September 22, 2020


The year was 1996 - the last October weekend before Halloween. It was a chilly Saturday night lit by a big, bright Hunter’s full moon overhead. Distant echoing screams and morbid sounds filled the air. I could hear nervous chatter from the few hundred people that lined the parking lot of Terrapin Park, eagerly awaiting their turn to enter the county’s fastest growing, haunted attraction.
I sat with my best friend in the wheat field, damp from the occasional light drizzle. A chainsaw fired up, provoking loud cries and funneling our next victims down the grassy path toward us. The cold left our bodies, replaced by adrenaline as the unexpecting group drew closer to the last stop before a long, dark, winding exit. We would gladly welcome them to the club of survivors that escaped the Dark Hollows Haunted Trail.

I’ve had a forever fascination with the macabre and things that go bump in the night. When I was 10, I began building Halloween displays in my parent’s front yard on Cox Neck that gave sweet old ladies a conniption. I’m perpetually drawn to cemeteries and the history behind the stones. October is my favorite month and The Nightmare Before Christmas is my movie muse. I am lucky to have been raised on historic Kent Island, soaked in lore and legend. In my youth, having made a name for myself and learning from the best local Halloweenswoman, I was invited to join Kent Island’s own Dark Hollows Haunted Trail. It was a dream come true.

It all began in 1993 when a group of citizens conjured up the idea for a Halloween attraction. The County Parks & Recreation, WCEI radio station, Kent Island Jaycees, and the Modern Woodsmen of America sponsored the original production. Their new annual ritual would exist for only six short years, but would create everlasting memories for all involved.

Dark Hollows Haunted Trail was held at Terrapin Nature Park on Kent Island along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The park’s maze of meandering hiking trails through acres of woods and open fields created the perfect setting. Local newspapers started advertising for Dark Hollows in late September and the Bay Times described it perfectly as “the playground for Kent Island’s most enchanted spirits.”

Annual themes were carefully cultivated, with the first year revolving around Ana. It is said she was a beautiful girl with hair the color of golden wheat fields that had been missing for several years. A fortune teller at the entrance of the trail provided the search party guests with all the details. After paying their $2 admission fee, the party entered at their own risk and made their way down the dark, eerie path in search of the lost Ana.

The inaugural one night event was a tremendous success, drawing nearly 600 people in a three-hour time frame from 7:00 to 10:00. It was more of a fundraising mission than a money-making venture and $1,200 ain’t too shabby for a first attempt. In all ensuing years, the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department (KIVFD) partnered with the County Parks & Recreation to organize and sponsor Dark Hollows. It was a great way to help fund the local firefighters who protect and serve our growing island.
1994 was another successful year, so with experience under their belts, the crew offered two nights of scares in 1995 and admission was safely increased to four whole dollars. The haunted attraction spell was spreading like wildfire and in 1996 it grew into a three-night event. This is my favorite year for, in years past, I had only walked the trail as a spectator, but now, because of a very special woman, I would be a part of the show.
In 1992, I met Mrs. Sylvia Taylor through my best friend, Joe Q. He and I spent hours together on his childhood road, Cheslou. Like two peas in a pod, we loved old horror flicks and reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. As luck would have it, Sylvia lived just down the street and was equally into scary stories which she expressed in her Halloween yard displays. People traveled from miles away to witness her talented handy work, forming lines of cars up and down Cheslou. Over the years, she had fabricated guillotines, gallows, graveyards, and even an alien spaceship, all accompanied by theatrical sound. This is where I honed my scare tactics.

After befriending Sylvia, she invited Joe and me to help with the Halloween work, which led to us becoming live props. We’d sit in the yard like lifeless dummies while a car pulled up. After the spectators had taken it all in, we’d jump up with extravagant screams, earning a terrified howl in return. Sylvia introduced me to an artistic avenue I didn’t realize I could explore. I too wanted to create sceneries people could enjoy… So I did.

From that point on, starting in early September, my dad and I would build wooden crosses wedged into cinder block bases, serving as the skeletons of bodies. We’d dress them in old clothes from the attic, attaching gloves and boots, then fit Halloween masks over stuffed grocery bags stapled to the 2x4 necks and viola; creatures of the night came to life. In no time, I had an army of demons and devices littering my parent’s front yard, catching the attention of passersby and local newspapers.

Unfortunately, Sylvia was getting older and had been putting on yard displays for over 10 years, a truly demanding and time-consuming hobby. She ended her momentous run in 1995 and donated all of her decorations to the haunted trail, with a recommendation for Joe and me to join the attraction. After all, we knew her work well. When the 1996 Dark Hollows Haunted Trail IV rolled around, we were in like Flynn.

On the night of, our parents dropped us off at Terrapin Park, where we were fondly nicknamed “The Boys.” We rotated trail positions and I remember Joe playing the crazy caged soul that escaped through a loose bar, chasing down his victims into the haze of a smoke machine. That year also offered the addition of a hayride for a dollar. One of my favorite characters was Jason Voorhees, who ran out of a duck blind with a chainsaw just as the trail group turned their backs. Jason was actually the widely loved firefighter Wally Alden who put every bit of himself into that character.

Different years introduced different scare tactics and as the popularity grew, so too did the props. One year, my friend, Nathan, doubled as a gun wielding army soldier that jumped out of an alien craft chasing extra terrestrials into the dark woods. Another year, a dump truck (or maybe it was a fire truck) was backed into a heavy brush area. As a trail group approached, the gigantic headlights ignited, temporarily blinding everyone, followed by the air horns, sending them screaming and running. There were electric chairs, girls caught in massive spider webs, psychotic clowns, and the list goes on.

Calling Dark Hollows a great success is an understatement. 1,500 people made their way through the mysterious paths of Terrapin in its heyday, raising around $5,000 per year for the KIVFD. The staff of volunteers were so good at putting on this event that some people were truly terrified of returning. Children under 12 had to be accompanied by an adult and warnings of strobe light induced seizures were posted. This wasn’t for the fainthearted.

Sadly, as the saying goes, nothing stays the same forever, and that was true for the island’s haunted attraction. In 1999, the county upgraded Terrapin Park to a protected nature trail. This forced Dark Hollows to change locations to the field behind the local library, altering the entire dynamic of the haunt. The area was much smaller and didn’t offer the eerie appeal of Terrapin’s backlit scenery. To make matters worse, this year’s event was canceled because of heavy rains causing dangerous environmental conditions. The KIVFD lost an estimated $5,000, draining the department’s general fund and putting a nail in the coffin of the long-loved Dark Hollows Haunted Trail. After years of service, the props we’d worked so hard on were laid to rest.

I will forever cherish those October nights of my youth; being part of something bigger and feeling a genuine connection with spirits. We entertained and were entertained, and that is truly humbling. I hope others remember the Dark Hollows Haunted Trail just as fondly. I welcome the smell of fallen leaves on an autumn night, taking me back to 1996, sitting in the wheat field, awaiting our victims.

It’s a shame that the local Halloween spirit has disappeared in this modern age, but I hold on to a sliver of faith. Kent Island needs its haunted trail back. It’s not an easy endeavor, but with all of my energy, that is what I am doing. Dark Hollows was Reanimated in 2021 with the Possession of Kent Asylum and returns again in 2022 with HYSTERIA.

PS: I scoured my connections for quality pictures of the haunted trail to no avail. If you have pictures from Dark Hollows, please share them. You can email them to or mail them to:

Historic Kent Island
PO Box 444
Stevensville, MD 21666

About the Author

J. Coursey Willis

J. Coursey Willis, born Joshua Bryan Willis, is a lifelong resident of Kent Island with a family heritage on Maryland’s Eastern Shore tracing back to the 1600s. With a love for various creative canvases and a fear of the bland, Willis proudly lives a hectic lifestyle. Nostalgia and passion are conveyed through his work. Although most recognized for his music, he is carving out a name as a local historian and author that takes pride in the heritage of his hometown.

    • That was a great read! brought back a lot of awesome memories!! I miss the sweet smell of that fog machine. I’ve been on many haunted trails since. In which none have been able to live up to KIVFD haunted trail. The best was just walking the trail and sneaking up behind people. Wally and the end was always my favorite.

  • This is incredible and so well-written! It was such a fun event and is just another example of the close-knit community and special traditions of the Kent Island I grew up in. Thank you so much for this.

  • This is incredible and so well-written! It was such a fun event and is just another example of the close-knit community and special traditions of the Kent Island I grew up in. Thank you so much for this.

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