Walking down the winding trail, past the animatronic zombies that come alive at night, Tobey and Shannon Dingbaum paused by a clearing in the bend of the path.
“This is where Caitlin sits,” Shannon Dingbaum said, referring to her 11-year-old daughter. “We didn’t think she would scare anybody, but from what we’ve heard, she’s one of the scariest parts of the trail. People think she’s animatronic and then she starts moving.”
One of north Alabama’s newest holiday attractions, the Dingbaum family’s Haunted Barn and Trail, which opened last year, joins the list of area festivities, ranging from interactive movies to haunted houses, which offer experiences for the most timid and most daring of Halloween revelers.
Armed with spray paint, cobwebs, coffins, black lights and animatronic characters, the Dingbaum family, with help from Hartselle High’s cross country team, transformed their barn and outdoor trail into a Halloween experience.
Welcome to Hartwood Estates’ Haunted Barn and Trail — home to 15 zombies, deranged doctors, werewolves, mad clowns, Stephen King characters and chain saw wielders.
“It is a lot of fun. People get really scared,” said the soft-spoken Caitlin Dingbaum, who is participating in the haunted barn along with four of her six siblings, Caleb, Tanner, Kaylee and Lucas.
The Dingbaum children are carrying on a Halloween tradition started by their father three decades ago.
“I grew up on a small block in Iowa. My elementary school principal lived a block up from us and would always hang up a white sheet and a black light for Halloween. We thought that was the coolest, creepiest thing. He sat in a lawn chair and handed out candy, and that was it. I actually stopped trick or treating and asked him if I could come scare people. I was hooked,” Tobey Dingbaum said.
When the family moved to Alabama four years ago, one of the things that attracted Tobey and Shannon Dingbaum to the Hartselle home on Main Street — after the small town feel and the schools — was the property’s potential.
“We have been doing Halloween big time for 20 years. We bought this place with plans of doing a haunted event like this someday,” Shannon Dingbaum said. “Really, this is great fun, a great way for us to bond and a great way to help the cross country team.”
With the haunted barn, the Dingbaums hope to tap into some of the $9 billion researchers expect people to spend on Halloween this year. According to the National Retail Federation, 175 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year, and more than 35 million plan on visiting a haunted house.
A portion of the proceeds from Hartwood Estates’ haunted attraction, which the Dingbaum family designed, built and manned with members of the high school cross country team, will go to the athletes.
“The team is so underfunded. Anything we can do to help the team we will,” Tobey Dingbaum said. “And they have a great time. No kid wants to go door to door selling candy bars. But if you can raise money while working in a haunted house, that they want to do.”
The haunted barn, 1026 Main St. East, is open Fridays, 7:30-10 p.m.; Saturdays, 7:30-11 p.m.; and Sundays, 7:30-9 p.m. For younger children, Hartwood Estates hosts a No Scare haunted barn from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for the haunted house, $5 for the no scare and $5 for the hay rides, which are available Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
On Saturday, the Dingbaums will open the barn and trail from 5-7 p.m. for individuals with special needs with the first hour designated as a quiet time for those sensitive to noise. The attraction is wheelchair accessible.
“This is something we really want to do. We have had so much fun putting this together, we want everyone to have this experience, if they want to,” Tobey Dingbaum said.
For more Halloween treats, check out this guide to area events.
Nightmare on Moulton Street at the Brick Deli, 112 Moulton St.
Hours: Friday and Oct. 25, 7 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 26, 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Brick Deli, 112 Moulton St.
Often the subject of ghost sightings and haunting rumors, the second floor of the Brick Deli will transform into a haunted house for Halloween. Expect to see monsters, clowns and more. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society.
The Hills Are Alive at 10005 Sandlin Cemetery Road, Athens.
Hours: Friday, Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, 7-10 p.m.
Set along a ¾-mile path, the haunted Hills Are Alive trail brings the fairytale of “Little Red Riding Hood” to life, complete with werewolves, zombies, clowns and monsters.
“Wear your good running shoes because you really will be going over the hill and through the woods,” JD Adams said.
The Adams family created the haunted trail five years ago in memory of their father, Jerry Adams. Proceeds help fund upkeep of the family’s cemetery.
“Daddy loved to spook people and not just on Halloween. You had to be on your toes all the time,” JD Adams said. “We’re just trying to do what Daddy loved to do — have fun and get others to have fun, while also giving them a good, healthy scare.”
Haunted Lester Hospital at 30338 Lester Road, Lester.
Hours: Friday, Saturday, Oct. 25-26 and Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 7-11 p.m.
Set in the former D.E. Jackson Memorial Hospital, which opened in the early 1940s, the Haunted Lester Hospital embraces the history of the abandoned hospital, which inspired many of north Limestone County’s ghost stories. Operated by Scare4Charity, proceeds from the haunt, which include being chased by flesh-eating zombies and chainsaw-wielding butchers, will go to local charities.
Over the past 30 years, Scare4Charity raised funds for storm victims, Hospice of Limestone County, West Limestone and Good Springs Volunteer Fire Departments, scholarships to West Limestone High School seniors and Moms on a Mission. thelesterhauntedhospital.com.
Haunted House of Horror at the old Courtland High School, 1205 Tennessee St., Courtland
Hours: Friday, Saturday, Oct. 25-26, 7 p.m.-midnight; Sunday, Oct. 27-29 and 31, 7-10 p.m.
Cost: $20 for the haunt only and $30 for the haunt and paintball
An electrocution room, clowns, zombies and chain saws await scare seekers at the 54,000-square-foot house of horrors. Opened in 2011, the Haunted House of Horrors, which adopted the theme “We bring your fears to life,” has developed a reputation as one of north Alabama’s best scares.
Inspired by the spine-tingling movies “Child’s Play” and “The Conjuring,” Haunted House of Horror was rated as the No. 7 haunted attraction in America by The Haunt Rater. hauntedhouseofhorror.net.
The Haunt at Camp Liberty at 15719 Alabama 157, Vinemont
Hours: Fridays and Saturday through Nov. 2 and Oct. 27 and 31, 7-10 p.m.
Cost: $16 for the trail; $2 discount for past and present military
Organizers described the military-themed trail located 35 minutes south of Decatur as “fully immersive, physically active and intense.” Participants may be touched and be made to crawl through obstacles. Make sure to wear tennis shoes and clothes that can get dirty. thehauntatcampliberty.com.
Arx Mortis at 4051 U.S. 72, Killen
Hours: Wednesday, Sunday, Oct. 23-24, 27 and 30, 7-10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, Oct. 25-26, 7-11 p.m.; Oct. 31, 7 p.m.-midnight.
Cost: $20 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $25 on Fridays and Saturdays; $5 for the 5-minute escape room
Translated as the “Castle of Death,” Arx Mortis Uprising brings to life the psychiatric ward of Covington Clinic. In 2014, USA Today named Arx Mortis to the list of “10 Best Spookiest Haunted Houses in the USA.”
Halloween Hoot at the Brick Deli
Oct. 26, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Free. Donations will go to Everyday Sunshine, a nonprofit organization focused on providing entertainment and encouragement to patients at pediatric hospitals and individuals with intellectual disabilities.
In what has become a must-do Halloween event for families, Halloween Hoot will feature a magician, face painting, a cake walk and music from DJ Jeff Sharp.
Decatur City Cemetery Tour
Oct. 26, 10 a.m.
Historian Phil Wirey will bring to life the stories of Decatur’s famous and infamous citizens during the City Cemetery tour. Participants also will learn about the cemetery’s black section, Jewish section and Confederate burial site. Founded in 1853, the cemetery houses 40,000 grave sites.
Meet at the caretakers’ building, 1010 Wilson St. N.W.
Oct. 31, noon to 8 p.m.
The Decatur Public Library’s Edgar Allan Poe-themed Halloween event will feature costume contests, games, puzzles, crafts and trick or treating. Prizes will be awarded for the most creative, best Gothic, scariest, funniest and best couple/family/group costumes.
The schedule of activities includes jigsaw puzzles, cards, crafts and trick or treating, noon to 5 p.m.; classic movie monsters, Gothic literature and a slasher horror movie for ages 16 and older, 3-5 p.m.; a session on writing Gothic fiction at 5 p.m.
A children's costume parade will kick off the festivities at 10:30 a.m.