FORT ANN, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Halloween is a different animal in rural areas of New York. Farmland means space for corn mazes, and orchards host sweet and spooky haunts of all kinds. In Fort Ann, a new seasonal haunt has popped up, delivering haunts and scares from an emotional place one might not expect.
“I built BooTown because of a broken heart,” said Mary Ryther, a Queensbury native whose professional career has largely been spent in California up until now. “I thought, ‘I can’t buy land in L.A.,’ so I looked back home.”
What Ryther found back home was 6 and a half acres of land in Fort Ann, which she purchased as the new home of BooTown. Every weekend leading up to Halloween, Ryther’s creation has hosted adventurous kids for daytime fall festivals, with pumpkin painting, haystack climbs, scavenger hunts and pony rides.
By night, “BooTown” changes to “GhoulTown,” aimed at teenagers and adults. The nightside version trades out kids’ games with a 3D Halloween maze (complete with 3D glasses,) a haunted graveyard, and a zombie hunt where players take up arms against the undead with safe, soft Gelly Ball blasters.
After leaving Queensbury, Ryther spent decades in entertainment – including time working at “Saturday Night Live” and as a PA and stage manager in various capacities. The shows she was working on were axed during the 2008 financial recession, moving her to a life change. In 2010, she opened a daycare in Burbank, California.
“I always wanted to be a mom, but never did,” Ryther said. “Now I have kids through my business.”
The broken heart that led Ryther to found BooTown came when friends with young kids moved to Florida, and out of her life. The inspiration to start a Halloween-themed new life chapter came from miniature haunted mazes she would set up for the children at the daycare around this time of year.
Now, a few weekends in, BooTown has brought new young people into Ryther’s orbit, and she’s thrilled to show them a good time. The entrepreneur has worked with her brothers and around 15 employees to conquer problems like public outreach, muddy soil, and the requirements of the local planning board. Due to a permit issue, BooTown didn’t have electricity until a few hours before opening – and yet, it has endured.
The attraction also represents a great seasonal employment opportunity for Fort Ann youth. Many of BooTown’s employees are high schoolers from Fort Ann Central School District – and Ryther couldn’t have asked for better help.
“They’ve been phenomenal. They’re polite, show up on time and do a great scare. They work out their own plans as scarers – ‘let’s go around this corner and get these people’ – that sort of thing.”
BooTown’s first season has one more weekend left, at its home at 11225 Route 149 in Fort Ann. After the season ends, the woman behind it will head back to California for the winter, returning to her daycare and the found family she’s built there. She already has ideas for next year.
And, as attractive as California may be, she’s a North Country woman at heart. She may be happy to dodge the snow, but she’s been grateful to see the leaves change as she puts smiles on kids’ faces.
“I have missed the fall, truly. Coming here, it does take your breath away.”