Monday, October 6, 2008

MHF:
Men Hoo Frighten


I have never had a more difficult time with a post. I mean I can hardly bear to write this, it's like system overload in my brain. I could take it in so many directions that I'm just going to succumb to a stream-of-consciousness style and barrel through. The thing is I have so much to say, so many experiences and memories of this little haunt, that I could go on for days. So maybe I will. As I remember things, I'm going to post them because sadly I've written nothing, nada about MHF in the sixteen years we've been doing it--and that depresses me. I can't believe how much of my life is just floating around in my subconscious, probably never to be retreived again. BUT, I have a blog now and things are starting to be remembered.

During my last year at BYU Nick and I, along with some of our closest college cronies went to the "Haunted Woods" in American Fork, Utah. It was an awesome night full of chain saws, screams and the usual hysteria you find at events like this. Later that night Nick called his brother Alex, in Maryland, and said "I found a way we can start our camp." So, Alex, allowing no moss to grow under his club feet, proceeded to "deck out" an old school bus, that he and Nick used to live in in college, (a sweet story for another time) for the upcoming fall. Markoff's Haunted Forest started in a bus and as a fundraiser to get our outdoor camping business off the ground. That first year Alex, with friends in tow, drove the bus from place to place enticing students, kids and neighborhoods to "Enter if you dare..." The following summer Nick and his disgruntled bride (see that story here) moved east and the MHF bus drove to it's NEW location--Mom and Dad's backyard. For the first three or four years the HF did a big old loop around Mary and Nick's property (5 acres) and did very well. I will never forget those days of sitting upstairs in Nellie (our first home--charming garage next door to Nick's parents) counting the loot in costume. You've never seen so many ones in your life! It was like we struck gold. Every night afterwards my parents would call, giddy, "so what'd you make tonight!" "Who knows?" we'd tell them..."Chief's still countin!" The early years were seriously some of the best days of my life. The memories are to die for....(MHF lingo).

When we moved to our current location in Poolesville the business really exploded. We have 180 acres with unlimited parking and more woods than you ever care to get lost in...so needless to say, it's gotten a little out of control. The brothers, their dad (and many others) work their tails off to make it a success each year. I joke with my sister-in-law that we're "October widows" because we barely lay eyes on our husbands all month! It comes and then goes again so it's not that bad.

It's been fun to get notoriety for such a unique business. We've had some really awesome write ups in the Washington Post, radio and news spotlights and AOL named us in the top ten nationwide a few years back. Not bragging just trying to show how it's grown over the years. For as awesome as it is now, I will always miss the early days (pre-kids) when it was smaller and run by every single family member, kind friend, and church kid we could round up. Those were such great times--such amazing memories. I hope I can capture a few in subsequent posts.
Onto a few pictures....

My very favorite picture of Nick. It truly captures the love (not nearly a strong enough word) he has for his baby. He hearts the Haunted Forest, always has, and pretty much builds every single scene each year. I remember when he first got the "vision" to have people enter through the skulls mouth. He made it out of chicken wire and paper mache. Eventually the rain would destroy it and he'd have to start all over....(what a cutie!)

One of the best improvements in the history of the MHF was Nick's mom's BRILLIANT, let me say it again, BRILLIANT idea to have a center area where people can mingle. Up until about five years ago, people would come and just wait in line. Not always a peaceable scene. Standing in a line for three hours plus...the situation had to be remedied and now it is unbelievably fun! Everyone gets a number when they come in and are called to come to the entrance when it's their turn. It's still can be a super long wait but...they can hang out by the bonfires, get their face painted,visit the fortune teller, eat funnel cakes and caramel apples, go on a haunted hayride, ride the zip-line, rock climb, jump from the trapeze, shoot a paint ball gun etc. to kill time. This did more for the business than anything. The front is now such a fabulous atmosphere with music (hence,what's playing) party lights and sort of an edgy, eery circus feel.


The WRAITH--a pretty recent acquisition. Every year Nick and a few of his "October friends" go to the Haunt Convention. They found this one and a really cool tree costume. Here is brother John down in Georgetown doing a little PR.


It's seriously amazing how tall it is. John loves it. He wears it every night of the HF--it's probably doing some serious wear and tear on his bod, though.


Nick, at the office, with the company car.



The HF has such a following of freaks (staff) now--they have to turn people away. They are a breed all their own (trust me on this one).


One of the entrances...we now have two trails. This helps cut down on the wait, and is also an incentive to come back again to walk the other one. Each trail is about a 20-25 minute walk through the woods with paths lit by candlelight suspended in the trees. Every so often there is a unique scene that provides a scare--and people all along the trails to getcha!


Brother Al. Those who know him can appreciate the irony of this photo.


This is funny. Everyone this side of the Mississippi gives their junk to our family. And trust me, they (the MEN) welcome it with open arms. Somewhere along the way they acquired an ambulance. I will say it makes for an amazing little "half time" show, during the course of the night when the crowds are huge. They (staff dressed as EMT's) drive the ambulance right through the crowd with it's lights and sirens on. Then they drive over to the entrance and walk into the woods with a gurney. By now EVERYONE is riveted and freaked out and Matt on the loud speaker is announcing there's been a bad accident. The fake EMT's come back out with someone on the gurney under a sheet--and right before they load them into the ambulance they drop the person to the ground--the crowd gasps! And then before they know what's happened the person who is under the sheet jumps out from under with a chain-saw, fires it up, and runs head-long into the crowd...it's a SCREAM!!


Something cool Brother Matt made for all the activities in the front circle.


Staff. Waiting for their nightly assignment.


I took the kids out opening night. The bonfires they light are truly unreal! They are so massive it's something to behold. They burn bright all night then smolder for about 2 days.


Kid heaven! They are begging to work by age 3. Camille was proof of this the other night. "But where's MY scary costume?" They have two Haunted Busses in the front area. They are also a huge hit and surprisingly VERY good and scary.


One of the guys out there, his name's Finnyfrock, carved all this oversized furniture this year with a chainsaw. It sits around the bonfires to provide just the right place for all the teenage smoochin that goes on...


Haunted Hayride. I wrote the story for this year's ride. Maybe I'll share it if I get desperate one day for a post.


Fortune Teller Tent--my old stomping grounds. I used to be the fortune teller and will brag for a moment to say that I was the BEST! No joke it came naturally to me and I miss it like crazy. I have to post about that sometime. Also, the climbing wall and zipline up top.


The whole fam dam last year at the HF after trick or treating. We're trying to make this picture a tradition since that's the only time they see Nick on Halloween. Nick has never been trick or treating with his kids. But according to them, they are ready to skip the candy altogether and go to work with their dad....

What are your MHF memories?
Do you like to be scared?

25 comments:

Jek said...

No I hate to be scared and that is probably why i havn't made it a huge priority to make my butt get out there!! I HATE haunted forests, houses, buses, mental hospitals etc.... i get soooooooo scared.
However working at the forest was such a blast the week that i did!!! I loved every bit of it when i was dressed up as my scary zebra. Where did i get that idea anyway? My job? I was with Kevin, paul's bro when he was blowing massive amounts of fire from his mouth. the crowd would walk up and I would jump from behind a tree and scare them just before he would almost engulf their heads in flames!

My favorite was the night that i worked with Nick when I could witness crowds of people fall on their faces in sheer terror. You see, Nick would be on stilts and had one of those mexican wooden masks on. He would be standing off the trail about 9 feet tall in between two tall skinny trees. Just when the crowd got near, he would make a noise and they would look up to see a massive scary dude fall forward and catch himself between the two trees. They would FREAK!! And I mean freak, then to make matters worse, he would start to chase them up the path. that is where little wimpy me would also jump out and scare them.

Those were the best nights working at the forest. It is awesome and i am so proud that nick is so huge in creating it all.
jek

Christian said...

I remember the time I dressed up as a drag queen zombie fortune teller and read palms all night. After a while I started believing I could really do it. Funniest part was that people would actually pay to do it!

Missy :o) said...

uh, nope, no thank you, uh ah, no way :o)

eggy said...

I have two favorite memories...
Number 1 is playing the "very first chain saw guy" at the original location on Seneca Rd. Back then, Nick hadn't figured out that he could take the chain off of a gas powered saw yet, so he gave me an electric chain saw that I chased people around with and almost broke my neck tripping on the cord. This was also the year that I kissed Sue Palka live on Fox News!
The other memory is helping Nick with security one year and getting a desperately urgent call on the walkie talkies to come to where he was at as fast as I could. I ran through the woods jumping and leaping as he screamed in desperation. I was 50 feet away when I saw his flashlight go spinning through the air and his body getting tossed into the bushes like a rag doll. I ran to his side and he said, "that big drunk dude just picked me up and threw me into the woods. Go get him and his friends and kick them out!" Yeah right...I thought! You can be a tough security guy in the light when people are looking. But, when it's dark and in the woods, sometimes you can be a wuss and let the big dudes get a second chance!

partii said...

and chief came to the rescue and "escorted" them to their cars. TOUGH GUY!

VEGAS VIC said...

I love to think of the MHF. It has been such a part of all of our lives. Many of us in absentia.
My scariest time was the first time I went through. I was so worried about some horrible thing jumping out at me, but the worst scare was while gingerly walking toward the next scene,Chief (Patriarch of the Markoff clan)was lying low in the undergrowth all dressed in black,he reached out and lightly grabbed my ankle. That was so freak'in scary. That is what I like about the forest. It might just be someone in black who peeks their head out from behind a tree and whispers
"be careful". Do you know that is more scary than seeing a skeleton or other freak. YOu at least expect that.
Hope you have a great season.
Loved the post and the pictures of all the people we love.
MOM

VEGAS VIC said...

Sorry, I hit the button twice.

MOM

Jayne Layne said...

Regretably I have only been once, and unfortunately the other nights I was supposed to work we got rained out...

So... I would have to say that my favorite memory, and it really was a FABULOUS night was my first walk through, and then working that night as a fortune teller. I had my long blonde extensions heavy black eye makeup and a cool costume. Even with the blonde hair, and accent from who knows where, I kept getting asked if I was Latin...

I will never forget how many fortunes I told, and how right I was on so many. I finally realized that people took me SO SERIOUSLY i had to give good advice. The night ended with contact your brother, write soneone a letter, make contact with an old friend... I coudln't believe how they all just sat and took it all in. The truly took the advice to heart. Shows you that people are really searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.

That night really was so fun. The hussle and bussle of everyone working was also so fun to watch. Everyone right down to the snack bar took such great pride in being a part of such a succesful night. I also remember being so shocked at how many people/customers were there, THOUSANDS! The big bonfire and movie on the big screen was so fun to me too.

I will say, I admire anyone that can do that night after night, because it is extremely tiring.

Hats off to you Nick (and family) for making it such a hit!

Me said...

That was an awesome story. It shows that what you can really do when you set your mind to something. I wish I lived there so I could experience it for myself. At the very least I should try the one in American Fork (never been there). Thanks for sharing and I love the pictures.

jill said...

Nothing says fall more than The Haunted Forest! I LOVE it! I love the feeling that it evokes inside of me. It's exciting, frightening, cozy, fun, festive, makes me feel like a kid again. The center is the best! The wait is as enjoyable as the trail.

Nick has done an AMAZING job!!! It's also so insane to see the major Halloween/scare people out of their mind types out there.

I worked the Haunted forest plenty before the kids came along. I remember getting crushes on the staff as I dressed as a ghost and waved a lantern in the middle of an open field. It was so romantic to be all alone in the dark, in a flowing white costume, staring at the moon, and visiting (and flirting) with cute boys as they took a smoking break. I froze me bum off, but I loved it! I remember Rob coming through (this was before I met him) he looked like a deer in the headlights.

I also remember the time that I worked and I was dressed like a blonde freak and I was in a guillotine scene. That sucked! I hated that because I had to lay on a board all freaking night and put my head in a cut-out pail. Several times people kicked the pail, I wanted to kill them! I scared the heck out of people though... I remember getting out of my scene and going to complain to the "boss" (my sister), no mercy! Get back to the scene, you can't just leave it, we need you there... What?! Are you serious?! I really have to go back there? It made me stronger, and makes for even better memories.

I LOVE the Haunted Forest and miss working there when I was young and carefree, wait a minute I've never been carefree, I'm too neurotic!

Thanks to Nick, Jenn, the whole Markoff family AND friends! You make life rich!

Now Caroline LOVES it! Another generation of Haunted Forest lovers. She can work there someday as long as she steers clear of the cute boys on their smoking breaks, they can get you into trouble!

The Bobos said...

What an awesome post Jen! I absolutely LOVE the Haunted Forest and I loved working there. I think I worked there 3 years. The first year I was under a bridge and grabbed people's ankles as they walked by. I got paid in doughnuts. The second year I was everywhere, doing random things, and I got paid in ones. The third year, the BEST year, I was the witch in a little hut and Amy Parsons was my "wench." I remember you helped me come up with THE BEST witch costume. I remember losing my voice every night because I would scream for hours. I remember Adam and Ryan Swisher and Preacher were in the chain saw scene next to us and TO THIS DAY, I get the chills when I hear a chain saw start up. I actually made a lot of money that year and was even in the Top 3 Best Scenes on occasion. But I think my favorite memory of the MHF was getting ready before the forest opened. Everyone was so excited, putting on their makeup, joking around. It was just so much fun. I haven't been back since my senior year in high school (7 years ago!!) and I heard there has been a ton of changes since I've left. But, I'm happy to announce, I get to go this year!!! I'm really excited to go again, especially since all of my family works there ;)

CrazeeAngee said...

I worked in the cold, snack bar and was 9 months pregnant (with Coleman- he was born on Oct. 28th). I was asked many times if this was part of my costume. Jennifer was the fortune teller and had the entire county convinced that she really could see in the future. People love "the ring". I think in your past life you were a Salem witch and somehow avoided the stake. Nick walked around on stilts or dropped from trees scaring every living soul. It has all been so fun. The snack bar is much cooler now and more like a 4 star (ok, 5 star...) restaurant. Maybe I should give it another whirl. JUST KIDDING!! It's been scary and fun. Thanks Markoff Spooks!! You are eeriely (is that a word?) great!!

Suzanne said...

Yay!! I am cheering up and down with excitement!!! Thank you for the details!

Haunted Houses are near and dear to my heart. Growing up, we had a haunted house at the top of my neighborhood and we use to walk through houses and fields to get to "Alien Encounters." When I was much smaller, we created our own haunted house in my friends garage. I was the witch stirring a pot of dried ice! As a teenager, it was tradition to go to a haunted house or several haunted houses. Ahhh...those were the days! My husband and I went to a haunted house last year with my cousins and it cost us $50. It was awesome, but not in the budget this year!

I want to applaud your husband for his entreprenuarial spirit with the Haunted Forest! Most of us (including me) have dreams of such fun, but give up! He has done an amazing job and the center is just plain BRILLIANT!! They have an "area" where you can buy snacks and drinks while you wait at the HH here, but an entire activity center is Brilliant! One day, I hope to make it out to the MHF and create my own memory of the place.

Thank you for sharing!! It was amazing and edifying!! You totally made my day! -Suzanne

Sarah Jane said...

the sheer creativity your family has is amazing. I will have to say my favorite memory was when I was babysitting natalie and matts kids when they still lived in the old house and when the MHF was on seneca road. I had to have the lights off in the house by 6 or seven (so they wouldn't show in the forest), and put the boys down by candlelight...with blasting haunting music coming from all around. I remember the boys slept through it all (they were toddlers) and I was left to read old classic books by candlelight till 11 pm with deathly screams and haunting music in the background. Oh...the imagination of my 15 year old brain went crazy. I swear I heard tapping at the windows. eheheheekkk! Alex couldn't had fun with that one if he knew I was there...alone. You could give a whole post on Alex...you know? Our family LOVES to tell Alex stories. I am going on a tangent...but really. A very haunting experience...and that was before all the high tech stuff at poolesville!

Ann Marie said...

Jennifer-
After reading all of this, I can see why it was so hard to blog. HOLY CRAP! I had no idea that your Haunted Forest was so freaking big! 180 acres! I was sooo exited reading about all of it!

First off, I am a total Haunted House and Scary Movie girl. I LOVE, LOVE to be scared. The Haunted Forest, and Provo Mental Institution were always my favorites, and then one year we went to the Haunted Forest in American Fork, and it was soo lame. I havent been back ever since. All of your descriptions about your Forest made me feel almost like I could be there experiencing it. I love the whole Ambulance deal. So cool. My very favorite parts of any Haunted House will always and forever be the chainsaws. I am an adult now and know that there isn't any blade on there, but let me tell you, as soon as you have the woods + chainsaw starting up in front of, or behind me, you'd better find me a bathroom pretty quick! :)I guess all of the Jason and Michael Myers movies made even walking in the dark woods creepy enough to me, but add anything jumping out at me at it's worth the money and experience...

I so want to fly out there and do the forest. How far is it from Virginia?? I'm wondering if I go out to see my brother next year, maybe I should go in October. I seriously would love to experience it, if it isn't too far away...
************************
I love that you read the fortunes. I can totally see it. So, how come you don't take part in it anymore?? The only thing I could imagine would be that I'm sure someone still has to keep the house running, and get the kids fed and homework done...
I bet your kids never have a dull moment. They seem to have quite the adventureous life with such a cool camp, and cool parents!! I love the creativity you both posess! Awesome post!!

Ps: I replyed to your e-mail. Let me know if you get it.

Lisa and Bill said...

WOW! I am so impressed! You have really created such a wonderful life for you & your kids! I am amazed at how much fun you have with your immediate family & your extended family on all of that beautiful property. The haunted forest looks amazing. I have to say I'm chicken when it comes to haunted houses, but I'd go into your haunted forest just for the experience!

Brian & Audrey Victor said...

Well, it looks like you've grown quite a bit since I was there. It was still around the house and I remember going with YM/YW and getting scared by Nick and Natalie's husband. I remember going over a bridge and someone trying to grab my ankle from underneath the bridge. Almost made me pee my pants. I hope someday I'll be able to make it back there.

Mitch said...

I don't even want to reply to this cause it just pisses me off that i'm not there. I've been there once right after i got off the mish. Sadly, i don't remember much about it. I was semi-scared, but i don't get scared very easily so it kind of sucks. I want to work it so stinkin bad. Maybe i'll Marry Jenni just for the mere fact that we might live out there and work the forest. Yes, that's what i'll do. Make room for us in the basement!

I am also very proud of how booming that business is. Good work Nick and fam. I hope to contribute one of these days when i'm not figuring out quadratic functions and girls. I think i can bring a lot to the table. I'd even be willing to do a naked caveman scene. Think about it nick.....think about it.

up in bubbles said...

Oh where to start!!!

The Haunted Forest as a worker is something you love to hate. When I think that I have to drive away every weekend night for 3 weeks around 6ish to put on a costume twice my size and just under a 100lbs I want to die. But let me tell you what, when you step into that circle and see Matt prepping the mic and his section, Flash running around the kitchen making sure the kit-kats are set up just right, Alex on a cell phone talking to who ever will listen, Cash and the other managers making sure their respective trails are up to snuff and they are all checking with Nick to see if all systems are go, all those feelings of do I really want to do this? wash right away and the MHF bug takes over. Immediately, you want to find your spot, pop on Harry the large tree creature that I so luckily won in a rock paper scissor contest and start scaring the living crap out of people. It is electrifying for the first 2 hours cause at that point my neck and back are still somewhat unhurt. I used to run the Death Jump out in the middle of the circle but now that I have tasted the blood of my victims it is really hard to ask to go back to the circle. When you can make grown men squeeze their wives, girlfriends or in the case of the feminine man, who sometimes comes through with all his feminine guy friends squeeze every man in his party and scream like a little girly man, it makes it all worth it. I love the Haunted Forest when it is here and love it when it is gone. I hope that I have to pay property taxes outside of my mortgage for the rest of my life so Kelley will continue to let me earn one half of the payment each October. Markoff boys you have done a fabulous job...Hats off to all of you!!

SaraBerry said...

That is something that my WHOLE family would love! We all love scary things. My kids are always wanting to watch a scary movie. It is VERY hard to find an appropriate scary movie. The other night, we watched a movie and they all ended up in my room on the floor. Hysterically funny! They talk all big about not being scared, but its a totally different story when the lights are turned off! Have a great Halloween season, I wish we were closer to experience the forest. I guess that we will have to find some lame corn maze to walk around! Love Ya!

Tiff said...

I worked the HF as a teenager for 3 years right at the very beginning. I think it was probably years 2-4. It was such a blast (it had to be for you guys to convince a bunch of teens to come out for hours at a time, and end the night very hoarse, all for the fun of it, and maybe 5 bucks as a token of appreciation). I hadn't been able to go back in years (I hadn't even been back since it moved to Poolesville) until last year when I asked Nick to give me two tickets for my wedding present (I have no shame! Guess I figured 3 years of service=1 fun wedding present;) So, we spent the last evening of our honeymoon at the HF! Anyway, it was so amazing! I couldn't believe how it had grown. Plus, my husband absolutely LOVED it! Halloween has always been his favorite holiday, and he thought the HF was about the coolest thing he had ever done. Too bad we don't live closer, he's an amazing artist and loves to do kind of morbid stuff sometimes...

JENNIFRO said...

Friends and Friends......

I really loved all of these comments and haunting reflections. Thanks for taking the time. Sooo fun!

jessamyn barnette said...

I remember when I was like 15 or so, I was being chased by the chainsaw guy and I kept looking back that I finally ran right into a tractor, hit my head and fell to the ground. Screaming the whole time. I'm so easily scared that if I went enough times I might have a stroke.

Katie Gourdin said...

I love this blog it brings back such good memories. Scott and I visited Maryland a few years ago and we can not stop talking about it.

My memory was when I was so chicken to go through that Jen had to go with me and Scott so I could be prepared, but nothing could prepare me for the scaryness. It was awesome. I even remember squeezing Jen's arm, I propably left nail marks :) It was the best time ever. Scott even admitts there is nothing as good as that forest. We will be back for more.
Love Katie

browneyedgirl said...

Yeah I remember working at MHF in the early years. I worked concessions and as a ghost in the graveyard too (wasn't too fun when the drunk guy left the path and was following us asking us 20 questions). Very fun memories!