By Rachel Kuipers
The fall months generally bring chilly weather, an increase in sales of anything pumpkin flavored and a wide variety of Halloween-related activities.
One such activity is the Field of Screams, a popular multi-haunt attraction in Olney, Md., that welcomes visitors looking for a scare from late September through early November. It is among the most popular events of its type in the DMV area, bringing in thousands of customers annually.
Prominent past visitors include the hosts of the Kane Show on Hot 99.5 and the West Springfield Dance Team, contestants on “America’s Got Talent” who performed at the Field of Screams last year.
Olney Boys and Girls Club chairman and Field of Screams production head Dan Dionisio came up with the idea for the fundraiser 14 years ago when he attempted to secure money to purchase a new field for OBGC. The funds are used to support local youth sports.
“We realized our expenses were going to go up dramatically, so we needed a big fundraiser that could draw people from around the area,” he said.
The organization has since expanded to include many more volunteers. Many local high school students volunteer to earn Student Service Learning hours, volunteer hours necessary to graduate from public high schools in the county. High school graduates are paid.
The fundraiser is as popular with the actors and other employees as it is with visitors.
“There are a lot of good people that work there, and a lot of repeat actors that come back year after year,” said Michael Highsmith, an actor that has worked with the organization for five years. “It’s just a great place to work.”
Some actors, like Highsmith, return each year for the thrills.
“You get that adrenaline rush, scaring people,” Highsmith said. “It kind of makes you feel good too, because you know you’re doing your job right when you get the scare.”
Field of Screams includes four terrifying attractions: the Trail of Terror, a path through the woods that passes through multiple stations, Lusion Manor, a haunted house, Hades’ Haunted Hayride, a scary hayride through a corn maze and Paintball Apocalypse, a ride-through attraction that allows visitors to shoot paintballs from a moving cart at actors dressed as zombies.
All four attractions are updated annually to maximize fear for the coming year. Last year included one of the biggest updates — the addition of Paintball Apocalypse.
“We spend a year planning on how to make you scream every October,” Dionisio said. “Some walk away shocked at how scary the trail is.”
This year, fall brought something new to the fundraiser. The production team behind Field of Screams was selected to participate in a Halloween special edition of “Tiny House Nation,” an Fyi television show that features small homes that are well organized and designed to succeed as fully functioning living spaces.
The Field of Screams team battled two other successful “hauntrepreneurs” to make a tiny house terrifying.
The Olney group beat the other two teams with their design.
Michael Lado, who has worked with the fundraiser for about seven years and is now lead designer, worked with the Field of Screams construction crew on the show.
“We really had to focus heavily on our teamwork and in the end, it was kind of that that really, I believe, won the show,” Lado said. “Obviously it was heavy on visuals and scents and sensory indulgence, but really working as a team, as a well-oiled machine, is what makes it happen.”