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Feast of frights: Haunted options aplenty in Cottage Grove

Mason Darling, 8, (left) and brother Carter, 6, show off some of the fright masks their parents Brian and Holly Darling will use in their annual Nightmare Grove’s “A Fear Experience.” It runs Oct. 24, 25 and 31.The frights are free but visitors are encouraged to bring donations of cash or toiletries for Friends in Need Food Shelf. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)1 / 2
Brian Darling of Cottage Grove (right) gives son Mason, 8, a preview of Nightmare Grove, the Halloween attraction they build every year at their home. Nightmare Grove’s “A Fear Experience” runs Oct. 24, 25 and 31 at 9042 Upper 81st. St. in Cottage Grove. The frights are free but donations of cash or toiletries for Friends in Need Food Shelf are encouraged. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler) 2 / 2

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Or maybe just a little uneasy.

Local haunted houses and creepy corn mazes have opened for the Halloween season. Some deliver mild scares, while others jolt visitors with full-on frights.

Brian and Holly Darling will host Nightmare Grove’s “A Fear Experience” at their Cottage Grove home Oct. 24-25. They’ll also be open Halloween night.

The Darlings trucked in corn stalks to build a backyard maze, where volunteer actors in masks and makeup will skulk, scurry and scream. The couple has staged Nightmare Grove for more than 10 years, with the help of Holly’s brother, Scott Pederson.

“We’ve always loved Halloween,” Brian Darling said. “It started super, super small, just scaring kids on the front steps, basically. Now it encompasses the garage, the driveway, our backyard and the neighbor’s backyard.”

Their sons Evan, 10, Mason, 8, and Carter, 6, also lend a hand.

“The line is always full of people and it usually takes a while so we have a DJ outside,” Evan said.

They also have a live feed so folks can watch the ghostly proceedings while they wait.

Each March, the Darlings attend an annual haunted house trade show in St. Louis to get inspiration for new scare tactics. They usually bring back a few new masks and props. And while their garage will feature a “butcher theme” this year, Brian said they aren’t fans of the blood and guts of slasher movies.

“We’ve never done the real gory stuff,” he said. “We want to give a more pure scare instead of making it gross. There’s some haunted houses that are so disgusting now I don’t even think it’s scary.”

He said they can dial down the intensity of the tour to accommodate small children.

“We have had some 6- to 8-year-olds go through,” Brian said. “If you don’t want them to be scared, tell (us) ahead of time. All our actors know to step back when they hear that.”

The frights are free but visitors are encouraged to bring donations of cash or toiletries for the Friends in Need Food Shelf, in St. Paul Park.


Nightmare Grove

Nightmare Grove runs 7-10 p.m. Oct 24-25 and Halloween night, Oct. 31. It is located at 9042 Upper 81st St., in Cottage Grove. Admission is free but people are encouraged to bring donations of toiletry items for the Friends In Need Food Shelf.

For more information, visit

Haunting Experience

Zywiec’s Landscape & Garden Center is featuring its Haunting Experience on Highway 61, in Cottage Grove. One of the oldest Halloween attractions in the area, the production will feature two haunted houses: the 20-room haunted Manor House and Scummo’s 3-D Nightmare, a ghoulish fun house inhabited by Scummo the psycho clown and his equally gruesome brother. The admission also includes the Haunted Hayride, which has a new attraction, Wilhelm’s Steel Mill.

“It’s an old abandoned steel mill that comes to life at night,” owner Bill Zywiec said.

A separate attraction, Big Zombie Hunter Paintball, is a walking dead safari that lets humans blast attacking cannibal corpses back into the great beyond.

“You hop on trailers that are equipped with turret-mounted paintball guns,” Zywiec said. “You sit on the trailer and they take you out into the zombie field. It’s a zombie war zone where you have live and static targets. The zombies are going to try to get you.”

For less intense frights, Zywiec’s Low Scare Matinee is a mildly creepy tour that includes haunted houses and a hayride. It runs noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 18-19 and 25-26. Cost is $9 per person. Their Corn Maze is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admittance is 5 p.m.) Admission is $8 for age 12 and older and $6 for those 12 and younger. Children under 2 are admitted free.

The Haunting Experience on Highway 61 and Big Zombie Hunter Paintball are open from dusk to 10 p.m. weekdays and dusk to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Admission to the Haunting Experience is $19. If you want to beat the crowds, a fastpass is available for $29 that entitles you to step to the front of the line.  Admission to Big Zombie Hunter Paintball is $15 and $20 for a fastpass. The cost includes 100 paintballs. It’s open to all ages but organizers recommend that only those 12 and over go through. A combo fastpass for both events costs $40. Both run on Oct. 15-18, 24-25, 30-31 and Nov 1.

Zyweic’s Landscape & Garden Center is located at 10900 E. Pt. Douglas Rd., in Cottage Grove near Hastings.

For more information, visit or call 651-459-3001.

R.I.P. Deadview Cemetery

Deadview Cemetery has been put to rest. It turns out that last year was the final run for the annual Halloween attraction.

What started out as a small cemetery scene in the front yard of a Woodbury home grew exponentially each year until founder Tom Parenteau and his dedicated group of friends who make up Dead People Smell Putrid Productions relocated the haunt to the former Langdon School property along Highway 61 in Cottage Grove. “Due to health issues in our families, we have reluctantly had to say goodbye,” Parenteau said. “It’s been a warm and wonderful run.”