Business Spotlight: The Milburns Dare You To Play At Their House
Mike Milburn, his wife Carolyn and his two sons Ethan and Will may seem like your average loving family, but there is more to them than karaoke nights and potlucks. They have taken advantage of their large, 7.5 acre property to build their very own family run haunted house- Milburn’s Haunted Manor.
How It All Began
A while back, Mike took his family on a relaxing vacation to Mexico. They enjoyed themselves so much that they knew they had to go back. In order to do that, however, they needed some extra vacation funds. Being both a fan and a critic of haunted houses himself, Mike decided their property would work perfectly for their very own!
"At the time, our two kids were involved in the high school drama club. We thought ‘let’s run a little haunted house.’ We figured the drama club could use it as a fundraiser and we could have a little vacation fund generator. It worked. The haunted house has sent us on many-a-vacation to many-a-cool-place over the years. Sometimes when a few of us are out working on the haunts during the hot summer, we remind each other of the cool pool and slushy drinks the haunt will be providing." Since then, the Milburns have had a lot of fun getting friends and volunteers together to scare as a group. If it weren’t for COVID, October 2020 would have been the 18th year running.
All Inclusive Night of Horror
Milburn’s Haunted Manor is located in Hubbard, OR. Because it is a bit more out of the way, about half an hour from Portland or Salem, they wanted to make it more of a destination. That is why they have two haunts, full concession and Moonlit Pumpkin Patch.
"Having two haunts has benefits logistically as well. You do not have to stand in line as long since there are two haunts to dilute the lines. Also, I try to employ different scaring techniques in the two haunts. If we didn’t get you in the Manor we might in the Dark," Mike says.
The Two Haunts: Milburn’s Haunted Manor
The manor is very theatrical, as it emulates the classic style of a horror movie haunted house. It features One Eyed Suzie as their mascot. She is a little doll that Mike found years ago. She has a burnt out eye socket and stringy hair, and she only stands about 30 inches tall. She is seriously creepy looking and is definitely not the kind of doll you want in your nursery. She is great nightmare fuel!
"Sometimes when I’m working out in the haunt and I see little Suzie out of the corner of my eye she gets me to jump. For fun we like to include her in the background of any pictures we use. Not easy to see but always there somewhere." Their haunted story or theme each year for the Manor always includes little Suzie Milburn and some story about her murdering her family many years ago. And that is why this place is haunted.
The manor also includes a generic house layout; a living room, hallways with some lovely paintings, a few zombies, a dining room, a kitchen, an axe murderer, a bedroom, etc. You certainly can’t forget the backyard, complete with a broken down truck and some massive spiders!
The Haunts: The Dark
"The Dark is more lighting effects and startle scares. Due to the low light visibility, if you’re afraid of the dark… I’m going to ring your bell. Claustrophobic people also seem to have problems with the Dark (in a good, scary way)."
As the name clearly states, this haunt is pretty dark inside. In fact, it’s pitch black. With the exception of a few flashing lights and some smokey green lazers, youll have to feel your way through this maze of fear. Be ready for zombies, chainsaws, dead bodies, and lots of jump scares!
The Graveside Grill
Everybody knows that the best part of fall is the food, but the Milburn’s and their amazing team of cooks take their scary snacks to the next level!
The Graveside Grill offers carnival style foods, complete with items like fresh cut curly fries, hot dogs and the most unique, mouth watering chili dogs. And what would a concession stand be without dessert? They offer treats such as zombie donuts (made to order) and funnel fried bacon that their volunteers just can’t get enough of! To complete any meal you get, they also have choices between water, pop, hot chocolate, and a steaming hot apple silver that resembles a sour apple candy.
The Moonlit Pumpkin Patch
Last but not least, they have a moonlit pumpkin patch near the picnic tables, so that you can really get the most of your night in Hubbard. Their guests can come to Milburn’s to get scared at our two haunts, have some awesome eats and pick up a Milburn’s grown pumpkin, all in one visit. Best of all, the pumpkins are very affordable! Even the largest of them all is only $6.
Why Milburn’s Is Special
Their goal is to make the guest feel like they are in a scary movie. They strive for the term they have coined "haunted theatre." Most haunts are designed for high throughput, as more tickets sold means more cash flow. But haunts that push too many guests through are reduced to mostly "jump out – go boo" type scares. You also end up too close to other groups, making you miss a scare altogether. At Milburn’s, they limit the number of ticket sales each night so they can integrate good theatre and jump scares into each and every room and create a more personal experience for each group.
Why It’s Scarier
Over the years they developed techniques on how to design scares that really spook you. Once you understand the mechanics of scaring people and the science behind it, then it becomes pretty easy to design rooms with the potential to scare. This also makes it easier to pick an actor that will best fit the room and bring the fear to life. The best room design will fall flat with a weak actor, so it’s important to design for "ease of scare" and the actor doesn’t get burned out too fast. After all, on a busy night that actor will have to repeat that scare every minute and a half, and acting like a zombie for hours on end will really ‘drain the life out of you.’ But how does Mike keep it interesting? Well, he makes some small (or sometimes very large) changes every year, whether it's a whole new room or just a new theme. While you’d think it would be hard to constantly come up with new ideas, Mike can find inspiration just about anywhere.
"Sometimes I see a Youtube video prank and it gets me thinking about how I could turn that into a scare. Sometimes it’s a scary movie. Sometimes at other haunts. Yep, we all steal each other’s ideas. I’ll even call up another haunt owner to pick his brain on how he built a prop. We of course try to put our own personal twist on the scare to make it our own. I’ve been on a ride in Disneyland that inspired an idea for a room in my haunt. When you do this for a living you keep an eye out for interesting angles or effects." So even if you went the year before, beware! You may think you’re prepared, but Mike Milburn always has something creepy and crawly up his sleeve!
Nobody is more humble about the success of the haunt than it’s creator, Mike. Milburn’s Haunted Manor is a truly unique haunted house that is almost guaranteed to make you scream. It has been recognized as the #1 Scariest Haunt by OregonHauntedHouses.com, has won other awards, and has been featured by both OPB and the Oregonian. However, Mike doesn’t care about the labels or titles; he just genuinely enjoys the community of volunteers, family, and excited guests.
"We’ve received some great awards and even some national recognition. Those are cool but it is hearing from our guests that is the real payoff. I love to be out front and talk to the guests and listen to them laugh about getting scared. I love hearing about how we have become a seasonal family tradition for so many people. It’s what drives us to be the best we can be."
What If You Want To Volunteer?
In order to volunteer on your own you need to be at least 15 and minors must have a parent waiver signed. Anyone younger is welcome as long as parents participate as well. Anyone over the age of 18 must pass a background test. No previous experience is needed, as they do a training night for anyone who wants to be in the haunt.
Their staffing coordinator meets with each volunteer and determines what they would be good at. Some are obviously outgoing and great for very visible acting roles. Others are not so outgoing but that’s okay because there are plenty of behind the scenes rolls in a haunt, much like a play. There are 3 stage hands to every actor. If you want to volunteer, they will find a fit for you.
The short answer- it’s just plain fun! There is no better way to experience and embrace Halloween than to make a 40 year old man drop to his knees, crying in fear. There’s nothing better than watching a 6 year old boy walk through without hesitation while his mother shakes in terror. And there’s no way you can go home in a bad mood after successfully scaring hundreds of people in just one night. At Milburn’s Haunted Manor you get to do that. There are many times after a scare, when the guests have advanced out of a room, that the zombies break and laugh and high-five the ghosts across the hall before resetting for the next group. It is so addicting and so much fun to be a part of a haunt. Once you try it, you won’t be able to stop!
For the actors and techs, they have a hospitality tent where they provide free dinner each night. Pizza, sandwiches, water, pop, snacks, and more. They want to fuel their volunteers up each night before the show. They also provide cough drops and water, as they know how tiring it can be! All volunteers will also get a Milburn’s Crew t-shirt each year. Those who volunteer more nights get a Milburn’s hat. They also hand out coupons each night for free munchies at the concession stand for those who want some deep fried goodies. Because of all the delicious snacks, by the end of October the skeletons finally have a little meat on their bones!
What Kind of People Do You See Go Through The Haunt?
"We are a PG13 haunt so we discourage young kids. However it is up to the parent to decide if their child is able to handle it. I’ve seen 10 year olds go through it fine. I’ve seen 10 year olds bail out crying. It depends on the kid. That’s why we let the Parent or guardian decide. We see plenty of seniors. Of course our main age group is young adults. Pretty much, we appeal to ‘the roller coaster crowd.’ People who like the thrill of being scared and the fun of a good scream."
Who are your returning volunteers? Can you tell me a little about some of them?
"We have a few ‘hard core’ repeat volunteers that just keep coming back for more year after year. They make up about 30% of our volunteers.
"We have a mother / daughter team that has been coming for about 10 years because they love being involved. They love the seasonal carnival feel of the place. Funny thing is, they don’t even like to scare that much. They love doing the ticket line and interacting with our guests.
"Of course we have the group that just loves scaring people and they look forward to the season every year. We’ve even had some kids from clubs that have grown up, moved away or gone off to war and have come back to this area. They show up to sign ups and we get to laugh about the ‘old days’.
"It gets in their blood. If you haven’t really made someone fall to the ground screaming, you wouldn’t understand. But they come back all grown up and volunteer because it was such a fun part of their youth.
"We do have one guy who has been with us every year we’ve been open. All 17 years. Every year he says that it’s his last but when sign ups come around he shows up. Scaring people, or ‘melting em down’ as we call it is addicting. A hard habit to kick. When the leaves start falling you start to feel the itch."
How many people do you generally see through the haunt in one night?
"An average night is 600 to 800 guests. But, the place really gets hopping on the Saturday before Halloween. You’d think Halloween would be our biggest night but no. It’s the Saturday before that we sell out the fastest."
Who does the makeup?
"My Son Ethan Milburn is the head of our makeup department. He’s been doing for most of our 18 years. I was happy to hand it over to him. He’s incredibly talented and he’s pretty much taught himself most of what he knows. I make sure to send him to a class or seminar at the local haunted house convention, but in truth he rarely learns anything he didn’t already know. Each year he assembles a small group of people to round out the makeup team. Just 3 or 4 of them and they can do the makeup for 40 volunteers in 40 minutes. It’s pretty impressive. The makeup team are kind of our elite players, our haunted house rock stars each season."
How long does it generally take to get through the haunt?
"The Manor is longer and more theatrical so it takes the longest. I’d say about 12 to 15 minutes to go through at a normal pace. The Dark is a little less."
How long do people generally wait in lines?
"Depends on the night you come out. Those guests who are clever come out on one of the earlier weekends and experience far shorter waits. The Saturday before Halloween… can be an hour wait per haunt. The second Sunday of October… can be as short as a 5 minute wait. My hint would be to show up right when we open. Even if it is going to be busy you’ll cut your wait time dramatically."
Do you build everything yourself?
"Yep, I’m the plumber, the electrician, the painter, grounds, construction, everything. Haunters have to be 90% MacGyver. I have a team of friends that help build it but it falls to mostly me. Every now and then I get some help from our haunt volunteers. Usually it’s the ones that just can’t wait for the season to start so they show up to help get it off the ground. Love those people."
Can you tell me some fun/crazy stories from running the haunt?
"One year during a slow time (not many guests on site) I was working the crowd and ended up talking to this woman. She said she had two kids in the car that were too scared to go into the haunts. In fact they didn’t want to even get out of the car. So I called my zombies to make their way through the parking lot and attack the car. We called it a "zombie bomb". The Mother thought it was fantastic and I am certain that we are one of their favorite seasonal family stories. Those kids were totally freaked out. It was the beginning of many a zombie bomb. When it would get slow….zombie bomb."
What happens if you get too scared during the haunt?
"Per code, there are emergency exits every 50ft of travel through the haunts. It is easy to bail at any of these. In a room if you raise your hand and yield our actors will back off. When we see someone no longer having fun we back off. Sometimes we break character and help them up so they can go on. Or we show them to the nearest exit."
How has COVID effected your business?
"We had to cancel our 2020 season. First time in 18 years that we will not operate. But social distancing and ‘getting in your face’ do not mix. So instead of sacrificing our quality... we decided to take a pass on this season. It was hard to do but we will be back in 2021!"
Address: 11503 Broadacres Rd NE Hubbard, OR 97032
Hours (Non COVID Years): Fridays 7pm to 11pm, Saturdays 7pm to 11pm, Sundays 7pm to 10pm
Admissions: Individually the haunts are $12 each, dual pass that lets you go to both is $20