You might say there’s a little Mountville, Pa. in Oneida during the Halloween season.
That’s not entirely true, but it was Mountville — or, more to the point, the small town’s world-famous Field of Screams — that inspired Oneida’s very own Outbreak on Main.
On Halloween weekend, Outbreak on Main will wrap up its fourth season as one of Tennessee’s premiere haunted attractions. The husband-and-wife team of Moe and Ella Mullis pull it all together each year, along with a sizable team of actors and behind-the-scenes folks who help make it work. But how did it begin? That’s where Field of Screams comes in … about 13 years ago.
These days, Outbreak on Main is housed in the second story of the Mullises Black Cat Antiques & Oddities shop on Main Street in Oneida. But it all started as an outdoor haunted attraction, Frightmare Forest, back in 2008.
Back then, Moe Mullis was in retail construction, working at various sites all over the country. In October of that year, he just happened to be in Pennsylvania, not far from Field of Screams, which is one of the top haunted attractions in the entire United States. Ella visited him, and they bought tickets to Field of Screams. And the seed had been planted.
The Mullises lived at Angel Falls Village, just off Leatherwood Road towards the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Ella Mullis was brainstorming, and she called her husband.
“She said, ‘Hey, how would you feel about doing something at the house?’ And I said, ‘Whatever you want to do is fine by me,’” Moe said.
So, when Mullis returned home from the job, he and his wife set about the task of transforming their residential woodlot into a haunted forest. And Frightmare Forest was born.
“It was very ghetto,” he said. “We’ve come a long ways from wrapping trees in black plastic and using the patio furniture as part of the decor.”
That first year, Frightmare Forest was open for just two nights. Sixty people toured it, at a cost of $3 per person. Most of the 60 were neighbors, folks who lived around the Angel Falls area. Nearby Black Oak Baptist Church was having a fall event and learned of Frightmare Forest, and visited with a hay ride.
From there, things happened quickly.
“The next year we went from 60 people to almost 1,000 people,” Mullis said. “Then we decided that maybe we could do something cool with this.”
By upping the ticket price to $5, Moe and Ella were able to start purchasing real props and Halloween decor to add to Frightmare Forest.
After nearly 10 years, Frightmare Forest had nearly run its course. The vacant lot across the street that was used for parking was up for sale and was going to be developed.
“We decided we weren’t going to do it anymore,” Mullis said. “We were getting tired of taking skeletons down and putting up Christmas trees. It was getting a little old.”
So, plans were laid for one final year of Frightmare Forest. They called it “Four Nights at Frightmare.” And 2,000 people showed up.
“People wanted more,” Mullis said. “We thought, ‘We can’t give up.’”
So Moe and Ella took a year off, to try to find a suitable indoor location for their haunt. They looked at several options, including the former Boss Glove factory next-door to the fairgrounds, the now-demolished A.Z. Long Building on Alberta Street, the former Scott Foods Building. Nothing seemed to fit.
Then Sharon Scott, who was on the committee for Music on Main, contacted Moe and Ella. She wanted to add a Halloween-themed element to the festival that October. And in the process, they discovered the building where Outbreak on Main is now located.
“It was a good deal, it was on Main Street, it was kinda central to Oneida,” Mullis said.
As for the name, back then — four years ago — zombies were all the rage. “The Walking Dead” was a popular TV show. Once the Mullises decided to go with a zombie-themed haunt, “Outbreak on Main” just made sense.
Four years later, “The zombie thing has slowly died,” Mullis said. “People are getting tired of zombies.”
So Moe and Ella have adapted. This year’s theme of the haunt is a freak show. Next year, they’ll introduce an entirely new theme. It’s still a secret, but Mullis let the cat out of the bag: Creeps, Creatures & Curiosities will be the theme for next year. “We’re gonna kinda draw the oddness of the shop upstairs into the haunt and do a haunted museum type of thing,” he said.
That’s next year. It’s not too late to tour Outbreak on Main this year. The haunt has proven more popular than ever, with Saturday night waits up to two hours. On one night in particular, as Music on Main was taking place outside, the line for Outbreak went from the Black Cat’s front door all the way down the street and around the library.
There are a variety of reasons for the popularity. One is that people are tired of being cooped up with nothing to do during the pandemic, which has forced the cancelation of a lot of different events. But another is that Outbreak on Main is simply a premiere haunted attraction, at an attractive price.
Tickets to Outbreak on Main are $10. That makes it the cheapest registered haunted attraction in Tennessee. As for the quality?
“We have a director who lives for haunted houses; she and her son go everywhere,” said Stacey Kidd, executive director of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce. “She said that if you’re into that sort of thing, you don’t know how blessed we are in this county. This is a premiere attraction.”
Mullis said that he and his wife put a lot of time into the haunted house each year.
“We have some good reviews from people who live outside the county and who travel up here,” he said. “They compare us to the more mainstream haunted attractions. We’re right there with some of the big stuff, even stuff you see in Gatlinburg, like the Haunted Mansion and the Ripley’s haunt. We try to compete with those and bring that here.”
Typically, guests tour Outbreak on Main in groups of seven or eight. On average, it takes 15 minutes to go through the haunted house. Some people get lost inside and wander around for 25 to 30 minutes. Others make it through in 10 minutes because they’re scared and want to get out as quickly as possible. That’s the goal — the scare-you-out-of-your-wits part — and don’t blame Moe and Ella if they do it well.
“We’re not just a child’s boo haunt,” Mullis said. “We’re not going to give out candy and give your kid a high five. We’re here to scare you.”
Outbreak on Main is open every Friday and Saturday in October. Tickets are available at the door.