I was genuinely frightened when Hell Dog lunged at me while touring Hagerstown/Antietam KOA

I occasionally contribute to the KOA (Kampgrounds of America) blog. Last year, I was speaking at a Maryland cancer event and got a tip that a nearby campground operated a haunted house with a regional draw.

I agreed to check it out, surprised by how much haunted houses have changed since I went through one (ahem) 30+ years ago.

The genesis of Creekside Manor

When John and Judy Durham bought a house beside their 26-acre campground in Williamsport, Maryland, they never imagined that ghosts were already in residence. They intended to renovate and live in it, but during the renovations, they kept seeing and hearing apparitions.

Since actor Bill Murray hasn’t been a Ghostbuster since the 1980’s, the Durhams instead turned to the National Ghost Hunters Society for a report. The findings? “The most haunted house” they’d ever investigated.

There was no way they could live in the house after that shocking news, so they decided to go where the proverbial spirits led them. They named the house Creekside Manor and now have the pleasure of spooking some 3,500 visitors each October.

A haunted house with a backstory

In my childhood, the Jaycees ran the hometown haunted house. Visitors waited in line for a solid hour anticipating the thrill of walking through room after room of auto mechanics, accountants and insurance salesmen dressed as vampires, werewolves and chainsaw-wielding zombies. Pretty tame stuff compared to what Creekside Manor offers visitors at the Hagerstown/Antietam KOA, I assure you.

Whereas my hometown Jaycees’ haunted house promised lots of scares, they were random acts without a theme. Creekside Manor, on the other hand, is built on a clever backstory. Written by John Durham himself, the legend of Creekside Manor begins with Mable Mockenburry, who lived in the house in the 1800s. Mable began her life (and afterlife) of misdeeds by butchering her parents and serving them to the townsfolk as BBQ. Each year, the Mockenburry legend further unfolds like a supernatural soap opera; you can read it on Creekside’s website.

Behind the scenes at Creekside Manor

I got a behind-the-scenes tour of Creekside Manor (in daylight, thankfully).

a real hearse at Creekside Manor John and the twenty-plus actors and makeup artists he hires each Halloween season take the business of fright very seriously. Although he has lost count of the gallons of blood-red paint he’s used over the years, John is always on the prowl for props, including the 1977 Cadillac hearse that’s parked in the cemetery amidst donated grave stones. 

Several of the spooky automatons that writhe, threaten and moan came from Hollywood movie distributors and are powered by industrial-sized generators of compressed air. When it came time to see one of them, “hell dog,” John gave me ample warning of what was to come but I was truly spooked when it lunged at me ferociously from behind its door. Hell dog is pictured at the top of this post. 

Fun for all ages

I should note that Creekside Manor itself is off limits to anyone under twelve. The campground offers visitors lots of tame and creative activities for those who don’t want to  be thrilled and chilled. For example, the inflated jump house called “Mable’s Fun House” is for those twelve and under. 

one of Hagerstown/Antietam KOA's 54 chickensSince I’m more a farm girl than a spook lover, I was fascinated by the livestock, vegetable beds and flowers at the campground. Lee Oliver, the campground activities director, offers guests arts and crafts including pumpkin carving. She hires a magician, shows movies, and can tell you about the campground’s 14 breeds of chicken (numbering 54 hens and one rooster) and 3 goats.

The campground’s cafe is chockablock with I Love Lucy memorabilia, including authentic scripts and clothing worn by Lucille Ball herself. I have a Flickr album from my visit, including some photos of the cafe.

The Durhams warn potential guests who want to stay at the campground during Creekside Manor season to book reservations NOW. People come from a 200-mile radius of the property and some of 2015’s October sites are already booked!