History of the Haunted Hayride

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Haunted Hayrides

A classic way to enjoy Halloween is with a haunted hayride. Thrill-seekers board a wagon attached to a tractor and are driven over farmland in the dark. In many versions, ghosts, monsters, and legendary characters jump out of the bushes and farm equipment threatens to crash into the wagon, leading to scares and screams. Unlike the haunted house, on the surface this idea would seem unique, but it has become mainstream with venues in every part of the country. Just how did the idea come about and why has it become so popular?

When Did Haunted Hayrides Begin?

Although the origin of haunted hayrides is unknown, our passion for haunted attractions in general has a long history, dating all the way back to ancient cultures. The Greeks, for instance, created special effects to scare patrons in the theater. Haunted attractions increased in popularity between the late 1960s to the early 1970s. However, haunted hayrides are a more recent development, dating back to around the late 1980s or early 1990s. One of the oldest is the Double M Haunted Hayride in upstate New York, which began more than 25 years ago.

Were Hayrides Always Haunted?

From piecing together anecdotes, it appears that hayrides originally began as a celebration in agricultural settings at the end of the hay season more than one century ago. Neighbors joined together to cut and gather hay and transport it to barns. At the end of the day’s work, they would throw loose hay into the back of a trailer (this was before the advent of hay bales) and ride around as a type of social activity, perhaps even a matchmaking event.

It seems likely that haunted hayrides were born from these regular hayrides — evolution into a haunted variant was a logical next step. Agritourism, which encompasses everything from vineyard tours to Halloween attractions, needs to constantly find new ways to draw people to farms and ranches, and ideal opportunity to increase income is around the holidays. The public’s love of being scared led to the explosion of Halloween activities and paved the way for haunted hayrides.

What Is the Difference Between a Pumpkin Patch Ride an a Haunted Hayride?

Pleasure rides today take place in a wagon or open truck decorated with hay, just like their haunted counterparts, but now run throughout the year. They also tend to take place at night. The pumpkin patch ride is just one type of these pleasure hayrides. It runs over the fall months, provides attendees the chance to pick a pumpkin, and includes no scares, making it ideal for young children.

How Many Haunted Hayrides Are There?

It is unclear exactly how many haunted hayrides exist in the U.S. American Haunts predicts there are at least 1,200 haunted attractions in total, and a large number of these are hayrides. In addition, there are more in other countries, including a number in Canada and a few in the UK.

Why Are Haunted Hayrides Popular?

The most prevalent Halloween attraction is the haunted house, but many people want something different — something to add to their experience. Haunted hayrides provide this. Instead of a traditional walk through a house, ride developers can theme hayrides as they wish, meaning attendees never know what to expect: a key to scares. Other advantages include the outdoor setting (which offers unlimited space), the ride aspect (which give patrons a rest from walking), and the close proximity as others (which enables everyone to experience scares at the same time).

The Future of Haunted Hayrides

Haunted attractions have been increasing in popularity over the last few decades and now receive visits from around 8,000 paying guests per year (again based on estimates from American Haunts). This is good news for venues provided they avoid becoming complacent — just as in any other industry, greater popularity also means more competition. Plus, it is very difficult to scare attendees year after year if attractions rehash same ideas. One of the best things about haunted hayrides is the opportunity to be original and get creative.

It is impossible to say exactly what we can expect from haunted hayrides in the future — knowing in advance removes the scare factor — however, it is possible to predict some trends.

Firstly, Halloween activities are no longer limited to the 18 to 34 age group. Everyone, from little kids to older adults, wants to be involved. This is pushing venues to come up with more diverse ideas to suit a greater variety of tastes.

Another factor is quality. With social media added to the picture, advertising alone no longer cuts it. Attendees can easily share links to their favorite venues and leave reviews on places like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Haunted attractions need to live up to their promises of fully scaring and entertaining patrons. This is good news in particular for haunted hayrides, as these attractions often lie outside of inner city areas. If hayrides are of high enough quality, attraction-goers are more likely to seek out these better options than to simply head to the nearest haunted house.

Finally, there is the possibility that more hayrides will merge with other attractions to create something unique. For example, attractions like zombie runs, mazes, fall festivals, scavenger hunts, and zip lines can combine with the hayride to form a haunted experience. Attendees may have the opportunity to get off the hayride to take part in another activity or they may shoot at zombies with a paintball gun while on the hay truck — patrons are often willing to pay to be these zombies, saving venues the cost of actors.

From the Past to the Future

Hayrides have come a long way from the pleasurable drive in the countryside they once were. Today, hayrides are primarily nighttime gatherings that run throughout October — and the main intention is to scare rather than offer an opportunity to socialize. However, the evolution of hayrides is far from over. With heavy competition, venues will need to develop original ideas and keep changing scares to ensure customers keep coming back year after year.

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