Haunting is family business at Land of Illusion

By: Amanda Dee – Social Media Manager

A shriek, inescapable and bloodcurdling, choked every eardrum. Like a hundred screaming mosquitos. Surrounded by evergreens and lifeless bodies, no one knew if the shrieking would silence or if they should continue onward.

A blond woman broke the trance and stepped forward. Toward the source of the demonic sound. The source, they all realized, was a zombie.

“Hmmmm…” the blond woman grumbled. She approached one of the evergreens and pressed a black button. The zombie finally shut up.

Blond-bobbed Dana Oakley works for the family business. She also has at least seven “personalities.” This was the first time in 17 years – including the month before she delivered her daughter – she has been Dana Oakley in black polo and pink-laced Nike’s on opening night.

Once the sun set on Sept. 5, Land of Illusion: Haunted Scream Park opened its “miles and miles and miles” of what once was “dung” to the public.

“A cashbox, wires, a fog machine, and a lot of passionate people with rubber masks” in Oakley’s backyard grew into a ticket booth into Middletown Haunted Trail (Oakley’s “baby”) into six attractions around a bar, stage and roaring bon fire.

“We took a Bobcat through it and did it,” Oakley said.

The 10 or 12 family members, local employees and their boys and “gals” have invested “more work and more passion than anyone could even begin to imagine.” 1,500-4,500 people flood through a night. The staff doesn’t go to bed until 4 or 5 a.m.

“We threw our heart, our souls, our blood… Everything inside is here,” Oakley said.

She has invested the inside of every “personality” into the park including Bon Bon the Crazy Bride, Candy the Junkie (“some people might be uncomfortable hearing her dark backstory,” Oakley warned) and a new addition she recently experimented with.

“I went near a bed of mulch and a nice little tree. I’ve got my pretty little Mickey Mouse kind of teddy thing going on, and I’m looking pretty nasty,” Dana Oakley said trotting in place from gray Nike to gray Nike and slowly raising her hands to her head.

“I look like I’ve been eating zombies. My hair’s all crazy. My eyes are all kind of dark. I’ve got my hospital gown that’s kind of falling off me and safety-pinned, and my feet are bloodied and blackened. It just looks like I’ve been walking through bodies for days.”

She bet 40 people crowded around her, nervously watching. She sat on the mulch, scattered coupons and flyers around her and rubbed her feet in dirt. She didn’t say a word for hours.

“Costume goes on; character comes out. Game on,” Oakley said.

Another one of Oakley’s personalities is Mom. “So, at 9 a.m., it’s SOCCER. Let’s go,” she shouted.

Her two children Sadie Davis, 10, and Gavin Davis, 12, have grown up watching their mom metamorphose every Halloween season.

“[Gavin] grew up lulling asleep to chain saws. When Gavin was about two, we had come out and there were scattered bloody scarecrows all over the ground, and I remember him crawling all over them, and he was just kind of looking at them. I was thinking, ‘Wow, what am I doing to this kid’s psyche?’” she laughed. “But, he saw mom put on the make-up and knew it was all pretend.”

However, “he’s not a creeper,” she assured.

Land of Illusion is around a green bend that seemingly leads to nowhere in Middletown, Ohio. Middletown, like most of the Dayton area, boomed until the 1970s: automobile manufacturing collapsed, union wages dropped and residents abandoned homes and businesses, according to Brett Oakley and City of Dayton Commissioner Matt Joseph.

Land of Illusion is trying to do something about that, to help small businesses, Brett Oakley said.

The bands are local. The vendors are local. They are local.

“The poor man’s dream park,” Brett Oakley said, “is meant to be an experience, have narrative feel – emotion – to it.”

A little boy approached the towering green monster behind Brett Oakley. “I’m not afraid,” the little boy chanted. “I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid.”

“I’ll go to my grave in this place,” Brett Oakley promised.

Land of Illusion: Haunted Scream Park is open from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. every Friday – Saturday in September and October, as well as Sunday night in October (but only until 11 p.m.). For directions or more info, visit www.landofillusion.com.