176 September/October 2014 | BethesdaMagazine.com
into the woods
IT’S A CHILLY NIGHT in October, and
bonfires are roaring as dozens of teens
and twentysomethings chatter and laugh
nervously. The crowd has come from all
over the Washington, D.C., area to this
farm in Dickerson to experience one of
the most notorious and popular haunted
attractions in Montgomery County.
Jennifer Doan, 26, who admits to
being easily frightened, is sandwiched
between two friends, Erin True, 27, and
Khrystine Stine, 23. Actors dressed in
garish clown makeup and kaleidoscope-colored tuxedos taunt them with ghoulish stares. “I’m scared,” Stine says, gripping Doan’s waist as they walk toward
the entrance, the gaping mouth of a
It’s a feeling shared by many who
have visited Markoff’s Haunted Forest, a
county tradition that dates to 1992, when
brothers Nick and Alex Markoff devised
a creative way to raise money for their
dream business: a summer camp for kids.
What began as a whim has turned into
a million-dollar business that attracts
roughly 30,000 thrill-seekers every fall in
the weeks leading up to Halloween.
Led by True’s fiancé, Jason Goff, 30,
the group makes its way through the forest, where candles shed flickering light
on skeletons that are strewn with cobwebs and half-buried along the trail.
Chain saws snarl in the distance while
screams, laughter and expletives fill the
night air. A masked demon jumps out
from behind a tree, and a slumped-over scarecrow with a pumpkin head
suddenly springs to life with a hideous
cackle. “Oh my god! That f--king pumpkin!” Doan cries.
Doan and her friends enter a carpeted, coffin-like chamber meant to
evoke the feeling of being buried alive.
Next, they descend into a crypt full of
skulls where hidden actors are waiting to
jump out of dark corners. Then it’s on to
a circus scene with headless dolls and a
fire-breathing clown under a big top.
Finally, the buzzing sound they’ve heard
all night is right in front of them as men in
blood-splattered flannel shirts give chase
with chain saws. (In fact, there are no
chains on these saws, just blunt bars that
vibrate against your legs—terrifying none-
theless when you’re being chased.)
The group ends its journey on an ele-
vated ramp in a junkyard, where a rusted
hearse sits atop a battered school bus with
shattered windows. Thrash metal music
blares and white lights flash, blinding
Doan and her friends as men in orange
jumpsuits and white masks chase them
out of the Haunted Forest for good.
Doan and Stine can’t seem to run for
the exit fast enough. “The chain saws
freaked me out,” says True, breathless
as she runs to catch up with her friends.
Even though they drove an hour to get
here, the foursome is already making
plans to return this fall.
THE MARKOFFS STARTED the Haunted
Forest not out of an affinity for horror
but for the dream it was intended to subsidize. As boys, the brothers spent their
childhood summers working at Valley Mill, a camp in upper Montgomery
County owned by their maternal grandparents, Robert and May McEwan (the
camp is still owned and operated by the
Markoffs’ maternal aunt). They often
led weekend kayaking and backpacking
trips to West Virginia, and as they grew
older, they dreamed of opening their
own camp one day. They just needed to
find the money to do it.
When Nick Markoff, now 45, was a
student at Brigham Young University
in Utah in the early 1990s, he visited an
outdoor haunted attraction in American
Fork, a nearby city, and it struck him as
an ingenious way to attract crowds and
cash. He told Alex, now 44, who, in a
fit of inspiration, transformed the fam-
ily’s RV into a mobile haunted house and
drove it around neighborhoods in Wash-
ington, D.C., and Montgomery County.
“It looked Sanford and Son-ish,”
recalls Nick, describing a popular 1970s
TV show about a junk dealer. “It barely
ran and was very well received by all the
kids, but not the police or neighborhood
watch.” Although it was popular, the
Last year’s Haunted Forest featured demonic
clowns; many props were made by the staff.