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Boo! 'Tis the season for spook alleys

There's no Leatherface, Freddie Krueger or Michael Myers. No chain saws, fake blood or horror-flick remakes.

This Is the Place Heritage Park is shunning the cheap thrills in its new Haunted Village tour and has transformed the 19th-century countryside village into a place where mythical creatures and urban legends come to life.

Using the natural dark-and-spooky setting of the park and sharing actual ghost sightings, guests are in for an atmospheric scare.

Walking through a pioneer cemetery with a coyote howling in the woods. Being chased by the Headless Horseman, with only the light of the moon and a few candles illuminating the path. Hearing the tale of the wife who haunts the Brigham Young farm as the old wood floors creek underneath you.

"Our thought process was, if we're going to do a story for Halloween, we should tell the story of us," said Matt Dahl, the park's executive director. "The setting we have up here and the actual real stories we have up here, those two things combined make for a really scary experience.

"We're not going to use the blood-and-gore approach to scaring. Most of it is startling."

The state historical park is taking its first stab at a Halloween event of this kind. In previous years, the park presented Haunted Deseret, where ghost stories were told to crowds in the homes.

But This Is the Place is looking outside of its family-friendly target audience with Haunted Village. The event is aimed at high school and college-age students (10 and up is the recommended age). It's also not shooting for a moneymaker, but instead something that puts the park on the annual haunted-house map.

"One thing that's unique is these houses are haunted," Brian Westover said in the Brigham Young farm home. "We're standing in one of the most haunted places in Utah right now."

Westover, a park employee in charge of historical interpretation — and a self-described "ghost geek" — said it's rumored that one of Young's wives haunts the home. Numerous longtime park volunteers and employees claim to have seen her looking out windows, as well as hearing children laughing — and even having seen Young's ghost.

"Nobody knows why ghosts are here. But it's been shown that they're attracted to homes, artifacts, and we have a lot of that here," Westover said. "There are 43 buildings here at the park, and right off hand, I can pick nine where things have happened repeatedly.

"And then, of course, you have to wonder about things that happen when no one is here."

One of the more terrifying tales to be told in the Haunted Village is about "Wild" Bill Hickman, whose home is memorialized in the park. Folklore has it that Hickman killed Richard Yates, a man who was spying on the Mormons for the U.S. Army during the Utah War. Hickman supposedly killed Yates by burying an ax in his head.

"We're trying to keep it scary by keeping it somewhat true. A ghost story is better when it may be true," said John Kramer, a consultant working on Haunted Village.

After hearing the story of Yates' murder, an actor portraying Yates will come alive — what Kramer deems the scariest part of the tour.

Various ghouls, creatures and characters will appear in the night, including John Baptiste, a Utah grave robber.

Another highlight for haunt lovers will be a public hanging. A mob of actors will drag out a harlot who will be hung on a set of gallows constructed for the event. The hanging will not take place with a dummy — instead, the hangman's noose is fitted with a harness system to keep the actress safe. However, the final results look eerily realistic.

"Luckily, there were no mistakes," said Troy Hirschi, who built the gallows that are outfitted with props from the movie "The Work and the Glory."

"You get the same old thing at the other haunted houses," Hirschi said. "This is something you won't see anywhere else."

Haunted Village opens Monday and will run nightly (except Sundays) through Oct. 30. Warm clothing and comfortable walking shoes are recommended.