Somewhere in the woods behind Hyattsville Middle School lurks an evil half-man, half-goat hybrid. On recent weekend nights, under a pitch-black sky, eager crowds have waited in long lines for a chance to glimpse what's behind the large wooden walls that separate them from the furry, white, 8-foot-tall beast and many other ghastly characters who take pleasure in terrorizing visitors to "GoatMan Hollow."
This GoatMan is not the Goatman of local lore -- and the difference is more than capitalization. The legendary Goatman supposedly resulted from a doctor's unspecified experiment on goats at the National Agriculture Research Center in Beltsville. The current version is spooking haunted-house enthusiasts who stop by the GoatMan Hollow haunted adventure since it opened on the second weekend in October.
The last of this season's Halloween-themed "GoatMan Hollow" shows run tomorrow through Sunday. It's the third year for the Goatman operation, which was founded by locals who got their start producing haunted scenes in their front and back yards. Now it's on the property of Bill Livingston and Mike Gemeny, whose house overlooks the heavily wooded two-acre area that transforms into a haunted adventure every October. The two teamed up with Riverdale couple Jay and Jennifer Wright after their respective haunted lawn shows for trick-or-treaters outgrew their space.
"It's great scaring people, and everyone loves to be scared, no matter who you are," said Livingston, 33, a sous chef who hopes eventually to go into the business of scaring people full time. "GoatMan Hollow" has taken a financial loss each year because of the cost of set design and other operations, although the event continues to grow in terms of size, sophistication and visitors. A portion of each year's proceeds goes to the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department.
With an increasingly large number of people -- including groups from as far away as Boston and Richmond -- coming to check out "GoatMan Hollow" and complaints from some neighborhood residents about noise levels resulting from those congregating, the organizers are planning to move it to another location in the county next year.
The four founders, along with many volunteers, work year-round to produce the show. "It actually brings people closer to each other. You meet a lot of great people in the community, and it's great to see the expressions on people's faces as they go through," Livingston said.
What visitors go through is actually a series of scenes built around the Goatman urban legend, which dates to the 1960s. Livingston said that as he wrote the first show's script, he pored through newspaper clippings that blamed the Goatman for beheading dogs, slaughtering goats, damaging vehicles and murdering teens at sites throughout the county.
Livingston crafts a new chapter for the horror soap opera each year. This year, the insane doctor who allegedly created the GoatMan, Dr. Fletcher seeks revenge on people who foiled his attempts to resurrect his long dead wife last October.
Different characters who don fake blood and sometimes scream or pummel one another or get a little too close for comfort greet groups of about 10 haunt-goers at a time as they navigate the dark, wooded path, which leads in and out of a house where the same type of creepy people lurk in the shadows.
The cast tells the groups the story little by little, misleading them about what will happen around the next bend in hopes of instilling fear, confusion and surprise.
The success of that attempt depends on who is experiencing the tale. Reactions range from strangers grabbing one another out of fear to friends bursting into laughter together at some of the scare attempts.
Frank Van Meter, 21, said the trip through the woods was more entertaining than scary.
"It was fun, but I thought it would be a little different. It didn't scare the bejesus out of you," the Owings Mill resident said.
Others were legitimately frightened by what they perceived as eerie sights, sounds and noises coming from the 20-minute walk-through.
"I was scared," said Christine Sellers, 24, who accompanied seven teenagers who are part of the Baltimore-area nonprofit National Center on Institutions and Alternatives' Youth In Transition program. Sellers expected to be freaked out, but her charges were much more confident about their fear levels.
"The macho kids who were saying 'yeah, you don't got to be scared' ran right back when they saw a hand come out of the ground," she said. "And when somebody was waiting around the corner, they were like 'oh my God, oh my God' and came running back and grabbing on to me."
"GoatMan Hollow" runs from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Organizers don't recommend the show for children under the age of 8 and require that adults accompany all children under the age of 16. It is located at 42nd Avenue and Oliver Street in Hyattsville, in the alley at the northwest corner of Hyattsville Middle School. Tickets are $15. 301-442-4670 or www.goatmanhollow.com.