Anyone who has met White Bear Lake resident Jean Sockness has probably heard her say she has a fondness for fall—the leaves changing color, the crackle of bonfires, but especially the thought of goblins lurking about as the bewitching season draws near.
Her earliest memory of Halloween was at age 7, of nights spent haunting her neighborhood in a homemade hobo costume complete with a dab of makeup and a cap. “I was always the last one out trick-or-treating,” Sockness says. “Halloween was a lot simpler then. They didn’t have costumes like they do now. I remember when the first masks came out in the ’80s. Everyone thought it was so cool.”
Her lifelong fascination with Halloween was the inspiration for Nightmare Hallow-Scream Park, a ghoulish experience created by Sockness designed to thrill participants young and old. Sockness admits that, back in 1992, the year she first envisioned the concept, she couldn’t have anticipated how much work would be involved in setting up an event of this magnitude. “It appears easy but it’s very difficult,” she says. “I didn’t realize how many pieces were involved. You have to depend on so many people to do a task.”
But with prior experience in catering and owning her own business, Sockness was up to the challenge. “I’ve always liked haunted houses and thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ ” Soon a Halloween tradition was in the making.
After several location changes, the event found its home behind Running Aces Casino & Racetrack in Forest Lake. While preparations for this spooktacular event happen year-round, it is only when the horses leave that the real metamorphosis begins. With little time to waste, 60-plus employees and a talented visual artist converge on the horse barn, transforming it and the surrounding field into a Halloween haven.
Admission to the Scream Park includes a 30-minute haunted hayride, complete with eerie scenes and sounds, a wafting layer of fog, and a cast of creepy characters lurking in the darkness. But the ride is not meant to be too over the top. “We do have scares, but there are 30 other people on the wagon. It should be the fun of the thing,” Sockness says. If this isn’t enough to get your heart pumping, step into the haunted house, which is updated each year to keep visitors guessing: “We have a stone crypt entrance, and many artistic panels done by professional artists. It’s beautiful.”
Although she enjoys the fun of dressing up on Halloween, Sockness now delegates the honor to the characters roaming about the Scream Park. “I’ve won amateur nights all over the Cities with my costumes,” she says. “But I don’t dress up anymore.” She is continually amazed by the rising price of costumes and silicone masks which outfit her characters, some running over $600.
But lest her followers fear Sockness might be losing her Halloween spirit, there is no need to worry. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for sightings of Sockness driving her signature set of wheels around White Bear Lake: a 1971 Oldsmobile hearse complete with a pearl paint job and wrap advertising Nightmare Hallow-Scream Park. It’s guaranteed you won’t be the only one doing a double take.
“I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and there are people who come back year after year,” Sockness says. “I work hard to bring joy to families during the Halloween season.” And bring joy she does, with thousands of guests visiting her haunted park each year.
Nightmare Hallow-Scream Park
- Opens the first weekend in October, weather permitting.
- 15201 Zurich St. NE, Forest Lake (behind Running Acres Casino and barns)
- For hours and ticket info, head to the website here.