ROCK CREEK• Lucy Stricker took an ax. Gave her husband 40 whacks.
She dragged Herman’s bloody body from their bedroom and down the staircase of their Victorian mansion. The staircase screamed bloody murder for decades.
Or so the story goes.
Rock Creek Stage Station
Stricker Ranch has long been a hot spot for paranormal activity and research.
The ranch grew up at the Rock Creek Stage Station — part of “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay’s stage route out of Kelton, Utah, and the first settlement in the Magic Valley — so it’s natural that ghost stories and urban legends surround the 150-year-old site tucked away in a stand of trees along the Old Oregon Trail.
Over the years, visitors have reported seeing ghostly apparitions inside the home and lanterns swinging in the darkness near the old cemetery that sits a short distance to the west.
But the craziest story of all centered around a stain on the staircase leading from the upstairs bedrooms to the parlor below. The stain, which was smeared down the staircase, sparked wild tales of conspiracy and murder.
Herman Stricker, a German emigrant, purchased the Rock Creek Store at the stage stop in 1877. The store was the first trading post between Fort Hall and Fort Boise on the Oregon Trail.
Stricker later married Lucy Walgamott and the two operated the store and saloon, and rented out rooms in their home. Lucy nursed to health many sick emigrants who passed by, and buried those who didn’t make it.
For a decade before the Idaho State Historical Society took ownership of the site, the Stricker mansion, built in 1900, sat empty.
“There were overgrown bushes in the yard and ivy had overtaken the house,” said Stricker great-great-grandson Curtis Johnson. “It was creepy.”
During that time, young thrill-seekers would break into the old home through a back staircase to examine the “blood” stain on the stairs and hold seances.
“We had to take down the back staircase to keep them out,” Johnson said.
Herman died in his sleep — and without Lucy’s help — in 1920.
“He was 79 when he died,” Johnson said. “His death was peaceful — uneventful.”
Lucy, who was much younger than her husband, lived at the Victorian mansion for nearly 30 years after Herman passed. Lucy died in February 1949, during the worst winter storm known to hit the Magic Valley. Her body “was laid out in the parlor for 14 days, until she could be buried,” Johnson said.
Their daughter Gladys lived in the home until the mid-’70s. Since the state took over the site in 1984, caretakers have reported being startled by ghosts.
Gary Guy has lived at the house for six years, overseeing the site for the historical society. Guy says Brittany, his Scottish Terrier, alerts him to visits from a young girl wearing a long white dress. The girl never speaks, but disappears into thin air as soon as he turns away. Others have seen the girl too, he said.
The legend of Herman’s murder is easily debunked because the couple’s bedroom was not on the second floor of the mansion.
Johnson got a good laugh out of the fictional tale, and so did his great-aunt Shirley Puckett.
Lucy, Puckett told Johnson, “would have loved it.”
ALBION • At the Haunted Mansions of Albion, people come to get the daylights scared out of them. Chainsaws rip, butcher knife-wielding clowns give chase — all in the name of fun. But when the lights go out at the former Albion State Normal School, there is a different presence that scares off even some of the attraction’s staffers each year.
At the Albion Campus Retreat, the site of the former Normal School, are several spirits “passing through,” said owner Troy Mortensen.
They reveal themselves in the sounds of racing footsteps in an empty building, the smell of dough in a long-unused kitchen or the sight of a long-since deceased woman traveling through darkened rooms.
“We have ghost hunters in here all the time,” Mortensen said.
Since 2007, Mortensen and his wife have owned the property, which comprises several faded brick buildings dating back to the 1890s. It’s used primarily as a family retreat destination but during October, the buildings are used as a haunted house attraction.
It’s during this time when staffers have seen apparitions.
In the “House of Chaos,” people have reported seeing a large black Labrador approaching people only to quickly disappear as soon as they’d turn to look. At Comidge Hall, paranormal investigators have seen the spirit of a black-haired woman named Margaret, who in her lifetime would hide out in the building when she was overwhelmed by her large family.
Throughout the Campus roams a black, bushy cat with slight auburn shades nicknamed “Bones.” Bones lives in the area, surviving off of mice, Mortsensen said. The cat is friendly, and followed a Times-News reporter and photographer into every building — except Bocock Hall.
Known as “Axeline Gymnasium,” Bocock Hall is the site of a ghostly encounter that reportedly got physical.
An employee named Jesse tried to scare his friends, Mortensen said. He hid behind the corner of a stair set and reached for his friends as they walked by. Something in turn grabbed him and pushed him up against the wall.
He never returned to the campus.
“We have workers go in and not come back because they’re so scared,” manager Jeralee Jones said.
Jones doesn’t count herself as a believer in the paranormal. She said she hasn’t seen any spirits in any of the buildings but has seen white lights flashing on floors when there was no noticeable source of light.
Mortensen also didn’t consider himself a believer until earlier this month when he heard a door slam and footsteps racing up the hallway when no one was in the building.
It also took his wife hearing a woman calling for her in one building late at night to convince him.
“One night when we were closing, she heard a voice in here that said ‘wait,’” Mortensen said. “She ran through the whole building and found no one. As she was leaving, she heard ‘come back.’”
Despite all of this, he feels whatever is stuck behind at the campus isn’t malicious. The spirits, he said, are simply there waiting to reconnect with family.
TWIN FALLS | Six seemingly unrelated graves lie clustered under a row of evergreens in the Twin Falls Cemetery. But the graves are all connected to one woman.
Lyda Southard, arguably the most infamous woman in Idaho history, is said to have poisoned her daughter, four husbands and a brother-in-law, all by the time she was 27.
Three of her victims lie next to each other in the cemetery, along with her parents and the Twin Falls County deputy who chased her down nearly 100 years ago.
Most Popular Girl in School
The story of the Twin Falls woman's dirty deeds and her eventual capture and conviction captivated the nation. Lyda's story still appalls and fascinates today.
Some said the pretty little thing was the most popular girl in high school.
Alan Jaffe, a magazine writer who profiled Lyda in Argosy magazine, said she had an "indefinable something, a spark giving off a light that draws men, by physiological and chemical attraction."
Men "hung around her like flies about a honey pot," Jaffe wrote in 1957, when there were still people around who had known her as Anna Elizabeth "Lyda" Trueblood.
Jaffe interviewed a neighbor who described the Trueblood family.
"They wasn't so wealthy. Just so-so," said Mrs. Larrabee Hanson. "But they were all church-going people, devout and clean-living. Lyda went to church every Sunday without fail."
Dropping like Flies
In 1912, at the age of 21, Lyda Trueblood became Mrs. Robert C. Dooley.
Her brother-in-law, Ed Dooley, lived with Bob, Lyda and their infant, Loraine, on their farm outside Twin Falls. Ed Dooley died suddenly is 1915, after taking out a life insurance policy payable to Bob and Lyda.
Bob Dooley died several months later, after taking out a life insurance policy payable to Lyda.
Both Dooleys had succumbed to typhoid, Lyda suggested and doctors agreed. Loraine, then two years old, died under suspicious circumstances in the same year.
In 1917, Lyda Trueblood Dooley became Mrs. Billy McHaffie.
Supposedly distraught over the earlier deaths, Lyda convinced McHaffie that they should move away. McHaffie died in 1918 of influenza and diptheria, in Hardin, Mont., after taking out a life insurance policy.
Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie in March 1919 became Mrs. Harlan Lewis. Lewis died in Billings two short months later of gastroenteritis after taking out a life insurance policy. His wife packed her things while Lewis lay writhing in pain.
Lyda immediately left Montana for Twin Falls and checked into the Rogerson Hotel in May 1919, under the name of Lyda McHaffie. She took a job at the Grille Cafe on Main Avenue; business picked up immediately.
Ed Meyer, foreman of I.B. Perrine's Blue Lake Ranch, became a regular customer at the cafe.
"Folks couldn't help noticing that the air sort of shimmered when Lyda's eyes met Ed.'s," Jaffe wrote. "And that the ham he got was thicker, the eggs sunnier than those served other patrons."
Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie Lewis became Mrs. Edward Meyer in August 1920.
"She cooked magnificent meals and was a friend to all" on the ranch, Jaffe wrote. After one meal, ranch hand Ben Squires doubled over in pain. So did Lyda, and another. Finally, Meyer was stricken.
Lyda tottered to a telephone and summoned a doctor. Ptomaine poisoning, she said. Probably that new-fangled canned food.
All but Meyer quickly recovered. Meyer, in excruciating pain, was admitted to the hospital. His health improved, but he fell ill again and died after one of Lyda's visits.
A Fast Exit
Folks in town started to talk. How could such a healthy, strong man died so suddenly?
Louise Hoodenpyle told Lyda, her sister, that there was talk of digging up Meyer's body to re-examine it.
"That's a good idea," Lyda said, according to Jaffe's article. "Yes, let them cut him all to pieces, if that's what they want to do."
Her brave words failed to staved off exhumation of Meyer's body. Sheriff E.R. Sherman and County Attorney Frank L. Stephan eventually ordered the exhumation, and Lyda skedaddled.
Sherman assigned Deputy Sheriff Virgil Ormsby to the case. Ormsby, who had known Lyda since she was a child, relentlessly backtracked through Lyda's life, putting the pieces of the puzzle together as he found them. He retraced Lyda's path to Montana, where he discovered Lyda had married Lewis, and that he, too, had died, leaving a $10,000 insurance policy to his wife.
Ormsby revisited the McHaffies' former home in Montana and discovered a large quantity of cut-up fly paper containing arsenic in the basement. Arsenic residue was found in a pot Lyda had used to boil the poison out of the fly paper before tainting her husband's food.
Back in Twin Falls, Sherman arranged to have the bodies of Lyda's victims exhumed. Arsenic was found in all but her daughter's body, and a warrant was issued for Lyda's arrest.
Ormsby followed her trail to Mexico, then to Los Angeles, where Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie Lewis Meyer had become Mrs. Paul Southard, chief petty officer of the SS Montery, before moving with him to Hawaii, where he was stationed.
A snafu in Southard's life insurance application was probably the only reason he was still alive.
A Stunned Nation
Authorities in Honolulu arrested Lyda and held her until Ormsby arrived. Ormsby escorted Lyda, wearing a lei around her neck, to the gangplank of the SS Matsonia, as she bowed and waved to a gathering crowd. Lyda would soon register at her new home, the Twin Falls County Jail on the fourth floor of the courthouse.
The 1921 murder trial, which ran on the front page of the New York Times, stunned the nation. After a lengthy trial, Lyda was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Meyer. Evidence in the other deaths was circumstantial. When the jury was sent to decide Lyda's fate, a "scattering of spectators cling(ed) to their seats awaiting the verdict," said the Nov. 10, 1921, edition of the Twin Falls Weekly News.
The defendant, known by then as Lady Bluebeard, showed no signs of feeling when the guilty verdict was read, 23 hours later.
Escape and Re-Capture
Lyda was sentenced to 10 years to life in the state penitentiary in Boise. She occupied one of the few cells in the women's quarters of the old pen until her escape a decade later.
Lyda managed to charm prison trustee David Minton, a machinist imprisoned for theft. After his release, Minton purchased a car and on the night of May 4, 1931, waited for Lyda outside the prison.
The two drove to Colorado, where they parted ways. Police caught up to Minton — who eventually disclosed Lyda's location — and returned him to Idaho.
Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie Lewis Meyer Southard become Mrs. Harry Whitlock in Denver, and continued to allude police until she was captured in July 1932. She was returned to her cell in the old pen and remained there until she was paroled in October 1941.
Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie Lewis Meyer Southard Whitlock eventually became Mrs. Hal Shaw, her seventh husband, who disappeared several years later.
Lyda died of a heart attack in 1958 in Salt Lake City. She proclaimed her innocence until the day she died. Her hairless body, however, betrayed her. Hair loss is a side effect of prolonged exposure to arsenic.
Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie Lewis Meyer Southard Whitlock Shaw is buried under the name Anna E. Shaw in Sunset Memorial Park in Twin Falls.
OAKLEY • Legends say a ghostly actress occasionally makes a stage appearance at Howells Opera House and the founder keeps watch to make sure productions continue and his legacy lives on.
“I’ve always felt a presence there,” said Harlo Clark, who has directed and performed in dozens of plays at the theater. “I’ve always felt like it was B.P. Howells making sure we are continuing the legacy.”
Clark said other people have seen an apparition of a dark-haired woman at the theater, who resembles photos of Mrs. Howells.
Andy Weeks, author of a series of books on haunted places throughout the West, said when he was researching his book “Ghosts of Idaho’s Magic Valley,” longtime Oakley residents told stories of a strange woman, apparently an actress, who appears briefly on stage.
“...No one could give an explanation of who she was or from whence she came,” Weeks said.
In between shows sometimes, a person will catch a glimpse of the apparition and when they turned to look at her, she will be gone, Clark said.
Others have reported seeing the mysterious woman during crowd scenes in play performances. No one ever knows who she is, Clark said.
During renovations at the theater, activity seemed to ramp up a bit, he said.
“I always had this feeling that we needed to hurry up and get back on the stage,” said Clark. “I certainly felt that B.P. was encouraging us.”
Many actors still practice a long-held tradition of standing at the edge of the stage with their backs to the audience and throwing a coin over their shoulder to “pay them for keeping things in order,” Clark said.
Work on the opera house began in 1904 and was finished in 1907 at a cost of $22,000. Howells brought in melodramas and farces to entertain the new settlers. The touring performers would often be met by Howells at the train depot in Minidoka and taken to Oakley, where they would remain as long as a week putting on different shows each night.
In the late 1920s, the Howells sold the opera house to the LDS Church, where it was named the Cassia Stake Playhouse and later the Oakley Playhouse. The building was also used as a school, a church and for community productions. The church considered demolishing the structure in the 1970s, but it was rescued by Oakley residents. Residents formed the Oakley Valley Arts Council and purchased the playhouse from the church two years later.
Since then, numerous renovations projects have been accomplished.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in there and I’ve never seen a ghost, yet,” said Kent Severe, president of the Oakley Valley Arts Council. “I’ve heard noises, which could have been boards settling. But, I can’t verify any ghosts or witches.”
Severe has been known to tease young actors the first time they are at the opera house by telling them to listen closely. Inevitably they will hear creaking noises coming from the old building.
In 2008, the arts council allowed the Big River Ghost Trackers to investigate the theater. After hours of investigations conducted in the dark, they concluded there was evidence of paranormal activity.
“After reviewing the evidence I do think there’s definitely something going on up there,” said Jason “Doc” Wells, Big River Ghost Trackers lead investigator at the time.
The investigators reported a 10-degree spike in temperature about midway down the aisle and a spike in an electromagnetic field meter in the same spot as the temperature anomaly. Another investigator thought he heard a young girl’s voice.
They also noted other oddities like yellow squares in photos taken in the foyer that seem to have faces in them and an object moving in a shadow on video. The group also recorded hangers swaying on a rack where there was no apparent air current.
Years ago, youth actors would play a game after performances by dividing into teams and turning the lights out for hide-and-seek, Severe said.
“It was darker than pitch in there and they would go hide somewhere and one team would go find the other,” Severe said. “It would last until 2 or 3 in the morning. It’s kind of dwindled now because the ones here now don’t know about it.”
Arts council treasurer Jan Davis said she’s not afraid to work at the opera house by herself, which she often does.
But one time, when she was painting a set for “Ann Frank” she heard “an awful rattle,” which startled her.
She laughed to herself after realizing it was just “lights hitting a flap.”
TWIN FALLS • For 78 years, prisoners were housed on the fourth floor of the Twin Falls County Courthouse. When the new jail opened in 1989, they all moved. Except one.
Some county employees have reported feeling a ghostly presence or have seen a person walking through the former jail area, according to Mike Miller, who has spent the past 34 years working for the county and is in charge of all maintenance for the building, which was constructed in 1911.
Three prisoners hanged themselves in the building in the 1980s, so one of them is the most likely specter, Miller said.
“I think it’s his ghost that everyone says they feel or see,” Miller said.
Miller said he'd never seen or felt anything himself, but some people said they saw a person walking through the jail area, and there were also some people who were scared to go into the basement.
“They thought they could feel or see a presence,” he said.
He said the stories were prevalent for about 10 years, but then they largely died down.
“I haven’t heard anybody talking about it for quite a while now,” Miller said.
Several people who work for the county today whom the Times-News contacted said they were aware of rumors from years ago, but were hazy on the details.
“I know that the old timers used to talk about it,” said Lori Stewart, spokeswoman for the county sheriff’s office.
Commissioner Terry Kramer said a paranormal group asked the commissioners years ago, before most of the county offices were moved to County West, if they could do a ghost search at the courthouse. The commissioners nixed the idea, worried it would be too disruptive to normal business.
So is the ghost still there? Or was it ever there? Who knows? But what good is an old courthouse without a good ghost story?
TWIN FALLS | The new Twin Falls High School was so nice, the first batch of teachers from the 1950s decided they'd never leave. Even after their last class bell rang.
Over the decades, as students sat in classrooms, staff went about their business and teachers planned their lessons, these former teachers seemed to be at home below the school.
And even today, these ghosts of teachers past occasionally make their presence known by rattling pipes in little-known, dark, musty tunnels.
It's a legend that has been circulating for decades.
Bill Brulotte — who taught at Twin Falls High from 1988 to 1995— used to hear pipes rattle during the day. And at night, he’d hear a ping-ping-ping sound in a distinctive pattern coming from the radiator.
He asked his coworkers about it and they told him a story: The first group of teachers in the building never wanted to leave.
As the legend goes, the ghosts of teachers reside in the tunnels beneath the school and rattle the pipes — especially, on cold days.
Brulotte — now federal programs director for the Twin Falls School District — flipped through a yearbook from 1954 on Thursday pointing out black-and-white pictures of teachers.
“They fell in love with the building,” he said.
The tunnels supposedly serve as a meeting place for the ghosts, who gather to talk about their former students. “They have little reunions,” Brulotte said.
They’re friendly ghosts, he said, and imagines they’re reminiscing about the good old days and singing the school fight song.
• • •
Twin Falls High’s original building was on Shoshone Street North near the county courthouse. Students attended classes there from 1912-1953.
By the 1950s, building issues arose and the third floor — which was used for music classes — was condemned, according to a document compiled by the school district about school history.
Jerome had opened a new high school, Brulotte said, and school officials in Twin Falls couldn’t let their neighbors on the other side of the Perrine Bridge win.
A new Jerome High School building — which is now the school district's administration office — opened in 1949 on Fourth Avenue West.
In Twin Falls, a group of teachers worked to get community approval to fund a new building. And legend says they're now residing in the school as ghosts.
Twin Falls High’s campus opened on a 40-acre site on Filer Avenue East and cost $250,000 to build. It housed sophomores through seniors, with the first graduating class in 1954.
When the building opened, it was considered far removed in Twin Falls, Brulotte said, and a long way from downtown.
Over the decades, additions were made — including a cafeteria and extended E hallway of classrooms by 1958.
But one thing has remained: a maze of underground tunnels that allows maintenance crews to access water and steam heating lines.
The largest tunnel is about 7 feet tall and runs the length of the main hallway. Thursday, Brulotte unlocked a plain wooden door that looks like a janitor’s closet or meeting room.
A set of concrete stairs leads down into the tunnel. “Be careful,” Brulotte said. “There are very narrow stairs.”
Off the main tunnel, smaller tunnels connect up with it and lead to a boiler room. School custodians come down monthly to make sure there aren’t any pipe leaks.
Many students don’t know there are tunnels underneath the school, Brulotte said.
A musty scent lingers in the warm air. The thumping of students’ feet can be heard coming from upstairs.
• • •
When Tracy Barnes started working as a custodian at Twin Falls High, his coworkers told him to watch out for ghosts.
“I thought it was a big joke and they were just teasing me,” he said.
But that changed a decade ago. Barnes — who’s now head custodian — was locking up the school after a speech and debate tournament ended at 2 a.m.
He heard a door shut and two footsteps. He went to see if a coworker needed something, but nobody was there.
“I didn’t like to work late at night after that,” Barnes said.
• • •
After decades of rattling pipes, the future looks uncertain for the ghosts.
Twin Falls High is undergoing a $7.6 million facelift, which includes a new heating/air conditioning system. Renovations are slated for completion by next summer.
The money is from a nearly $74 million bond voters approved in March 2014.
The new HVAC system will have rooftop units. And that means getting rid of the old boiler system — and some pipes — down in the tunnels.
So what will the ghosts rattle next? Just wait and see.
TWIN FALLS — Brent Kinsfather waits for all year for the night his house comes alive with cackling witches, jumping spiders and moaning zombies.
That's the night children dressed as ghosts, ghouls and other creatures flock to his door seeking candy and a good scare.
And because Halloween comes only once a year, Kinsfather makes sure their visit to his house is worth the trek. While many people give out candy on Halloween night, or put out a few decorations, Kinsfather is one of a handful of people in Twin Falls who turn a trip up his sidewalk to knock on the door, a journey for only the bravest of trick-or-treaters.
"It's something I think people should do more of," Kinsfather said Monday outside of his home. "You see stuff on Christmas all the time, but Halloween is a warmer time of year and it's something all kids can go out and enjoy."
Kinsfather has amassed quite a collection of creepy decor including Chucky from the "Child's Play"horror film series, who sits on a black throne flanked by two lit torches. Kinsfather goes through a half gallon of oil a night for the torches. Another Chucky stands with his face pressed against the upstairs window with Bride of Chucky by his side.
"Chucky is the epitome of evil," he said "All the kids, that's what they remember — Chucky."
Then there's "Doug," a zombie that looks like he's crawling out of the ground when you move too close to him. Nearby, a pumpkin stagecoach lights up inside to reveal a skeleton. And Kinsfather doesn't care when visitors take a closer peek or snap a picture with his decorations.
"Doug, he's had his picture with more teenage girls than anyone in this city," Kinsfather said.
Last year, Kinsfather had more than 350 children trick-or-treat his house at 1127 Blake St. N. in Twin Falls.
He's prepared for this year's crowds and fills a black plastic tub full of candy. He started decorating his house six years ago. That first year, only 10 children came to his door. But it seems the more horrifying his decorations become, the more visitors he receives. This year, Kinsfather added three witches cackling around a black cauldron. On Halloween night, he will turn on the fog machine, light Chucky's torches and fill a cauldron with dry ice to create a bubbling effect.
A few weeks before Halloween, thieves stole Kinsfather's oldest decoration, an alien named "Paul." He owned Paul for 20 years. A missing sign was tacked on a piece of fence near Kinsfather's driveway. He just wants the alien returned.
"It was the first time someone has stolen anything," Kinsfather said. "There was nothing to him, but he was mine."
But Paul's abduction hasn't deterred Kinsfather's love of turning his home into a haunted mansion of sorts Halloween night.
"I do it for everybody," he said. "I do it for the kids and it's neat and fun."
On the other side of town, Kirby and Marty Nebeker's front lawn is home to a glowing inflatable menagerie of vampires, black cats and Star Wars characters.
The Nebekers have about 45 Halloween inflatables in their front yard at 1708 Targhee Drive in Twin Falls. There is a dragon, pirate ship and some inflatables so big you can walk through them. This is the sixth year the Nebekers have filled just about every space on their grass with Halloween decorations.
"We decorate for the kids," Kirby said. "It's all for the kids."
Marty wore a scarf decorated with pumpkins and jack-o-lantern print leggings Tuesday as she talked about her family's collection of decorations. The over-sized lawn ornaments are inflated from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day in October.
The couple puts out their menagerie on Oct. 1. and it takes them two days to complete it.
"I like to point out where my husband should put things," Marty said.
It's been an investment they try to add to every year.
Large inflatables such as a giant black cat with orange glowing eyes can cost between $160 to $250. Smaller ones such as Yoda and Jaba the Hutt cost between $45 to $100. Ones that move like a vampire rising from its grave can cost as much as the big inflatables. The power to run the inflatables increases the couple's monthly electric bill by about $50.
This year, they had someone shoot at their pumpkin skulls that line the sidewalk. It was the first time vandalism like that has happened.
"We haven't had any issues in six years and this year it's an issue," Kirby said.
Over the years, Kirby has answered the door bell on Halloween night dressed like the Joker, a pirate and Darth Vader. This year, the Nebekers are dressing like an Egyptian king and queen. Marty said her favorite part is seeing all the children in creative costumes come to her door.
Last year, they had about 350 trick-or-treaters come to their house. They weren't prepared for the mass of trick-or-treaters the first year they decorated their house.
Kirby recalled making more than a few candy runs to the grocery store that night.
TWIN FALLS | Savanna O'Connor used to plead with passersby to help her. Now the 14-year-old just sits in the dark and screams.
It's better that way.
She scares a lot more people.
Savanna is one of the many ghosts, ghouls and things of nightmares that roam the shadowy parts of The Haunted Swamp. The haunted house attraction is in its seventh year of operation in Twin Falls. But instead of roaming hallways and rooms, visitors can walk through deserted fields, past bubbling streams and through gnarled and twisted woods.
It's a realm where visitors can find some of the most enthusiastic haunters in the Magic Valley.
What makes them so good at their job? They love scaring people all year round, but especially during the Halloween season.
Suzette Miller, co-owner of The Haunted Swamp, said the attraction started as a fundraiser to buy equipment and training for the ski patrol and ski instructors at Magic Mountain Resort. Suzette and her husband, Gary Miller, own Magic Mountain Resort near Hansen. For the first three years, the mountain was the location of The Haunted Forest, The Haunted Swamp's predecessor. When a wildfire forced them to relocate below, they liked the change so much that they made it their home. Money raised at The Haunted Swamp still goes toward its original cause, but now many members of the public have signed on as haunters getting paid with ski passes.
And some — like Darlene Snyder — do it for the thrill.
Snyder sat in a chair Oct. 23 as makeup artist Jeremy Fechner turned her smile into grotesque flaps surrounding exposed gums and teeth. In one night, Fechner will transform 25 to 40 people into zombies, porcelain dolls and clowns. This year, he has received some help after bringing makeup artist Kami Bleeker on board.
Snyder decided to become a zombie after being invited by her friend, who plays a witch.
"It sounded awesome," Snyder said. "I love to scare people. It gives my husband a break. I like to jump out and see if I can make him scream."
The best reaction she ever received was from a couple.
"The guy that shoved his girlfriend at me was funny," she said. "The guys are the funniest when I scare them."
That kind of feedback is what has kept Snyder coming back for the past two years.
In September, Suzette set up a booth at the Twin Falls County Fair. The sign-up sheet for haunters garnered a lot of interest. More than 100 people signed up, but about half were selected or made the commitment.
"It takes a little bit of dedication and sacrifice," Suzette said. "The high schoolers a lot of times are missing football games and homecoming games. They love doing it, it's a lot of fun."
After the sun set Oct. 23, Fechner made his rounds on the outskirts of The Haunted Swamp to check on haunters and supervise groups of attendees walking the paths. A full moon lighted the way as Fechner held a flashlight in one hand and a walkie talkie in the other. It crackled every now and then, as haunters relayed messages to one another.
"The way I see it, you go to a play to sit in the seat and they change the scenery. This is more of an interactive play," he said.
Fechner's 8-year-old and 9-year-old sons are haunters on certain nights. The youngest haunters at The Haunted Swamp are 4 or 5. The oldest haunters are in their 40s. Fechner said the little girls who play zombies are pretty creepy. One features two gaping, black holes where her eyes should be and the other has an eyeball, hanging by a thread of nerves.
As silhouettes of creatures emerged from the dark, Fechner greeted them. Some he complimented as they snarled and moved unnaturally. He especially liked the technique of the creature crab crawling across the ground like a moving bush. Sometimes the haunters try to scare him, he said. And sometimes they succeed.
In the cemetery, Snyder waited behind some trees as a group approached.
She likes to sneak up behind people when they can't see her. If she can't startle them, another zombie is waiting on the ground up the path.
Scaring people isn't always easy.
Dressed as a dead prom girl — black sunken eyes and a torn pink dress — Savanna sat cross-legged in the a small grove of trees. As a group passed, she let out a high-pitched scream. A group of girls jumped and shrieked. A group of older boys who walked by next, strolled by, unfazed. Savanna used to run up to people, telling them that her date ditched her and she needed help. That's when a monster appeared and dragged her away.
The scene didn't scare many, so now she silently sits, waiting for people to walk by.
"I love scaring the full-grown men," Savanna said with a big grin. "You get them running 3-feet in the other direction."
Once she scared her English teacher.
"It was really fun," she said gleefully.
Savanna's mother, Jaime O'Connor, often dresses as an "old lady" to scare Haunted Swamp visitors. This is her first time haunting. Three of her children have haunted for a couple of years. At first, Jaime didn't want to interact with people. She wanted to be what is called a "silent haunter."
But once costume and makeup is on, the transition to silent to active haunter is smooth.
There are three or four families who haunt together at the swamp. The mine shaft is operated by a father and son team. The Jason tent is manned by brothers and sisters.
"It's like I always say," Suzette said. "A family that haunts together, stays together."
ALBION — An Albion couple with a penchant for scaring people hosted a famous ghost hunting crew as they looked for evidence of paranormal activity at the old Albion State Normal School Campus.
Heather and Troy Mortensen, owners of the Albion Campus Retreat and the Haunted Mansions, allowed Zak Bagans and the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” crew to scour the buildings on the campus and do an in-depth investigation last month.
The Mortensens signed a contract with the show that prevented them from letting anyone know the crew was in Albion on July 18-20.
“They didn’t want to be bombarded by fans and have their work disrupted while they were filming,” Troy Mortensen said. “So we kept it quiet.”
During the investigation the ghost hunting crew chose to focus on Comish Hall, which the Mortensens say is one of the most haunted buildings.
Heather Mortensen describes herself as a skeptic.
“I don’t normally believe in ghosts,” she said. “But things have happened here that can’t be explained.”
Heather has heard people speaking to her and footsteps when no one else was in a building. Before there was electricity on the campus, the couple saw lights in windows.
The production team conducted thorough research on the campus, and the crew interviewed people who had connections to it, she said.
Former campus caretaker John Kay Powell of Albion was one.
Powell said that while many people focus on Comish Hall, his most chilling encounter happened during daylight while he was mowing the lawn at Miller Hall before the Mortensens owned the property.
There was a horizontal pipe coming out of the building that could be hooked to an irrigation hose and as he was mowing the lawn, the pipe slid out from the wall another two feet — right in front of him.
“The building was all boarded up at the time and I thought there must be some kids in there,” Powell said. “So I got off the riding lawnmower to check, but all the doors were locked.”
After musing over the event he concluded “it was just a ghost, I guess.”
Over the years, he said, there has been ample talk about Miller Hall being haunted, which was the men’s dormitory when the campus was a school for teachers.
During WWII all the young men were at war and Miller Hall was boarded up and used for a spook alley for Halloween.
Soon, Powell said, there were rumors circulating that there was “something in there helping things along.”
The college was established in 1893 by the Idaho Legislature and closed in 1951 due to lack of funding. The school was reopened by a Christian college but closed again in 1969.
It sat vacant for decades.
The Mortensen’s first ghost report happened right after they purchased the property in 2007. An excavator operator working on the property said he saw a young girl in the windows of one of the buildings.
“He wouldn’t go into the building,” Troy said.
After they got the request from the show to film at the campus, Heather said, she had to do some research to find out who they were.
But the experience, she said, turned out to be a good one.
“Zak is really intense,” Troy said. “He is all about it, and he takes it very seriously.”
While Aaron Goodwin, he said, is very personable and fun loving.
Heather said it was a difficult decision to let the show come because they wanted to film during the retreat’s busiest time of year.
The retreat rents buildings for family reunions and other events, and Comish Hall is rented for special occasions like weddings and parties. Each fall the Mortensens turn five of the buildings on campus into the Haunted Mansions, complete with props and actors in ghoulish makeup.
“And they were very concerned about our guests getting in their space while they were working,” Heather said.
During the preliminary investigation, the Ghost Adventures crew honed in on “a very strong presence” in Comish Hall, Troy said.
Most of the reports of unexplained activity stem from that building, Troy said, and many include sightings of a pale woman with dark eyes bustling between the kitchen and the living quarters.
The description, he said, matches that of a woman who was the cook at the school for 40 years.
The Ghost Adventures team picked up voices on their electronic devices in the building, Troy said.
Different crews came in each day, and they performed reenactments that included an event that happened on a closing night of the Haunted Mansions where eight staff members came running out of the gym after they saw a large dark shadow of a man going into the balcony.
“It was really cool to watch the whole process as they filmed,” Heather said.
The episode will air at the end of October or first of November.
BURLEY — On Halloween night, those taps at the door will likely emanate from myriad creatures and characters begging for goodies in lieu of tricks.
Children dressed as superheroes, dogs dressed as food and adults dressed as – well, more adult – are some of the characters that will prowl the streets and stand at the front stoop.
The top-ranked children’s costume nationwide this year, according to the National Retail Federation, will be action figures or superheroes.
Americans will drop a record $9.1 billion on candy, costumes and pumpkins this year, up 8.3 percent from $8.4 billion last year, NRF said, based on a survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics.
“A lot of the popular-selling costumes this year are Marvel characters like Spiderman and Ironman,” Allison Cox, assistant manager at Walmart in Burley said.
Costumes featuring Disney’s Descendants sisters, Disney princesses, Power Rangers, Batman and Minions are also popular, she said.
Adults are going for more, “adult looks,” Cox said.
“We see it all, and every year it’s different things,” Marilyn Felt, owner of Mill End Fabrics, in Burley, said.
Felt’s clientele tends to lean to the creative side—like covering themselves with newspaper and wearing a trench coat to represent a newsflash or sewing random items like socks and panties on their clothing and attending a party as static cling.
On average, consumers are expected to spend $86.13, up from $82.93 last year, NRF said.
The number of people who say they their spending will be impacted by the economy shrunk to 12.9 percent, compared to 14.1 percent last year and 32.1 percent in 2011.
Costumes will be purchased by 69 percent of Halloween shoppers, who will spend $3.4 billion on them. Ninety-five percent of people surveyed said they will buy candy, spending a total of $2.7 billion. Seventy-two percent will buy decorations, for another $2.7 billion, and 37 percent will buy greeting cards costing $410 million.
Two-year-old Corbin Erickson, of Albion, settled on traditional costume after waffling between choices for days.
“For the last few weeks he kept saying he wanted to be firefighter, so we bought that one,” Corbin’s mother, Jessica Erickson, said.
Among people celebrating Halloween, 49 percent will decorate their home or yard, 48 percent will wear costumes, and 23 percent will visit a haunted house.
Sixteen percent of people surveyed will put costumes on their pets.
“She doesn’t seem to mind the costumes,” Sydney Taylor, of Burley, said of her 11-year-old Dachshund, Daisy, as she fastened a Velcro closure around the patient pup. “But she doesn’t like the hood on her Minions costume.”
Taylor and Daisy’s costumes usually match. This year, Daisy’s accessories include a hot dog box that she sits in and Taylor dressed as a vendor. Four Paws Bed and Bath in Rupert, where Taylor works, sells K-9 costumes.
Smaller dogs often leave dressed as little panda bears and the owners of bigger dogs opt for animal costumes like bears, she said.
Like dogs and their owners, Felt said she often sees families dress as a theme.
Brianna Bennett, of Heyburn, said she tries to guide her children, Tayli, 9, Dre, 6 and Case, 3 toward a theme each year.
This year Tayli will be a princess, and Case will be a knight. She is still trying to coax Dre into a dragon costume, but he hasn’t made a commitment yet.
Their dog, Bella, a Yorkshire terrier, poodle and Maltese cross, will wear a unicorn costume, Bennett said.
One year, her children dressed up as a farmer, tractor and a cow.
Bennett said the real challenge this year may be getting Case to actually wear his costume.
“He likes it, but the first time he put it on the tag scratched him. Now he just likes to carry it around,” Bennett said.
Brenda Walton, of Paul, who works at the Burley Public Library, wears a version of the same costume each year to a church Harvest party and to work.
“I dress up as a queen or a Goddess. Obviously, what else would I be,” she joked.
She made a queen costume in high school for a Shakespeare play, and now rotates that with another costume each Halloween.
Rachel Hale, of Burley, said she got her 3-year-old son Calvin a Tyrannosaurus costume that looks like he is riding the dinosaur. Her five-year-old daughter, Ruby, will be Elsa.
Hale said she doesn’t dress up; instead, she’ll leave the costumes to the kids.