For Love of Scaring: Interview With Jack Beckwith of Twisted Fields of Terror
In August while students are preparing to go back to school and vacations are winding to a close, others are gearing up for one of the most celebrated seasons in popular culture. Halloween may not be until the end of October, but for those involved in the business of selling scares, the leg work begins much earlier. This year, I have had the pleasure of traveling with Jack Daniel Beckwith, the owner and operator of Southern Maryland's most fearsome haunted attraction: Twisted Fields of Terror. Going with him from the Legendary Haunt Tour in Pittsburgh to the Transworld Haunt Show in St. Louis, has given this writer an insight into the “haunt” business that most may never experience. But don't take my words for it. I was able to sit down with Jack recently for a one on one interview about his work in the scaring industry. Take a look at what one of Maryland's expert haunters has to say about the ins and outs of the business.
When asked why he chose the “haunting” industry, Jack kept the answer simple: “I have always had a passion for Halloween, combined with my personal abilities [business, construction, etc...] and imagination, along with a passion for entertaining people.” Jack emphasizes the imagination and passion factors in many of our conversations. Having met a variety of other haunters in our travels, I've seen men and women of all ages quite willing to play with blood and guts any time of day, wear a macabre costume any time of year, and sit around the bar table swapping the stories of their best scares. Jack and his colleagues don't just like scaring people; they eat it up!
The “Twisted Fields of Terror” story begins when Jack was given an opportunity to open his own attraction at Spider Hall Farm in Calvert County, Maryland. Establishing a business reputation with the owners of the property, Jack sought out the best ways, fiscally and otherwise, to take his love for the Halloween season to the next level. “Haunted attractions survive and fall if the operator does not have a good business sense,” Jack states in a more serious tone. In order for his nightmares to take on a new life of their own, Jack needed to ensure that his vision matched a realistic game plan. To do that, he would draw on a life time of experience in the business world, as well as contacts he was only just beginning to develop. “I run a company called Celebration Tents and have been hosting, preparing, and setting up major events with large groups of people for years,” Jack continued, “That experience along with the seminars at the yearly Transworld Haunt Shows are in no small part why Twisted Fields has such a big success.” For those who don't know, Transworld is a convention that draws together haunters and operators from all over the world. The Haunt Show is designed for those in the haunted attraction business to increase their wares, make contacts, and learn tricks of the trade. Until you have experienced this group of people for yourself, it is hard for me to convey just how much love for Halloween there is in those you might otherwise not expect.
As for those looking to break into the haunted attraction industry, Jack had this to say: “Go to an attraction and study it. Participate in that attraction to learn how it operates. What works and what doesn't? But above all, be passionate about the season. Customers will only get out of it what you put in.” Experience is key, but the various trade shows available for operators, technical staff, and actors in haunted attractions will increase the positive response of your output. Haunting isn't just a seasonal business, but a lifestyle. It becomes as much a part of you as anything else you consume. Twisted Fields of Terror and other haunted attractions are in the market for this season's staff, so if scaring people is something that interests you, then look them up!
To learn about the creative inspiration for Twisted Fields of Terror and some of what you might experience amongst the bloodied forest and farm it inhabits, tune in next week for the conclusion of our interview with Jack Beckwith. As always, have pleasant nightmares, and I'll see you next time.
Benjamin Lee Krause