ANSONIA — The entrance to the Massacre Mill Haunted Trail is unrecognizable on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
The large campfire in front of the bleachers is not lit, there are no actors in scary costumes prancing about, and the 9 foot clown statue that normally stands in front of the entrance is lying face-down to avoid being knocked over by the wind.
“We’d set it up so you could get a picture, but it takes like nine guys,” Darke County Steam Threshers Vice President Sean Wagner said.
Darke County Steam Threshers is a nonprofit that works to preserve knowledge about the history of local agriculture and its equipment and pass that knowledge on to today’s youth. The haunted trail is one of the Steam Threshers’ big fundraisers throughout the year and runs on Friday and Saturday nights in late September and October from around 8 p.m. until midnight.
“Or whenever we run out of bodies,” Wagner said.
Wagner and Joey Yost, the group’s treasurer, lead the committee that plans and executes the Massacre Mill haunted attraction each year. The event was inspired, they said, by the relative lack of Halloween-related activities available in Darke County.
“We didn’t have anything in the area,” Yost said. “So it was just an attempt to bring something to the community that it didn’t have.”
The trail’s horrific offerings are diverse, according to Wagner.
“We’ve got everything from guys in electric chairs to a big group of hillbillies with guns and dynamite,” Wagner said. “Crazy clowns, guys with chainsaws — you name it.”
“Hillbilly Hell” is one of the group’s strongest attractions, according to Wagner. It also creates rooms based around other themes, including ones based on movies like “Saw” and “The Ring.”
The Steam Threshers’ marquee character, however, is a colorful mallet-wielding clown they call “Mad Splatter.” He has his own Facebook page, according to Yost, and often spends a lot of time playfully interacting with guests, both before and after they go through the trail.
“He’s the leader of the crazies out here,” Yost said. “He’s our go-to: he does our live video feeds and a lot of our other customer interaction.”
The event is staffed entirely by volunteers, according to Yost. The group presently has about 30 actors who help out on an average night, mostly board members and their families. A lot of former customers like to get involved as well, however.
“We’ve had quite a few people who’ve come through in previous years then came back and asked to volunteer,” Yost said.
Many of those volunteers are younger people, according to Yost, whose work ethic often surprises her.
“The kids love this place, and they come out here and they work,” Yost said. “And they’re scary! There’s something creepy about having a kid come after you.”
Yost said her own fear is part of what motivated her to get involved with the haunted trail in the first place.
“I’m actually afraid of everything,” Yost said. “So it’s fun being able to scare other people. Plus, we’re family out here, so it’s really just another excuse to be able to hang out and have fun with family.”