Inside America’s First Haunted House

Odd Jobs, On the Road, People, Seasonal, Traditions, Travel Destinations
on October 11, 2011
Courtesy of Full Moon Productions

Born into a family haunted house entrepreneurs, Amber Arnett-Bequeaith’s childhood was anything but ordinary.

“Growing up, I had roles in my family’s haunted house. I’ve played every part from the angel to the devil,” she says with a laugh. “It was something I was never afraid of — it was just a part of everyday life.”

Amber was 5 years old when her family decided to expand their outdoor theater business beyond the summer season with a haunted attraction in Kansas City, Mo., in 1975. Their venture, The Edge of Hell, became the nation’s first commercial haunted house.

“Back then, there wasn’t a convention for haunted houses, no instruction manual,” she says. “We essentially pioneered the whole industry.”

The event was such a success that the family dropped their theater company and focused on the haunted attraction.

“The whole family worked together to create the show every year. It was special,” she says. “Many of the phobia theories and concepts our attractions still use today, were born over the dinner table, when we would sit and talk and break bread after a long day of shows.”

Today, Amber helps carry on the tradition as vice president of Full Moon Productions, which owns and operates four haunted attractions in the Kansas City area—The Edge of Hell, The Beast, Macabre Cinema and Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe.

With over 35 years experience and a dozen year-round and 300 seasonal employees, the company is one of the nation’s leading haunted house development companies.

“We pride ourselves on being very family-oriented,” Arnett-Bequeaith says. “After so many years in the industry, we have grandparents bringing their grandchildren to our events.

“You won’t find excessive blood, gore or guts at our houses,” she adds. “We find gore to be distasteful. We want to entertain our customers, not go for shock value.”

All four houses are built around a different theme. The Edge of Hell plays on the concept of everyday life choices, taking guests on a journey to the brink of hell and back. The Beast, which has been recognized as America’s largest haunted house, forces visitors to navigate dark woods without a path or guide.

The two latest additions, Macabre Cinema and the Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe, are charitable attractions benefitting the Dream Factory, a Kansas City organization that grants wishes for critically ill children.

Every year the company hosts a Halloween party for children from the Dream Factory. With apple bobbing and other activities, the event also allows the children to privately tour the houses, which they normally might not be able to visit because of wheelchairs or other restrictions.

“It’s probably one of the best nights of the year for our staff, just being able to see the excitement on their faces,” she says.

Everyday is Halloween at the Full Moon Productions offices, where preparation for the fall season is an ongoing affair.

“You’re creating that entertainment and fun for someone else, and that’s what I love the absolute most every season,” she says. “After you’ve gone through all the preparations, the auditions and rehearsals, and you open that front door and see all of the families lined up, excited and scared at the same time-that’s why I do what I do.”

For more ghastly fun, check out our profile on Salem—America’s Halloween Town.