Anne Marie and Timothy Gavinski love Halloween – so much so, they’ve made it their livelihood for almost two decades. At one time, the couple owned nine haunted houses, and for the past 17 years they’ve operated the Wisconsin Fear Grounds, a massive haunted experience with two connected haunted houses on the Waukesha County Fairgrounds.
"This is our final year of fear – the final battle between good and evil – so we’ve gone pretty dark," says Timothy (who everyone calls "Timmer").
It takes about 20-30 minutes to walk through the Fear Grounds, divided into two very different but equally as bewitching worlds. Without giving too much away, the first part, called Anarchy, is a jarring jaunt through Hell, and the second half, Labyrinth, features a creepy, chaotic maze of confusion.
During a recent visit, we shrieked, swore and cackled our way through the experience, featuring 50 extremely engaged live actors and hand-designed sets ranging from gruesome to tumultuous to hilarious.
"What I love most about this line of work is getting responses from people. All kinds of responses, not just fear, but laughter and excitement, too," says Timmer.
In 2015, the Wisconsin Fear Grounds was named a Legendary Haunt by the Haunted House Industry, placing it on the elite shortlist of 10 haunted houses in the country. It has garnered many awards over the years, including "Number 1 in America" by USA Today, HauntedHouseRatings.com and Haunted Attraction Magazine.
Timmer served as the president of the Board of Directors for the International Association of Haunted Attractions and he and Anne Marie have traveled the country speaking at conventions about Halloween and haunted houses. They also served as consultants for the Milwaukee Bucks’ Fear District that is premiering this season.
But after this season of spookiness, the couple plans to hang up their pointy hats and move on to the next chapter of their story. And this one, most likely, will include fewer zombies.
"Obviously, we are going to miss it, and the people who bring it to life night after night in October," says Timmer. "Halloween and the Wisconsin Fear Grounds have been very good to us. During this period we made lifelong friends and hired a number of incredible employees."
The Gavinskis, who plan to retire in Florida, sold the business to a new owner who plans to continue operating the Fear Grounds in a similar thrilling fashion. But they leave behind a magnificent, nightmarish masterpiece that raises more than $10,000 a year for charities and scares the candy corn-flecked crap out of thousands of thrill seekers every October.
"Time just caught up to us. The torch will be passed and we will watch with eager anticipation from a distance to see how our event will grow," says Timmer.
Wisconsin Fear Grounds runs every weekend in October. Go here for more information and tickets.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.