- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

GRAHAMS FORGE, Va. (AP) - Mary Lin Brewer may be scared of spiders and graveyards.

But what does not scare her - and what may be scaring a lot of people these days - is what she calls the “chaos” of the upcoming presidential election.

When it comes to that, Brewer only laughs, saying, “I can make fun of the characters who are going to lead us. I never could have dreamed that these characters would pop up.”

But they did. And for Brewer, the director of the Major Graham Mansion, the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton feud is all just fodder for Brewer’s funny “Red, White and Boo” scare show.

Brewer boasts skeletal-style depictions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the barn walls of this complex, lying just north of Wytheville, Virginia.

“He looks bone-tired,” Brewer quipped, looking at Trump.

Then, glancing at a similar mocking of Clinton, Brewer asked, “What’s that, girlfriend? Oh, yes - she just sent me an email for a confirmation.”

Just below the presidential candidates you’ll find a coffin, where you can pose with family or friends.

“The boyfriend or the girlfriend gets in the coffin, and they pretend to be dead,” Brewer said. “And we take their picture. It’s hilarious.”

Even under cloudy skies, and even before opening, hundreds stand in line, paying $15 a head to be frightened, mildly harassed and chased by a chain saw.

“I’ve got a Statue of Liberty,” Brewer said, pointing. “I’ve got Uncle Sam.”

Both of those, of course, come across as patriotic. It fits the election-year theme.

But this mansion also has what makes all the young girls scream: a collection of clowns and scary faces.

And it’s ever-changing.

“That is the prison; it was the psycho ward,” Brewer said. “If we don’t change, we’re not scary.”

Each year, as many as 13,000 people brave back roads to get to the Major Graham Mansion, near both Interstate 81 and Interstate 77, by passing down a simply-scary stretch of gravel road.

“It’s worth the drive,” said Nicole Griffin of Charlottesville, Virginia. “It was just really cool to see.”

Consider this Southwest Virginia’s Disney World of haunted houses, according to longtime character actor Troy Black of Wytheville.

Black portrays a ghost buster this year. “And these guys are like family,” Black said. “I’ve been here for five years.”

Yet he wants more.

“I’d like it if they made it into, like, a small theme park,” Black said. “I’d like for it to be like this all the time.”

What’s here started on a shoestring budget in 2009, when it was just a makeshift haunted house. The haunted idea originated from Brewer as well as J.C. Weaver, the mansion’s owner and a musician.

Weaver, 75, has insisted that the mansion had ghosts, and he said he heard them while playing piano. “The spirits would hum with me,” he said. “And I’d tell people, and they’d laugh.”

Then a paranormal investigation group stopped in, and Weaver had them record the music - and even voices, he added. “They can call it haunted or whatever. But a spirit lives in this house.”

Ever expanding, the action now extends beyond the brick Major Graham Mansion, a house listed on the national historic landmark register; it was built in the 1840s.

Here at Halloween, however, history essentially takes a back seat to the season’s caustic crew of clowns, goths, bloody faces and spooky soldiers.

As many as 85 participating actors come from several close-by counties to stand in shadows and growl like animals in a moonshiner’s cabin. The backdrop includes a grisly ghost town, an abandoned mine shaft and what is believed to be a long-forgotten mess of toxic waste in an Appalachian creek.

You slip through a scary school bus, beware an albino werewolf and meet a wild woman trying to saw a body while incessantly screaming, “Come play with me!”

Brewer commands this army of actors, including Mickey Alford, who runs around the graveyard, acting like a zombie.

Before it’s all over, visitors meet the “Hillbilly Mutants.”

They also must pass through a squeeze room and dark tunnels.

It is easy to become disoriented, even confused.

“Claustrophobia is big,” Brewer said, smiling. “And you can’t go wrong with small, dark spaces. They deliver a big punch.”


Information from: Bristol Herald Courier, https://www.bristolnews.com

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