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This San Francisco drive-thru haunted house might save a socially-distanced Halloween

Emerald Pellot
·2-min read

Halloween is poised to be a lot less intimate this year thanks to social distancing restrictions. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Haunted houses across the U.S. are reimagining what getting spooked in the pandemic era might look like. This year, some places — like Pirates of Emerson Haunted Theme Park — are opting for drive-thru haunted houses.

The San Francisco Bay Area attraction has been around for 29 years. Brian Fields and his parents Patty and Karl, who have operated the haunted house since 1991, started out in their backyard, and it’s since grown into an annual spooky staple.

“We started with a keg and some friends in the backyard and a bunch of the neighborhood kids,” Brian told SF Gate. “It got bigger and bigger. During our last year at the house, we had 3,000 people show up over two nights and so the city shut us down and said we couldn’t do it anymore.”

About 11 years ago, Pirates of Emerson moved to the Alameda County Fairgrounds. Every year since, the theme park has featured music, mazes, a dark-sided fortune teller and plenty more for horror buffs. But this year, the pandemic hit and forced the Fields to think on their feet.

“We had to think of something else just like any other small business owner,” Brian told SF Gate. “We’re just trying to survive like everybody else.”

The drive-thru iteration will largely have the same features. Visitors will traverse a mile-long drive across tens of acres in the fairgrounds. The cars will be staggered by 30 seconds so that each group can have a more isolated experience. Meanwhile, drivers will be able to tune into a FM radio signal that will provide an eerie soundtrack for the fright fest.

“You drive on down a road like this, down and back and down and back,” Brian said. “You go through Trick-or-Treat Town and hillbillies and pirates and clowns and prisons and cemeteries. A whole bunch of stuff! The best part is that it’s an immersive adventure: You’re not driving by everything, you’re actually driving through the sets.”

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