the
ground as they claw to the center. “I heard screaming,” one
of them hollers. “That’s not a good sign.”
As the girls sit cross-legged and bicker about who is hogging
too much space, other guests hoist themselves up and swing
their legs over the sides of the wagon.
louder you scream, the safer you are,” Boo advises as the
wagon lurches forward toward an archway that serves as the
gateway to the haunted forest. The gatekeeper in a black robe
paces overhead the wagon and warns the tour to turn back.
Bursts of fire shoot out from the archway, providing immediate,
but temporary, warmth and illumination.
you sure you want to do this?” Boo asks the passengers.
The hayride meanders in the darkness through about 25 acres
of forest. While Boo regales riders with stories of Scary
Harry and the oddities of the land through which the wagon
passes, the tractor slows and pauses at staged haunting areas.
The haunts, props and characters change annually, but always
feature traditional Halloween characters, impersonations of
horror movie favorites, and a few Double M’s originals.
place is littered with body parts,” Boo announces at one point
during the ride, moments before the wagon passes through terrain
covered with mutilated bodies and red-stained limbs.
Suddenly, loud noises erupt. Men carrying bladeless handsaws
emerge from behind the leafless trees and approach the wagon.
The smell of exhaust and gasoline is pungent.
The event provokes incessant screaming from the cluster of
preteens, much to the delight of a particular handsaw operator,
who walks alongside the wagon with his eyes locked on one
of the girls. He points at her and motions with his index
finger for her to come closer.
A young boy, who can’t be older than 5, sits on his father’s
lap and seems unaffected by the scare tactic. While the girls
continue to squeal, screaming subsides into laughter for many
they jump on the wagon?” a boy at the back of the wagon asks
his mother as a man chases behind the cart.
Throughout the tour, which lasts about 30 minutes, random
light effects, eerie sounds and various surprise tactics are
designed to catch riders unaware. While many are successful,
at times, others provoke more laughter than screams.
Down the path a bit farther, the tractor pulls into a metal
shed that serves as Double M’s Hall of Fame Wax Museum. Boo
calls attention to wax replicas of notorious scary-movie characters
to the left and right of riders, until she’s interrupted when
the shed goes dark and select wax figures come to life, their
movements erratically captured by a strobe light.
dudes were really freaky,” a boy’s voice calls out as the
wagon pulls forward.
When the hayride reaches the end of the tour, Boo invites
passengers to participate in a final scream, as a warning
to visitors yet to board.
Guests are led through Double M’s terror maze and back to
the main entrance, where ghosts and black-robed goblins wait
to catch visitors by surprise one last time.