by Dana Martin
In July, a 20-acre parcel of land in Parlier was nothing but rows of plum trees, but that was before Mike Callahan began transforming it into a Halloween event unlike any other in the Central Valley.
“We started building with 72 days until opening night,” said Callahan, 48, who isn’t new to haunt construction, so he felt confident that he and his crew could pull off the nearly impossible feat that should take no fewer than six months to build. That’s 72 days to break ground, build the facilities, and create the brand and marketing avenues for his new attraction, The Raven’s Gate.
For Callahan, building a haunted attraction from scratch isn’t unfamiliar territory. In 1996, he created a partnership with Satterstrom’s and built the hayride and haunt, and in the following years was the creator and lead designer of Hobb’s Grove, the wildly popular attraction based in Sanger. After 12 years of becoming one of the Central Valley’s finest attractions, Callahan’s partnership with Hobb’s Grove ended, and the facilities closed in 2010. (Hobb’s Grove has reopened this year as The Grove-see the KRL article.)
However, Callahan wasn’t finished haunting.
“I physically placed everything at Hobb’s Grove, so I was comfortable designing The Raven’s Gate on a piece of land just two miles from the site of the old haunt. I designed all the props and rooms 13 years ago, and everything I learned has been improved upon at The Raven’s Gate, specifically for the guests and what I can give back to the community,” he said.
To give back, The Raven’s Gate has partnered with The Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Central Valley by pledging $1.00 from every ticket sale to the organization. The idea started as a way to make a difference in the community but quickly became a driving force behind the positive attitudes of those Callahan refers to as “the Raven’s Gate family.” Once crewmembers and actors learned that owners of the Gate have earmarked a portion of the profits for charity, Callahan noticed new energy. “Everyone focuses harder on making the attraction great because they are working toward a common goal to help families in need,” he said.
Hannah Johnson, marketing manager for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Central Valley, is ecstatic with the Raven’s Gate partnership. “We rely entirely on our community to remain in operation. Having a local company support us the way that The Raven’s Gate is, is just a gift, words don’t express our appreciation.”
Though the Callahan name and reputation as a skilled haunt builder may add legitimacy to the new attraction, he says he isn’t alone creating it. “I have complete backing. My partners have all the right ideals and subscribe to the same philosophies I do. We are building the haunt in a way to interact with the community within a family atmosphere,” said Callahan. “Building something like a haunt is never just one person. We have three distinct individuals combining their talents for one common goal—to give a high quality family experience and to deliver the best show our people can deliver. We have the financial support of one partner to build it right, and the moral support and compass of a partner who has the good qualities of a mother coupled with experience in haunt management. We have the best people functioning in their areas, and I get the pleasure of interacting with both of them, setting our overall direction, and completing our vision. It’s a dream come true.”
The Raven’s Gate has all the attractions that Central Valley haunt lovers would expect to find—a haunted forest and a hayride, with plans to add a haunted house next season. New for this facility (and for the area), though, is a “Trick or Treat” forest designed as a non-scare event for children 8-years old and under and a midway roughly the size of a football field, filled with food and retail vendors, and a stage and sound system for nightly entertainment.
“We want to take guests back to an old town, old fashioned carnival atmosphere on the midway. Our lighting is designed to create a feeling of nostalgia,” said Callahan, who says he designed The Raven’s Gate so guests buying a ticket can go straight to one of the haunted attractions or simply relax by the intimate fire pits.
Callahan says he expects different entertainment on the stage—from comedians to bands to DJs, and explains that every aspect of the midway was designed to enhance the magical experience guests have come to expect in the fall air at night.
“We built the midway to look like an old time carnival with booths and carnival games. It harkens to a different time. I would drive my family out there to experience an evening that will build good, positive memories.”
Security at The Raven’s Gate is an added bonus. Callahan says he has hired only the best, most highly trained “gentlemen” he could find, who would reflect his overall vision to keep the attraction family-based.
“The crew I hired have family and kids and would sacrifice their own personal safety to make sure our guests are safe,” said Callahan, who added that even profanity is frowned upon on the grounds. “This is old style family tradition—we are in our own little world, we’re going back to when people respected people.
“We don’t need everyone to come to our event. We just want the nice ones to come have fun.”
More info can be found on their KRL event page.