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Sterling Mathis is not opposed to selling Hotel of Terror to the city.
SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson
Sterling Mathis is not opposed to selling Hotel of Terror to the city.

Halloween biz: frightful trick or unexpected treat?

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Between carving pumpkins, hanging decorations and buying favorite candies, fall and Halloween activities are a tradition for many. But with COVID-19 still present in the Ozarks, there have been changes to make celebrating still possible but with safety in mind.

One of the longstanding attractions is Hotel of Terror downtown. Owner Sterling Mathis has been in the business of scares for 42 years at 334 N. Main Ave.

“I have had people tell me they started out going when they were ten,” said Mathis. “And now their grandparents are bringing their grandkids up there to go through.”

One of the changes over the years is the addition of a $30 combo ticket that includes Hotel of Terror and another haunted house owned by Mathis, Dungeons of Doom. Patrons can take a hayride or a hearse back and forth since they’re only a couple blocks apart.

New this year, of course, are occupancy limits and another type of mask.

“All of our workers wear masks,” said Mathis. “It’s either on top of their other masks or under their mask – their scary mask.”

Groups of eight people are allowed in the haunted house at a time. Mathis said masks are enforced for customers and workers. However, only workers get a temperature check before entering the building.

Still, he said there are lines of people waiting to enter on weekends – about 150 people coming through in all on the busier ones.

“I think we are going to be able to pay the bills and make a little bit of money, which would be good,” said Mathis, declining to disclose revenues.

Yet another change could be coming about with the building.

Officials at the city of Springfield are interested in purchasing the Hotel of Terror property. While that’s nothing new – Mathis said they’ve kicked around the idea for 20 years now – with the nearby Jordan Creek daylighting project underway, city officials say they’ll be looking closer at an acquisition.

“We are just beginning to look at the details on this,” said Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement.

The urban stream runs just north of Hotel of Terror, and when the concrete box culverts are lifted as planned, officials expect the adjacent properties to spur economic activity year-round. Hotel of Terror is only operational one or two months a year.

Mathis said he’s not opposed to the idea of moving to another building, but it would have to be just as good or better than the one he has now.

“Everything has a price on it,” said Mathis. “But I would rather continue what we do. I mean the people of Springfield are expecting us to be there.”

Rutledge-Wilson Farm
The Springfield-Greene County Park Board’s Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park has become another fall-time staple in the community.

On the city’s west side, at 3825 W. Farm Road 146, sits a family-fun farm with more than 200 acres. During the months of September and October, the vast land usually transforms into a Harvest Festival. The festival normally includes hayrides, a haunted trail and a number of corporate rentals. But Park Board Public Information Administrator Jenny Edwards said the Harvest Festival was pared down this year due to COVID-19.

“The revenue from last year to this year will not compare,” she said.

Last year, after five weekends of putting on the festival, Edwards said via email the Park Board made $156,472. Typically, 50,000-80,000 people attend the Harvest Fest. However, this year, the activities are scaled back to just a pumpkin patch and corn maze – both easy to follow social distance protocols – and year-to-date revenue is $66,120, she said.

The Park Board also dropped the corn maze entrance fee this year. Still, Edwards said the fall festivities will come out ahead, as operational costs have amounted to about $20,000 so far. “It’s an irregular year, and we thought this is something that we can offer to our patrons in place of not having a big event – which we are very sad about,” said Edwards.

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