Halloween is almost upon us, and all around the nation families are visiting local farms to pick out pumpkins, go on hay rides and navigate through elaborate mazes carved in fields of corn. A relatively new fall tradition, corn mazes have become a popular way for small farmers to supplement their incomes and attract customers to their pumpkin fields.
In fact, the first corn maze was created in 1993, Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, as a fundraising effort to aid Midwest farmers whose farms had been damaged by severe flooding.
Disney World producer and LVC Alumnus Don Frantz and LVC student Joanne Marx teamed up with Adrian Fisher of Minotaur Designs in England to design a maze, based on the UK’s popular country garden variety. Fisher had designed some 70 mazes including one in the shape of a dragon, but nothing of the size and complexity envisioned by Frantz.
The final creation was open to the public for just two weekends in the fall of 1993, and drew national attention. With an admission of just $5 per person, the college drew nearly 6,000 visitors and raised over $27,000 over the opening weekend alone. All the proceeds went to the Red Cross to aid the stricken farmers.
Since that first effort, corn mazes have become popular tourist attractions in North America, and are created in a variety of artistic shapes and designs. Some are based on a particular theme, or created to tell different stories. Most feature a path which traverses the entire pattern, finishing either in the middle or at the outside, with intermittent false paths leading away from the main trail.
Interestingly, corn mazes have also caught on back in the United Kingdom, where they are known as “maize mazes” since the Brits tend to refer to wheat as “corn.” Especially popular on small family farms in the east of England, these mazes are normally combined with hay rides, petting zoos and picnic areas.
Dixon, California is home to the world’s largest corn maze, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2007. Measured at 45 acres in 2010, the attraction has since been unofficially surpassed by Adventure Acres in Bellbrook Ohio, whose 62 acre corn maze features 8.5 miles of trails. Wow — you could be in there a while!
Contrary to popular belief, corn mazes are not simply cut from an existing crop. Corn maze fields are carefully planned, with farmers selecting an appropriate hybrid species to deliver the desired height and stalk strength and spacing the plants for optimal denseness. Also, corn maze fields are generally planted two to three weeks later in the season than crops planted for harvest.
What’s better than a corn maze? A haunted corn maze! As if navigating your way through a complex series of hairpin turns and passageways isn’t scary enough, imagine doing so at night, with ghostly scarecrows, ghouls and monsters lurking around every corner!
Corn Mazes America estimated there were over 800 corn mazes around the country back in 2008. Since many corn mazes are private and not registered anywhere, it’s difficult pinpoint how many are created annually.
Although only a fraction of corn mazes are also haunted, that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of scaring the popcorn out of somebody. In 2011, police in Danvers, Massachusetts (a short distance from Salem) got a 911 call from a family of four who had been lost in a corn maze for several hours. Night had fallen, and the farmer who owned the maze had departed to run some errands and was unable to hear their cries for help.
He returned to his farm a short time later to find squad cars, police and tracking dogs searching for the errant tourists. The family was quickly located just 25 feet from the exit.
Farm owner Bob Connors hadn’t been worried when the family didn’t come right out. “People like to take their time and we don’t like to rush people out of the maze,” Connors said. “We like to give people their money’s worth.”
If you’re into mazes, monsters and scary good times, come on down to Cutting Edge Haunted House in Fort Worth, Texas, open every night through November 1st. There’s nothing CORNY about US! (Bring a change of underwear).
Countdown to Halloween: 7 days!