Quad-Cities’ Halloween, Haunted Houses Are Different Under Horror of Covid
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Already, 2020 has been an American horror story like no other, but apparently some people still long to be scared some more – during a haunted house season like no other. The Covid-19 crisis also has upended many other traditional Halloween activities.
Coronavirus – which has caused 9,663 deaths in Illinois and 1,617 in Iowa (as of Oct. 23) — has led Illinois to become the only state in the nation to explicitly ban haunted houses, but enforcement is left to local communities, according to Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.
“Haunted houses tend to be very enclosed, with not a lot of open space,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said recently, according to Illinoispolicy.org. “As a result, the viral load can get high very quickly in a space like that. So that’s why doctors chose to act as they did with regard to haunted houses.”
Health officials have recommended alternatives to haunted houses that don’t put people in small enclosed
spaces. Open air haunted trails are safe if social distancing measures are in place. Health officials recommend extra social distancing if screaming is anticipated, because screaming projects viral particles longer distances.
Illinois is the only state that has banned haunted houses, as other states are allowing them to open with restrictions or safety measures. Health officials in Ohio and Connecticut recommended banning haunted houses, but neither state has acted on the recommendations. Massachusetts is allowing haunted houses as it moves into a new phase of reopening.
Most other states simply provided guidance for haunted houses to safely operate this year. Cities such as Los Angeles and some counties have issued their own bans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend visiting haunted houses.
Other Halloween activities in Illinois are still allowed this year with proper safety measures. Hayrides can run at 50% capacity with six feet of space between parties and mask wearing. Visits to farms for corn mazes or pumpkin picking are allowed, too.
Trick-or-treating can also go on, although rules will be different between municipalities. Officials recommend appropriate mask wearing, trick-or-treating with members of your own house and spacing candy outside to avoid a common bowl or
repeated visits to the front door.
Haunted houses in northwest Illinois have taken a split approach as to whether to close or stay open.
The popular Raven’s Grin Inn in Mount Carroll, Ill. (a year-round attraction), is staying closed for the first time in 33 years. Co-owner Jessica Warfield said recently they probably won’t reopen until next year, when a Covid vaccine is ready or Illinois gets to the last stage of its reopening.
“Like so many others due to Covid, we shut down in March, hoping of course that by October, our busy season, things would potentially be at a point where we could re-open and continue to entertain and delight our customers,” owners Jim and Jessica Warfield wrote on their GoFundMe campaign site, which has raised $3,665 as of Friday.
“Unfortunately, things have not improved and re-opening is currently not an option. And while state regulations have said this type of
business may not resume, we also personally would not want to potentially jeopardize the safety and health of our customers, our employees or ourselves.”
“As you all know, the Covid-19 pandemic has made life difficult for everyone. This decision that we have made, as hard as it is to say, is really a no brainer,” Torment at Twelve Hundred posted on their Facebook in late August.
“The health and safety of our visitors, actors, and staff will always be the number one most important factor to us. Therefore we are officially announcing Torment at Twelve Hundred will remain closed throughout the 2020 season. We thank you for your many years of support and hope you will understand our decision.”
However, there were 31 haunted houses open across Illinois last weekend, according to HauntedIllinois.com.
Factory of Fear, 5027 4th Ave., Moline, is open Fridays and Saturdays 7 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., until Halloween. “We’ve made safely operating during the pandemic our priority!” its Facebook page says.
Its rules include (as all three Illinois Q-C haunts have done) — masks required for patrons and performers, temperature checks required, increased sanitation, contact tracing, hand sanitizer provided, increased haunt size, decreased staff size, and limited capacity.
Terror at Skellington Manor, 420 18th St., Rock Island, presents “Theatre of the Macabre” — a terrifying walk-through experience open through Nov. 1, Friday and Saturday 7 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Masks are required for entry, and there is timed ticketing available from its website. Maximum group size is limited to eight patrons. They require six-foot social distancing, have hand sanitizing stations, and do enhanced cleaning of all touch surfaces every night. The Escape Room and other events will be temporarily closed during this time.
Shock House – at the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 4th Ave., Rock Island – is open
7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7-10 p.m. on select Thursday nights through Oct. 31. They also require everyone wear face masks, observe social distancing and limit groups to five or less.
Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms said this week that the Illinois Q-C haunted houses worked with the Rock Island County Health Department to be considered as performing-arts venues under the Restore Illinois Phase 4 reopening guidelines, like Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse.
That means they can operate at 50 percent capacity, or 50 patrons maximum, whichever is less, Thoms said.
“They’re taking extra precautions,” he said, noting Skellington Manor worked with the city to close a portion of 18th Street, to allow for more distanced lines waiting to get in. “We don’t feel it’s a stretch type of ruling. That’s what they do.”
Skellington Manor, in the former Rock Island Masonic Temple, operates year-round as an event center – hosting receptions, banquets, parties, live entertainment, and murder-mystery dinners – so it makes sense they would be considered performing arts as a haunted house, Thoms said.
“All of the haunted houses in the Quad-Cities have reduced the number of people working, adjusted from previous years, how close they are to people,” he said.
According to the IDPH, Halloween haunted houses are currently not allowed in Restore Illinois Phase 4 Guidelines. “Instead consider open-air, one-way haunted forests or haunted walks where social distancing of 6 feet or greater and appropriate masking is enforced,” it says, “If screaming is anticipated, even greater social distancing is advised to lower the risk of spreading respiratory viruses.”
Penni Steen of Skellington Manor said Friday that Nita Ludwig of the county health department “was great to work with and provided all haunt owners some guidance on how to safely operate our event.”
According to the Rock Island-based department, haunted houses may be allowed in some cities with enhanced safety and cleaning procedures in place.
“We at the health department have reviewed a few plans and have offered safety suggestions,” the department said in its guidance. “There is never a zero risk in any activity right now, but all partners have worked to improve safety.”
A frightening year for Skellington
Michael and Penni Steen – who formerly operated Terror in the Woods in Donahue, Iowa from 1993-2007 – have owned Skellington Manor Event Center (in the 1913 former Masonic Temple) since 2009.
This year has been devastating for their business, as all their private events and “It’s a Mystery” dinners have had to be canceled, she said Friday.
“The events we would have held typically in the fall, all weddings are off, possibly in the spring,” Steen said. “We’re assessing how to operate. We have escape games, which were in the summer, but they haven’t come close to the attendance prior to Covid. Those rooms are sanitized between players.”
“Wedding receptions for the most part are rescheduled for next year, but some couldn’t so they were refunded,” she said. “Some of those folks were able to go over to Iowa, find a location, and have their event. Our things impact other people, even our outside vendors like Bridges Catering. They were impacted by what we lose. It’s a Mystery, they did the murder mystery dinners. How do we produce those in a safe way, get holiday parties? It’s kind of a ripple effect.”
The new haunt rules mean Terror at Skellington can only make about half as much as they did a normal year, Steen said, noting all the actors are masked as well.
“We talked with anyone prior, to see how comfortable they were to get involved, then we reduced down to situations, folks were in small teams,” she said. “They only interact with each other; we don’t let them congregate in the building. Everyone’s temperature is checked, they can’t be over 100. All the other haunts, we talked to them at length about how they operate.”
Compared to a normal year, when haunt patrons packed inside to wait, Skellington encourages people to reserve a time online, for a higher price than a door ticket, where patrons must space out in line, Steen said.
“You don’t wait very long at all,” she said. “I always try and have a person visualize, so it’s not cluttered with a bunch of people for along amount of time. When you have a haunted attraction, you go in one door and walk out another.”
They even put portable toilets outdoors while people wait. No mixed groups can go in the house at the same time, Steen said.
“If there are larger groups, they get split up,” she said, noting since late September only a couple patrons have tried to enter without a mask.
“We want this to be a safe event,” Steen said. “People are still coming out. Those that understand, there’s the risk of going anywhere. Those that love Halloween want to come, because of the fact we reduced capacity, the number of people who can come.”
Since the ‘90s, “We have a good reputation for a good solid show, people like to come,” she added. “We really looked hard to being able to provide that. We get feedback from people. We were happy to work with the health department, to make sure we were doing the right thing.”
“We want to maintain a solid reputation, that we’re doing things the right away,” Steen said.
Dr. Shannon Hopson is an endocrinologist in Corvallis, Ore., and the mother of two boys who love amusement parks. CNN Travel recently wrote about what she thought as a professional and as a parent.
CNN Travel checked its list of the 10 best haunted house attractions in the United States for 2019 to see what they’re doing in 2020 during the pandemic. Seven are open and three decided to close.
“We’ve never gone to haunted houses before, but my kids are at the age where they are starting to enjoy scary things, and they have asked about visiting haunted houses this year,” Dr. Hopson said. “I told them no — enclosed spaces with lots of people who may or may not be wearing masks just doesn’t seem safe to me at all.”
“Any indoor haunted houses seem like a bad idea, and I would recommend avoiding them completely. There are some places that have
outdoor versions of haunted houses. Being outdoors, these feel a lot safer to me, even though there’s still the potential for overcrowding.”
If you’re willing to take the chance, she advised limiting visits to outdoor attractions, and also “look for places that require masks and limit the number of people who can go through at any given time,” she said.
Modified Q-C Halloween activities
Out of the total 365,120 positive Covid cases in Illinois so far, there have been 3,939 in Rock Island County as of Oct. 23, and 98 deaths. Out of 112,242 positive cases in Iowa, 1,617 have been in Scott County as of Friday, with 37 deaths.
The Illinois Department of Public Health this week announced additional Covid-19 mitigation efforts that will be implemented in Region 1, Northwestern Illinois, beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25. After mitigation efforts initially took effect in Region 1 on Oct. 3, the positivity rate has remained the highest in the state, with the region reporting an 11.9 percent positivity on Oct. 22.
Region 1 has been under Tier 1 of the state’s resurgence mitigation plan since Oct. 3, after seeing a 7-day rolling average test positivity rate of 8 percent or above for three consecutive days. Beginning Sunday, Northwestern Illinois will face additional mitigations, such as a tighter
gathering cap of 10 individuals rather than 25 and new table caps of six rather than 10 when eating out. Region 1 includes Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties.
“We’ve said all along that if things don’t start to turn around after two weeks in Tier 1, we can add more stringent measures to help usher in the progress we need to see to get things more open again,” said Gov. JB Pritzker.
“That is now the case in Region 1, which has seen its positivity rise by nearly two points since October 14 alone. Region 1, bordering Wisconsin and Iowa, carries the additional responsibility of navigating a situation where the massive surge of cases in our neighboring states will continue to have a spillover effect,” he said.
“There is no easy fix. So as colder weather comes upon us — and brings flu season along with it — it’s imperative that we take extra caution and extra care,” Gov. Pritzker said. “Because at the end of the day, this is bigger than you. This is about all of us, and the communities we call home. We have to take care of each other.”
Covid has forced changes to many Q-C Halloween-themed events, including Rock Island’s annual Fright Night – which usually is a huge event in The District.
The Parks and Recreation department had a new Drive-Through Fright Night on Thursday, Oct. 22 from 5 – 7 p.m. at Sunset Park. Visitors
could drive up and get some treats from a wide variety of local organizations. Dan Gleason of Parks and Recreation said there was an above-average turnout of volunteer groups this year.
They were Boy Scouts of America (Illowa Council), CSL Plasma, Goodwill of the Heartland, Rock Island Township, Erickson Plumbing & Heating, Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois, Narratives, Sign Gypsies Illinois QC, Sunset Marina, J.L. Hardscape, Family Resources, Edgewood Baptist Church, QC Pay It Forward Rock Island, Elevate Trampoline Park, McManus Orthodontics, Rock Island County Orcas Swim Club, Peaceful Palate, Rock Island County Regional Office of Education, Familia Dental, Langman Construction, Dreams by Design Travel, HUD Healthy Homes, Costco, South Rock Island Township, Two Rivers YMCA, Community Health Care, Rock Island Library, Stecker Graphics, Rock Island High School Student Council, South Park Church, Faith Assembly Rainbow Girls, Thurgood Brooks Campaign, and Wheelan Pressley Funeral Home.
Sara Tubbs of Moline brought her three kids (ages 13, 11, and 9) to Fright Night Thursday, but the line of cars was so long, by the time they got up to the groups, there was no candy left, she said.
Moline is hosting a Not-so-Normal Spooktacular trick or treat this year at Stephens Park (7th Street and 15th Avenue) on Thursday, Oct. 29, from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
This fun trick or treat walk is open to Moline residents, ages 3-12. You will visit a number of various stations to collect candy, trinkets, coloring pages, photo opportunities and more. Social distancing will be required and masks will be mandatory for all participants and parents.
The Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island is hosting a “Not So Scary Halloween Walk” on Friday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m., plus every half hour up to and including 8 p.m. Tickets MUST be purchased in advance due to limited capacity. Details at qcgardens.com.
Bring your flashlights and explore the nooks and crannies of the Sun Garden to search for spiders, bats, jack-o-lanterns and toads as you wander down the darkened pathways. Get a glimpse of the Halloween train in our popular train garden. It’s not so scary in our gardens, making this event great for all ages. Take home a goodie bag after the fun. A one-way path will
lead guests through this year’s exhibit for social distancing.
Admission is free for members, $7 adults (16+), $4 youth (ages 2-15), and free for kids under 2.
The not-so-haunted Fejervary is an immersive and contact-free drive-thru Halloween experience, with safe social distancing. Not-so-haunted Fejervary allows guests to drive their cars past family-friendly scenes throughout Fejervary Park during the daytime.
Families will journey through an enchanted forest where they‘ll meet their favorite fairy-tale creatures and enjoy music and dancing (contact-free). Props, lights, music and live performers will bring the whole experience to life.
Davenport among top cities to celebrate
Halloween has long been a powerhouse holiday in terms of U.S. consumer spending, to the tune of $8.78 billion in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation.
Though this year’s celebration will be scaled down in light of the pandemic, the trade group still projects that Americans will shell out $8 billion on things like candy, costumes, decorations and greeting cards.
According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, more than 148 million U.S. adults plan to participate in Halloween-related activities. Among those, safe at-home activities ranked highest: 53 percent plan to decorate their homes, 46 percent plan to carve a pumpkin and 18 percent will dress up their pet.
“Consumers continue to place importance on celebrating our traditional holidays, even if by untraditional standards,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retailers are prepared to meet the increased demand for seasonal décor, costumes and other items that allow families the opportunity to observe Halloween safely.”
More than three-quarters say the virus is impacting their celebration plans, with overall participation down to 58 percent. Plans for parties, trick-or-treating, handing out candy and visiting haunted houses have all dropped, due largely to the fact that some activities do not easily adhere to social distancing. Even so, 17 percent say they plan to celebrate virtually.
Consumer spending is expected to reach $8.05 billion, due to the drop in participation. However, consumers are spending more on the activities that will ensure a memorable holiday. Those who are celebrating plan to spend $92.12 on average compared with $86.27 in 2019, the federation said.
Despite the fact that many city governments are discouraging trick-or-treating and the CDC is recommending extensive safety guidelines, it’s still possible for families to get in the spirit of the holiday with the proper protocols in place, according to the website SmartAsset.
Whether you’re planning to don costumes and go house to house with your pod or attend a Zoom masquerade, not all locations are equally conducive to enjoying the festivities. That’s why SmartAsset crunched the numbers to find the best cities in the U.S. to celebrate Halloween in 2020.
They considered things like family-friendliness, public safety, Halloween weather and the number of candy stores and costume shops per 10,000 population. This year’s study included metrics like internet connection and recent Covid-19 infection rates to account for the different ways Americans will celebrate the holiday as a result of the pandemic.
The top-ranking city this year is Vacaville, Calif., with Elgin, Ill., at number 6 and Davenport at number 24. See the complete listing at smartasset.com.
How is trick or treating happening?
Given that many Halloween costumes for kids already involve masks, of course there will be trick or treating this year, but it will be different amid the pandemic.
According to IDPH, trick-or-treating events need to incorporate social distancing, masking, and proper handwashing, as well as adherence to event size limitations. For this year, it would be safest to plan special events at home, using social media and other meeting platforms to connect with family and friends, says their site, dph.illinois.gov.
For those who choose to celebrate in person, IDPH is offering the following guidance. Please reference your local health department, village/city, or county information for guidance or policies specific to your location as well. The CDC offers additional guidance, available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html#halloween.
- As an alternative to door-to-door trick-or-treating, anyone who would like to distribute treats should leave individually wrapped candy or treats on a table, on their front walkways, sidewalks, or any outdoor space that allows for at least 6 feet of social distance from the door. The individually wrapped candy should be spread out so each piece is not touching another.
Anyone distributing candy or treats should wash their hands properly for at least 20 seconds before placing the candy on the table and when replenishing.
- All individuals participating in trick-or-treating, including those passing out candy should maintain social distance of least 6 feet and wear proper face coverings. A costume mask, such as those worn for Halloween, is not a substitute for a face covering. If face coverings are worn under costume masks, please ensure this does not create breathing problems, and if so, discard the costume mask.
- Only household members should trick-or-treat together, and they should maintain 6-feet social distance from other trick-or-treaters at all times. Mixed household trick-or-treaters are discouraged.
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be carried and used frequently.
- Candy collected during trick-or-treating should not be consumed until after handwashing. As always, a parent/guardian should check all candy to make sure it is wrapped and should discard unwrapped candy.
- Outdoor areas are preferred for trick-or-treating. Enclosed indoor areas, like apartment buildings, present greater risk of transmission. Open doors and windows as appropriate to promote increased ventilation.
- Trunk or treat events are considered a higher risk activity and are discouraged. An alternative activity involves trick-or-treating in a large parking lot or other outdoor setting with adherence to social distancing. Tables are pre-set up with participants allowed to parade with a parent/guardian while maintaining at least 6-feet social distancing and wearing proper face coverings at all times. A limited number of people should staff the event, keeping tables replenished and monitoring social distancing. Proper handwashing should be performed before candy is consumed.
Among scheduled trick-or-treat times in the Q-C are:
- Moline: Saturday, October 31, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Orion: Oct. 31, 5 p.m. — 7 p.m. Residents offering treats will leave a porch light on.
- Rock Island: Oct. 31, 5 p.m. — 8 p.m.
- Bettendorf: Oct. 31, 5 p.m. — 7:30 p.m.
- Davenport: Oct. 31, 4:30 — 7 p.m.
- LeClaire: Oct. 31, 6 — 8 p.m.
For a complete list, visit www.kwqc.com/2020/09/24/2020-trick-or-treat-times-in-the-quad-cities-area.
Local Theaters Offering Their Own Treats
Sara Tubbs, the Moline mom and co-owner of The Spotlight Theatre with her husband, Brent, said her neighborhood still plans on trick-or-treating happening next Saturday.
“We all of course will wear masks and I plan to put candy out for kids down on our driveway, possibly spread out on a table instead of in a bowl for when I’m out with my family” she said recently. “Then when I’m back home, I will probably sit on my porch and use a fun hand extender to give kiddos candy. There are TONS of fun, creative ways people can put candy out for kids and keep safe during trick or treating. I’ve found a lot of cute of ideas online.”
“Still don’t have exactly what we are doing nailed down, but no matter what we do, we will do it in a safe way,” Tubbs said. “I’ve also thought about doing a scavenger hunt for the kids around our yard.”
The Spotlight, 1800 7th Ave., Moline, hosted the movie “Hocus Pocus” Friday, Oct. 23, and will have “Spooky Spotlight Spectacular: A Halloween Cabaret” next Thursday and Friday, Oct. 29-30, at 7 p.m.
Featuring performances by local singers, this fun-filled night of spooky songs will be the perfect night to get into the mood of Halloween! Come in costume to be entered to win various prizes. Seating is limited to 50 people and masks must be worn upon entry. The tickets are $20 in advance / $25 at the door, available at thespotlighttheatreqc.com.
The Circa ’21 Speakeasy (1818 3rd Ave., Rock Island) will conclude its new run of “The Rocky Horror Show” on Halloween night, Oct. 31, at 7 p.m. Tickets (at www.thecirca21speakeasy.com/events) are $25 in advance, $30 day of show.
WARNING: “The Rocky Horror Show” is not recommended for the easily offended. This show deals with MATURE subject matters in an IMMATURE way. If sex, drugs, rock & roll, adultery, cross-dressing, aliens, homosexuality and above all, SHOW TUNES are not your cup of
tea, this may not be the show for you!
For Lindsey Smith Munson of Rock Island, her family loves Halloween.
“This year we are limiting our trick or treating for our kids,” she said of her son Abi, 9, and daughter Yenework, 8. “We want our kids to participate and have fun on Halloween but we want to be safe while doing it.
“We are planning on visiting the grandparents and friend’s houses that we know and feel comfortable that they have been safe and following Covid safety guidelines,” Munson said. “It will be good Halloween fun with a new safety twist.”
Like everything else this year, we’ll try to have fun and be safe simultaneously. That’s the greatest trick of all.