A note from the King of Fright, Sally's VP of Creative Design, Drew Edward Hunter.
I have been very fortunate to have enjoyed many interesting jobs throughout my career.  I have been a muralist, a scenic designer for theater, a playwright, a graphics director, a commercial artist, a wax museum designer and even a certain famous children's TV clown. But when I moved to Jacksonville from Dallas in January 1997 to accept a position Design Director of Haunted Attractions for Sally Dark Rides, that’s when my dream job became a reality – along with a cool title to match.

Drew [left] outside his family home in Shreveport, Halloween afternoon 1958

It all began when I was two. My grandfather took me to my first movie -- a reissue of Walt Disney's animated masterpiece of sight & sound, Fantasia. And I saw it again when I was eight. I loved all of the film’s classical music and imaginative imagery. But it was the vision of the diabolical demon Chernabog atop Bald Mountain directing the ghostly revels of a Halloween night -- accompanied by Mussorgsky’s magnificently malevolent composition -- which inspired my lifelong love of the macabre.  Since my birthday is only a few days before Halloween (my favorite holiday), I was already set on a path of appreciating many worlds of nightmarish fantasies and dark dreams.

Drew poses with the Phantom of the Opera in front of the Main Street Cinema, Disneyland 1963

As a kid I couldn’t get enough of movies featuring Ray Harryhausen’s monsters, huge attacking insects & bugs, the original Universal classic horror films as well as William Castle’s low-budget, gimmick-ridden fright flicks. In 1958 my parents took me to Disneyland where I rode the three original dark rides in Fantasyland. Soon after, I began creating my own mini-haunted houses for family and friends. It wasn’t long before it all came together -I knew what I wanted to be and do when I grew up.

Intently reading a short story by E.A.Poe - 1973

When I look back over the decades, I see how everything I did and experienced along the way contributed to my becoming a haunted attraction designer at Sally. My past in theater, art, design and performance, plus my fascination with dark rides and my many years of creating haunted experiences at last congealed in the new position.

Joining the Sally creative and production team was a blast!  My first big Sally project was a two year enhancement of the Haunted Hotel dark ride at Pavilion Amusement Park in Myrtle Beach. I designed many new sets and gags throughout the attraction and worked with our entire super-talented Sally crew as we created and installed them. Next I designed Ghost Hunt, our first blacklight haunted interactive dark ride, for Lake Compounce Amusement Park. It’s amazing to realize that one basic ride has multiplied in numerous variations throughout the years in so many locations. Later I worked with our design team to upgrade Frankenstein’s Castle wonderful walk-through at Indiana Beach Amusement Park. We also created the carnivalesque thrills of Ripley’s Scream In the Dark dark ride in Thailand and the more intense frights and scares of the House of Nightmares walk-through at Grona Lund in Sweden.

Drew and Peter Osbeck after a successful opening of House of Nightmares, Gröna Lund

Of course not all the attractions I have worked on at Sally as the “haunted” designer – or as my current position as VP of Creative Design -- have been of the creepy variety. But some of the most fun projects have happily tapped into my childhood dreams of imaginary fright-filled adventures and have served as inspirations for many elements in our Sally Dark Ride attractions. Hopefully these attractions will continue to frighten and entertain people of all ages for years to come!

So -- via Fantasia – and Halloween – and the great team at Sally Dark Rides – my haunting career has proven to be a real scream!

The cast of ghouls who inhabit the dark rooms of the Fright House gather in front of the annual haunted attraction at the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair.