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Scary sweet

Two Valentine’s haunted houses and a do-it-yourself adventure make the holiday hair-raising

Final resting place

The witch kept her husband’s corpse in her home and devoted much of her energy to reviving him. When the people of Skiatook caught wind of this, they put his body in the ground. The witch dug him up again. The townspeople reburied him in concrete. Maybe she died of a lonely, broken heart. Maybe none of this ever happened. No one can say for sure. But lore has it she haunts and protects his grave. Visitors claim the witch has thrown stones at them; others tell of being possessed there.

I, along with my friends Greg and Hallie, went to check it out.

Online blogs indicate some confusion about who exactly is buried at the Witch’s Grave. Some claim the grave is that of the witch herself. Another man argues that the grave actually belongs to a man whose wife passed away three years prior to his death, not after.

We pulled off State Highway 11 and onto Hillside Road. Gravestones appeared before we saw the metal sign arching over a gravel driveway: HILLSIDE CEMETERY. To the left was a sign for Hillside Mission, an Indian school established by Rev. John Murdock in 1882. The cemetery was founded in 1885.

I entered the cemetery through a metal turnstile like you might see in a subway station. Greg led us to the grave, a concrete mound near a tree. This was the grave of a man, last name Parkhill—not a woman’s grave, and definitely not the grave of the witch herself.

By the mound was a name, a date, and the nearly illegible words “better known as.” A stick was probably used to carve out the letters when the concrete was still wet—but some say the witch, driven by grief, dug her fingers into the hard substance herself. All we could make of the date was “died Feb.” There was possibly a name there—Barnsett?—following “Parkhill.”

A transcription on the other side reads as a partial quote from Samuel 12:23: “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, He shall not return to me.”

Nothing more was legible. Time and the elements had worn many of the words away. We’d have to go again with spades and brushes to get better acquainted with Mr. Parkhill.

We didn’t see any flying stones, ghosts, or witches, perhaps because it was daytime. But whenever you visit, day or night, be respectful. You never know who might be watching.

Sweetheart’s slaughter

The Asylum building is two stories of well-crafted creepiness, and the detail is incredible for a place that’s seen mostly in very dim lighting while people are distracted and moving as quickly as possible. Even after the stage lights were turned on for my benefit, the effects held up.

If you’re like my husband and me, nothing says romance like being scared together. Isn’t that why people go on dates to see scary movies? There’s a certain bonding that happens after surviving something frightening together, even if it’s only a simulation. If your sweetheart isn’t the flowers and candles type, I recommend the 45-ish minute trip to Nowata. (Listen to the podcast Lore on the drive out. It’ll help set the mood.)

You don’t have to be in love to go—friends can also celebrate Valentine’s Day together while being chased down darkly-lit hallways by psychotic men wearing masks fashioned from burlap and blood.

I have a strong stomach for spooky stuff but have to admit that once I walked into the darkened building, my heart began to race. Then, a hospital patient led us into a maze of chain link fences.

The idea is simple: You and a loved one are trapped inside a mental institution-type facility that houses such treats as a crematorium, a blood-soaked mattress, and a darkened boiler room. There are mad doctors, evil nurses, and an assortment of odd and disturbing characters. Oh, and patients—there are many of them. The menacing crazies are balanced out with unsettling but seemingly well-intentioned lunatics. It provides a nice contrast, especially once you’re separated from your partner.

At some point—I won’t say when—you are split from your loved one and must interact with the performers alone. The actors either help or hinder you along the way until you (hopefully) are able to find your partner and continue on together. Unless, of course, your partner taps out at some point and leaves you behind to go it alone, in which case you might want to rethink the relationship.

I ended the experience laughing, but will admit that flashes of the evening entered my dreams that night and the next morning. To me, that’s the mark of a successful haunt.

Sweetheart’s Slaughter, The Asylum Haunted Attraction
304 W. Cherokee Ave., Nowata
Fri.–Sat. Feb. 9–24, 7 p.m.–11 p.m. | Sun. Feb. 25, 7 p.m.–10 p.m.
Tickets, $20 | okasylum.ticketleap.com/sweethearts-slaughter

Till Death Do Us Inn

You are driving your partner through the country down an unlit two-lane road late at night. No houses or gas stations for miles. Woods and empty road. You see a sign for an inn and decide to stop before you fall asleep. The dirt road leads to a dark, deserted building. Suddenly, lights shine and the front door opens. A backlit figure, face cast in shadow, motions you inside. Once you get out of the car, everything becomes dark again. The figure is gone, but it’s left the door open and two flashlights to guide you through. You grab your sweetheart’s hand.

Welcome to Till Death Do Us Inn.

2018 marks the second year of the Inn, the newest element in the Psycho Path Haunted Attraction, which has been open for 14 years and hosts three different attractions each October. Many other haunts around the country do Valentine’s attractions—most of these places sit unused until it’s time to get ready for Halloween, meaning that repairs that need to be done can go unnoticed for months. Varied attractions also help the owners raise funds to attend the annual Haunters’ convention, where haunt owners can purchase new equipment, show off innovations, or sell their own inventions.

Though the Inn isn’t open to the public until Feb. 10, owner Victor Marquez was kind enough to allow me to tour it early. The Inn’s hallways are covered in early 20th century wallpaper: obviously the place was very classy at one time but has seen better days. You are led to the imposing front desk where you can check in for the night and a stairway leads upstairs, but you can’t go up to your room. There’s still the rest of the Inn to explore. It looks as though it’s been neglected for decades. The library is covered in dust. Even an innocent greenhouse is made terrifying in the dark—and you don’t want to know what they’re filling their smokehouse with for the winter months.

I was glad to have my husband with me—he scares more easily than I do, so I felt like the brave one. Even without actors jumping out at from every darkened corner, the Inn was unsettling in the best way.

And if you think there’s no romance in haunting, think again. Suzette Marquez, wife of Victor, was in one of the storage trailers organizing props when I visited. I asked her if she had heard the term “haunt widow,” which refers to a person who feels abandoned while a partner creates and runs a haunt.

“I support him totally,” she said. “I love that he’s so creative and passionate about something. I would give him my last dollar if it would help him do what he loves.”

Enough of that, though. As a horror enthusiast, I’ll warn you: There are a few areas that will scare even the toughest haunt diehards.

Till Death Do us Inn, Psycho Path Haunted Attraction
1517 E. 106th St. N., Sperry
Feb. 9–10, 6 p.m.–12 a.m., Feb. 11 6 p.m.–10 p.m. | Solo tickets, $15; Couple tickets, $25 | psychopathhaunt.com

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