Warning: Just reading this post may scare you! Read at your own risk!
By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
First things first: I do NOT get scared easily. I grew up in a very normal way and in a very normal home, and we always celebrated Halloween in the same way most kids did. I am now the parent of a child who loves Halloween so we celebrate it in an even bigger way these days with a party each year. These celebrations are “spooky” at most, never really scary. But I was a young teen during the “slasher film” era going to (or sneaking into, since I didn’t always meet the age requirements) the theater to see now-cult classics such as My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, and the originalTexas Chainsaw Massacre, along with popular horror films including Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and the original Carrie. As an adult, I also volunteered to work at fundraising Haunted Houses by community groups such as the Alexandria Jaycees (which no longer run a haunted house but still do fun Goblin Games for kids during the annual Del Ray Halloween Parade).
So… creepy, gory, or downright terrifying, most haunted houses will not freak me out — too much. How scary they are is something I judge by others’ reactions. And based on that, I can tell you that Shocktober in Leesburg is, in fact, a seriously scary haunt! This seasonal attraction, which calls itself “Northern Virginia’s only real haunted house,” aims to scare the living daylights out of you — and that, my friends, it does!
The annual event, which is a fundraiser for a good cause (more on that later), actually has two haunts: the Paxton Manor and The Haunted Well of Souls, which you tour individually (you can buy tickets for one or the other or both). Both haunted houses are “designed to be interactive, extremely scary, and intense,” and participants must sign a waiver before going in.
Organizers will tell you that this is best for teens and adults, and they are right about that — heck, I know some adults that wouldn’t last there for a few minutes, much less a full tour, and let alone two! So if you really do not like scary things, if you’re “on the fence” about going, or you’re just trying to put on a brave front for your friends, do NOT go: the whole point of the event is to give you a good scare and you enter at your own risk. Shocktober also explicitly states its no-refund policy on its website.
If you ARE brave, however, read on to find out more and how we “survived” Shocktober!
Shocktober operates on weekend nights Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday nights in October, through Halloween night. Admission is $30 to tour both the main house and the basement. You can bump that up to a V.I.P. — oops, sorry, make that R.I.P. — pass for $50 to get to the front of the line. While that seems like a big jump in price, it can make a huge difference on a crowded, busy night, especially if it’s cold outside. You also can buy house-only ($25, or $35 R.I.P.) or basement-only ($10) tickets. While you are waiting in the line, you may encounter creepy characters (Shocktober actors in ghastly outfits) roaming the campus grounds. On select nights, there are special events, such as a beer garden.
Tours are kept small, with no more than 8-12 people at a time (we actually had a smaller group when we toured it). Each self-guided tour takes about 20 or 25 minutes to complete. Shocktober states that all attractions “are designed to be interactive, extremely scary and intense; they are all PG-13.” Actors don’t touch you, but they do get very close, so if you don’t want to be frightened on a personal level and want to be more of an observer, you can buy a “no-scare” glow necklace at the ticket booth for $5. This will signal to the actors to not target you and give you a bit of space.
If at any point during the haunt you want to leave, there are emergency exits that an actor can guide you to — just ask any and they will help you out, but not there are no re-entries. Now, as to the tours themselves….
The main house: Paxton Manor
Paxton Manor is a Victorian 32-room mansion was built in 1872 above a massive underground lake and immense limestone caverns. Legend has it that it was the site of Indian and Civil War battles. And one single well, located in the deepest corner of the manor’s basement, is the only entrance to the lake’s frigid waters. According to the Shocktober site, local newspapers told of one man who braved the journey into the lake’s vast array of caverns by being lowered 30 feet into the unknown abyss with only a canoe. The entrance to the well was rediscovered, with its lid firmly in place, only a few years ago and “it is unknown how many have ventured into the depths of the lake and who or what they found – or if they ever made it out.” The house has a reputed history of paranormal activity, attracting paranormal investigators.
When you tour the house, you will see many rooms decorated in great detail. Some are traditional rooms and some are set to depict specific scenes. All are intended to be scary in one way or another. Without giving too much away, here’s a peek at what you will experience: dimly lit surroundings, twists and turns that make you lose your sense of direction, frightful scenes, lots of loud and sudden noises, strobe lights and other special effects, and creatures that seem to appear out of nowhere, and character actors that get very close to you.
The spooky scenes, lighting and effects, and sudden noises and movements can be too much for some people. We had seen some people in an earlier group leave the tour before it was over (note: no re-entry is allowed if you leave) so I asked my son if he was sure he wanted to go through with it. Though our son is much younger than the recommended minimum age, he loves Halloween, likes scary stuff, and is pretty fearless about these things (he has been to other haunted houses). He insisted he wanted to do the tour and refused to get the no-scare glow necklace. He was all ready to go, and yet… he didn’t make it past the first half of the downstairs level.
I think the combination of loud noises, things that suddenly appear, and light sense of claustrophobia in the first rooms were a bit much — and frankly, I am glad he exited (with my husband) when he did, as I the tour seemed to get more intense as you went through it, including upstairs. This tour can be very scary so don’t go unless you are serious about being spooked. Especially when you get to the next part, the basement…
The basement: The Haunted Well of Souls
“Which is scarier,” I had bluntly asked Rachel Roseberry, the communications director for the event, “Paxton Manor or the basement?” While she wouldn’t give away much on either, she did recommend doing the house first, and now I know why: if you think the house is intense, in a way that’s just a warm-up for the basement.
Since we now were taking turns watching our son outside, my husband took the tour of the Haunted Well of Souls first, and I could tell from his reaction that this one is not only a totally different experience, but maybe a scarier one. This tour takes place in a real basement, so when you think of a basement, think “damp, dingy, and with a dirt floor,” not “finished basement of a McMansion in the suburbs.”
Again, without giving too much away, here’s what you can expect: a colder and clammier vibe, slightly uneven flooring at times, scenes that are even gorier, more loud noises and screams, lower clearance/ceilings, more things that come at you, a disorienting exit, and even a moment of total — and I mean total, full, 100 percent — darkness. It’s early on, it’s not for long, and I’m sure the distance that you have to walk is much longer in your mind than it is in real life, but it’s still pretty freaky. I actually did get a bit more scared and shrieked a few times, but again, I loved it. I can see how a claustrophobic or panicky person might feel truly terrorized.
In short, if you are looking for a good scare, you definitely will get your money’s worth at Shocktober. And speaking of money, read on to see where your money goes and why Rachel says “we scare because we care.”
The good reason for the good scare: Paxton Campus
Paxton Campus is a nonprofit organization that provides services to people with disabilities and their families. Shocktober is a fundraising event and a major production that logged over 5,200 volunteer hours and raised more than $200,000 for Paxton Campus in 2014. Since Shocktober’s inception, the proceeds have helped Paxton Campus create two new programs: “A Life Like Yours” ALLY Advocacy Center, which provides free information, supports and services to people with disabilities and their families, and Supported Training and Employment Program (STEP Up), a job skills and training program for adults with disabilities.
Shocktober counts on more than 150 volunteer actors and crew members, and the efforts of its team earned it Visit Loudoun’s Humanitarian Award in the spring of 2015. Shocktober is at 601 Catoctin Circle, NE, Leesburg, Virginia 20176. Operating hours are 7-10 pm Fridays and Saturdays and 7-9 pm on Sundays.
Top mansion photo courtesy of Shocktober
All other photos (c) P. Hall
Disclosure: My family received “R.I.P” tickets to both haunts for a media review. Opinions are my own.