By: Jessica Clifford
A face is half-coated in skeleton makeup and a perfect red and black mohawk line his head. A new checkbook and pen nestled in his lap. Walkie-talkies yammer in the background – his cell phone lights up. People pass by, and they need to talk to him.
This is a day in the life of Eddie McLaurin.
McLaurin, also known as Bone Daddy, is the owner of Greensboro’s award-winning haunted attraction, Woods of Terror.
Before the conception of Woods of Terror 26 years ago, McLaurin’s great, great grandfather, Eddie Howie McMillan, was a priest who exorcised spirits and bound them to the area.
Today, the spirits are still seen by McLaurin and his attraction’s employees. The owner said some of the spirits move things around when no one is there, making the haunt, he said, a historical spot.
Woods of Terror continues this legacy of thrill with nearly 175 employees made up of security guards, parking lot assistance, various actors and ticket sellers. However, most employees do not provide one service to McLaurin but usually double as something else.
“If you were to see backstage, you would be like ‘oh my God, does this go on every night?’” McLaurin answers, “And it is every night.”
Five quality control employees need to walk around the haunt, making sure actors are in their locations, taking breaks and their makeup is still painted on entirely. McLaurin said there are consistent problems that need solving.
“It’s like charging hell with a water pistol,” McLaurin said. “Basically, it is organized chaos.”
Colleen Siler, the makeup director, agrees, “It’s like chaos, crazy and fun all at once.” She added, “It’s constant go, go, go – a lot of pressure, but it’s a blast.”
Workers start out making minimum wage and receive a 25-cent raise every year they stay at the haunt. Many employees have been coming back for several years.
At the beginning of her employment, Maria Cordoba-Sanchez did not seem to fit the makeup artist role. However, years of practice has allowed her to graduate into one of the three head makeup artists.
“I help make sure that everyone is in their makeup, that what they [other makeup artists] are doing is not believable because obviously no one goes in there thinking ‘I’m going to see a person with some brain hanging out of their head,’” Cordoba-Sanchez said. “But that [the makeup] looks good and that they don’t go overkill with the blood.”
Other stories comparable to this happened at the haunt, in which employees grow into skills they may not have originally had.
“One year we had a guy that actually my girlfriend wanted to cut,” McLaurin said. “But, I said ‘no, let’s give him a chance and see what we can do’ – last year he got the best actor.”
Unlike many part-time jobs, people interviewing as actors for the Woods of Terror must show they can follow orders and perform improvisation.
Each interview is videotaped and then shown to McLaurin, who makes the final decision on casting.
About eight years ago, McLaurin created a book of 100 characters. Every character has a page that answers 20 questions, including their name, why they are there, where they are from, three potential lines for dialogue if they kill, chase, or play and more. These pages are then given to the actor that is playing the part.
McLaurin also performs exit surveys on his actors to find out what the three most asked questions are about their character. The following year, this is included in the character biography and given to a new actor.
However, not every actor fits the part or job they are given.
“We’re a family, and we’re going to find out what’s in you that’s good,” McLaurin said. “Once we find that – that’s what we are going to get out of you.”
On the night of a planned show, it takes actors a total of an hour and a half to get their costumes and makeup ready. Though, depending on the night and a number of makeup artists, preparing actors can vary.
However, there is one character that stays the same, even with a long process to prepare.
McLaurin has taken on the role of Bone Daddy for nearly eight consecutive years after he wanted a change from playing Brandon Lee’s The Crow character during the first 12 years of the haunt.
Every night he dons a motorcycle jacket, half-painted skull face, a red and black mohawk. To complete his persona, an albino Burmese python is draped across his shoulders.
When talking about his half-painted face makeup McLaurin said, “That’s just life – the good side’s always fighting the bad side. This is my good fighting my bad.”
The most time-consuming part of the costume is the hair, with Siler taking 30 minutes to gel McLaurin’s hair into place before the big show.
“When I started doing Eddie’s hair it was this tall,” Siler said while holding her fingers about 3 inches apart. “It will probably be 14 to 16 inches by the time we’re done.”
The 10-foot, 40-pound pet snake, named Spawn, is one of the most intriguing parts for haunt-goers.
“She’s never bit anyone; she’s not going to,” he said.
The owner believes he will continue to be Bone Daddy.
“After 50,000 pictures over the last seven or eight years, I guess it is going to stick,” McLaurin said.
Besides playing the part of Bone Daddy, McLaurin makes all decisions and helps construct the attractions.
The haunt takes an entire year of work for it to provide the punch it delivers, with McLaurin spending January to March on planning and all the warmer months gutting and replacing older and unsafe attractions.
Three people, including himself, a full-time carpenter and another full-time employee, work on the construction and cleaning side. Trees need to be cut, and leaves are always needing to be raked.
The work does not end when tours begin. Instead, McLaurin is constantly correcting problems until Woods of Terror closes for the year.
Though it varies, McLaurin usually spends 9/10 of his gross revenue back toward Woods of Terror.
Issues arise some years, impacting his spending. Since approximately 90 percent of his attractions are constructed from wood, it is pertinent to keep everything dry and free of mold.
“I’ve had some bad times, but I pulled through it,” McLaurin said referring to years when rainfall was higher than normal.
Throughout the year he also tours other haunts and attends conferences, but what he mostly realizes from those is what he does not want to replicate or recreate for his attraction.
However, what tells him the most about Woods of Terror’s success is watching people come out of his string of attractions.
“A lot of times I stand back and watch people go through my show and go ‘that worked exactly how I thought,’ or ‘that didn’t work good,’” he said.
Knowing what works best is essential for McLaurin. Making his customer’s happy through annual updates and additions is his constant goal.
The owner knows his prices have gone up, but he hopes his customers feel his set of attractions are worth it.
“People think it’s about money, and it’s not about money,” he said. “If I made all the money in the world and my customers were mad and upset – that wouldn’t be happiness.”
McLaurin makes the event a community affair. He tries to meet new and returning customers midway to ask them how they are doing.
The multiple roles he plays makes him believe the haunted attraction business is not for everyone.
“I would say one out of 100,000 people are cut out for this,” McLaurin said. “It is a tough business.”
Yet, McLaurin himself loves his job, adding “this is what I want to be doing.”
Whether if his phone is ringing, he is signing a check or answering an employee’s question – he finds the time. Underneath the makeup, the snake, and the leather jacket, many would think McLaurin’s life is still a literal haunt.
Jessica Clifford is an intern reporter. She is a senior at UNCG, majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in English.
Oct. 26, 29, 30, 31 @ 6:30-9:30 p.m.
Oct. 27 @ 6:30-11:00 p.m.
Oct. 28 @ 6-11:30 p.m.
Nov. 3, 4 @ 6:30-9:30 p.m.
5601 N Church St
Greensboro, NC 27455