One of northern New England’s largest Halloween events, which brings thousands of people each year to Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect, won’t happen this year despite organizers’ best efforts to find a way to let the event go on with COVID-19 safety measures in place.
Friends of Fort Knox, the organization that operates the state historic site, said Friday that it will not be able to host the annual Fright at the Fort event.
Dean Martin, executive director of the Friends group, said the sheer numbers of attendees at the regionally renowned haunted attraction each year make it impossible to safely carry out social distancing protocols.
“We have 500 to 1000 people in lines, and two to three thousand people each night go through the 20-minute tour each of the five nights,” Martin said.
Ghostport, a Halloween festival held in Bucksport on one of the same weekends as the Fright, has also been canceled this year.
The Fright at the Fort was started in 2000 by former director Leon Seymour as a fundraiser for the Friends of Fort Knox. It has since grown into one of the largest Halloween events in northern New England, each year attracting more than 10,000 people to the Fort, and utilizing a small army of local scare actors, makeup, costume and set designers and other volunteers to pull off the signature event. For several years now, it has raised more than $100,000 each year toward operations, maintenance and upkeep of Fort Knox.
The 2018 Stephen King-themed event was the biggest Fright ever, with more than 15,000 people in attendance over the event’s five days, causing traffic to become backed up for several miles along the Penobscot Narrows Bridge on the first weekend.
This year, Martin said, he had considered attempting an alternate event he called a “Reverse Trunk or Treat,” in which people stayed in their cars, and monsters met them at various stops. But the parking lot at the Fort is simply not big enough and doesn’t have enough lighting, he said, and it would still require too much effort to make it cost feasible.
“We have people calling and writing from everywhere asking, and our thousands of fans are certainly disappointed,” Martin said. “It is our biggest fundraiser each year for the past 20 years, and it really hurts to not hold it.”
While attendance at the Fort was down overall this summer, Martin said, it still hovered at around 60 percent of normal totals after the Penobscot Narrows Observatory reopened on July 3. He said that this year was due to be one of the Fort’s busiest years ever, with multiple events planned to celebrate Maine’s Bicentennial, including a large Civil War reenactment event and the visit of Tall Ships to the lower Penobscot River, both of which were canceled.
Martin said that he hopes to install some of the Fort’s large Halloween decorations during October, and hoped people might come visit the Fort in costume closer to the holiday.
“I think people are starving for entertainment of any kind. Our ghost tours are selling out in less than 24 hours, and they are capped at 30 people,” he said. “People really want to get into the Halloween spirit.”
Though 2020 is a wash, Martin said they are already looking toward 2021 as potentially the Fright’s biggest year yet.
“We plan to make next year’s Fright even bigger, but it will depend on how COVID-19 pans out,” Martin said. “We are really grateful for all the support we have, however, and to all the people we know love the Fright and the Fort, and have reached out to us about it.”