Spooky spirits roam the farm

The Grove
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The corn growing on the farm at 2600 San Felipe Road is no
ordinary corn. When the sun goes down strange creatures stir, and
screams are muffled in the dark and somber rows where the children
of the corn lurk.
The corn growing on the farm at 2600 San Felipe Road is no ordinary corn. When the sun goes down strange creatures stir, and screams are muffled in the dark and somber rows where the children of the corn lurk.

The field is no farm, but a corn maze that contains a haunted ranch and a friendly pumpkin patch, put on by Hollister’s Swank Farms.

This is the third year that Swank Farms has put on the event, which has attracted people from the Bay Area, Los Angeles and as far away as New York to wander along the frightening maze. On Saturday more than 1,700 people came to the corn maze, said Dick Swank, co-creator of the maze.

“This is the best one so far,” he said.

“It’s harder than the year before,” said Bonnie Swank, who designed the maze. “This year we have dead-ends and circles and it is harder. There are areas where you don’t know where you are and you have five choices on where to go.”

The maze is a 12-acre piece of land with a path cut through 12-foot high stalks of corn where tarantulas and other creepy creatures lurk. A map is provided, for without it, many would surely be lost for hours.

Debbie Jones’ third and fourth grade class got lost in the maze in the middle of the day and had to be rescued by a fellow teacher. Even in the middle of light the maze is frightening to the children, especially when the wind blows and the corn rustles suspiciously.

“I thought it was scary because there was a lot of crackling in the corn and we got lost,” said fourth-grader Isaac Padron.

“We heard a lot of rustling in the corn maze, but when we looked, there was nothing there,” said third-grader Kalynn Machado.

For older children and adults, the maze comes alive at night when it reveals a 2 1/2-acre haunted ranch that features wretched and frightening characters that draw screams on a regular basis.

Screamworks, a San Jose-based company that specializes in “haunting” put together the ranch that is reminiscent of a Blair-Witch project realism.

Old wood from barns create dark, narrow walkways where rusted appliances hang and spooks pop out unexpectedly. Screamworks donates its part of the proceeds to a children’s non-profit organization, said Bonnie Swank.

Not only did Screamworks build the haunted barn, but it created a fictional story to make the tour even scarier.

A rough sketch of the Conover Mystery Ranch story goes like this:

In 1930, the corn field was owned by a man named Abraham Conover. Conover was known for growing the tallest, sweetest corn, but nobody new his secret. As Conover’s field thrived, people in the surrounding area slowly began disappearing. His wife discovered that Conover was murdering transients and townspeople and using their blood to grow corn.

When authorities cornered Conover in his barn, Conover set the barn on fire and burned himself to death. Over the years, the field has been infertile and dormant, until recently. The corn is growing again, and people are beginning to disappear.

Swank got the idea for the maze three years ago after visiting another maze in Woodland. Although there is a company that will design a maze for as much as $10,000, said Bonnie Swank, she took on the task of drawing plans for the maze all three years. The maze this year spells “Swank Farms 2002” with a giant pumpkin and roses.

The maze was a blessing for Swank Farms, that, before the maze, had been struggling to make enough money to pay bills.

“If we didn’t start doing this corn maze, I don’t know how long we would have lasted. I’d have to get a job,” said Dick Swank. “The revenue (from the maze) has really turned us around. We’re paying off bills.”

But it’s also seeing the wide eyes and pale faces of people when they leave the maze, looking thrilled at being thoroughly frightened, that the Swanks enjoy.

“It’s so nice,” said Bonnie. “Dick and I this year pinch ourselves because we stand here and watch everybody. They’re having so much fun. They’re coming up to us and saying, ‘Great job guys.’ They’re all behind us and there’s this great local support for what we’re doing.”

The maze will be open through Sunday and the haunted ranch is open each night.

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