Spooky Hand wrapped up with old tape that is town up, on top of ghoulish smoky background.
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The Science and art of Spooky Effects that make your favorite SCARE even more fun!

Rosa Flora, girl in red dress wandering the streets at the Nightfall event.

After the COVID pandemic forced Old Tucson to close its doors two years ago, a new company, American Heritage Railways, has taken over the famous Western movie facilities and is reopening them with a 30th anniversary celebration of Nightfall. Not only can you and your family get spooked at Nightfall from Oct. 5 thru Oct. 30, but the creative managers of Nightfall share some of their secrets for making your house or other haunted happening SPOOKTACULAR!

For many families, the fright-filled town of Nightfall at Old Tucson became a tradition ushering in fall around here. Launching such an important event takes a ton of creativity and teamwork.

“I’ve lived here since I was 13. Yes, we’re excited about it!” says Old Tucson General Manager Kiki Keefner. “It’s huge to me, but humbling to be part of something so amazing. We feed off of each other’s creativity and fun. And this group of people that American Heritage has put together has been so dynamic—we sync together so well. We have each other’s weaknesses and strengths covered.”

For this 30th celebration of Nightfall, a chilling story runs through just about every aspect of the evening. It’s election night with a not-too-popular 1880s Mayor John Olsen facing a DUBIOUS challenger by the name of Jack Nice, who is full of promises for the townspeople and Nightfall visitors. But some key people, including the schoolhouse teacher, Margaret Dwyer, have mysteriously vanished. And Nightfall is abuzz with what might happen next.

Around the town center, dozens of characters are dressed in authentic Western wear and will share what they think and know with any visitor who is brave enough to ask. And if you want to be scared, there are four adult mazes and an eerie kids maze, which also give clues if you pay attention! There’s also a hair-raising stunt show.

Nightfall at Old TucsonTwo ladies dressed up in old western dresses at the Nightfall event“It’s one story all the way across. The mazes are connected to the main story; the stunt shows are connected; the stage shows are connected; the characters are connected—everything is connected to the story,” explains Creative Director Erik Blair, who created this very creepy Nightfall story. “And all the danger to the town is happening on the outskirts (in the mazes). Or you can spend all night just talking to the characters in town, and there’ll be things happening all night long.”

The costumes and creepy effects are mind-blowing. Tickets are ordered according to the date and arrival time (5:30 p.m. thru 10 p.m.). Thursdays and Sundays (regular nights) cost $35 for adults and $30 for kids. Fridays and Saturdays (premium nights) cost $45 and $40. Kids 4 & under are free. You can go through mazes, take in the stunt shows and talk to the townspeople all you want. You can also purchase food, beverages and souvenirs. Unopened water bottles are allowed.

Creating Spooky Effects!

Wanna decorate your porch? Maybe your school or other group wants to build a haunted maze. Here are some pointers to add some fright to Halloween night!

eyeballs on a shelfHalloween scarecrow on displaySEVERED body parts and headless bodies may be classic, but there are better ways to spook people. When it comes to scaring people, “I think that gory stuff is the least interesting thing to do,” Nightfall Creative Director Erik Blair shares.

Blair loves getting scared, whether it be by professional setups or something more homemade. “Some of the best scares I’ve ever seen have been home haunts,” he says.

“If you really want to scare people, light and lack of light is crucial,” Blair points out. “Figuring out when you want people to see something and when you don’t makes a huge difference. You can take something that’s a pretty basic prop or thing and do a tremendous amount to make it terrifying and scary just by how you light it.”

And the new LEDs are a huge game-changer in a little package. “Even these small LED lights can have dozens of different colors and are programmable,” Blair points out.

Ooh, what’s that smell? Going through a maze, you come across a subtle scent. “All of a sudden, you smell hay or something strange—it immediately sets the brain into a slightly different place,” Blair explains. He says there are all kinds of perfumes you can put in an inexpensive slow aroma diffuser. Grave dirt, hay, rotting flesh are just a few examples of what’s out there!

And sound is huge, too! Often in horror movies, it’s the scary sounds or dramatic music that scares you. Not surprisingly, Nightfall has a lot of sound where it’s needed. “Find the time to do it—the music or a sound effect can put a tremendous amount of scare into people,” he suggests.

Most of all, don’t forget to be creative and unexpected in your setup. Blair says frights should come as a surprise and where and when they’re least expected.

Make Your Own Fake Blood!Kid with white makeup looks like a vampire. Fake blood is running down chin.

If you want to get downright ghoulish this Halloween, mix up some fake blood.

• Mix one part water with three parts corn syrup.

• Add drops of red food coloring.

• For darker blood, add a little chocolate syrup!


When it comes to Halloween, it is fun to go all out with your costume and makeup. If you are using paint, make sure it is made to go on faces. You should test the paint or makeup several days beforehand to see if your skin has a bad reaction. Put a dime-size or nickel-size circle of the makeup or paint you will be using on your cheek or the inside of your arm. Leave it for a few hours then MONITOR that spot for the next 24 hours. If your skin becomes red or irritated, you may want to change your plan.

Using a base or foundation will make your makeup or paint last longer, and the layer will help protect your skin from irritation. If the makeup or face paint includes instructions on the packaging, be sure to follow the directions for testing, application and removal. Practice your look a few days before your party or trick-or-treating event to avoid—or achieve—a frightful face!

Halloween-themed stores pop up all around town this time of year. You can find fun costumes there, but you can also find costumes and costume elements at thrift stores, Bookman’s or in a relative’s attic or closet—just get that relative’s permission first, unless you want to end up with your own tombstone!

flying bat drawingBoomer’s Fun Ideas for the Family

• Play pumpkin bowling—make the pins by filling 2-liter bottles with one cup of sand. Paint the bottles white and draw eyes and a mouth to make them scary ghosts. All you need is a couple of small pumpkins and you’re ready to bowl!

• Throw a scary scavenger hunt—create a list of spooky (or spooky-sounding) items for players to locate on a spooktacular scavenger hunt.

• Visit a pick-your-own farm—October is harvest time for many fruits and veggies. Take a box or a wagon and go with the family to pick some juicy apples, colorful squash, pumpkins and seasonal vegetables.

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