Wehr Nature Center’s Halloween Extravaganza returns October 19, 20, and 21, 2023 for its 35th Anniversary edition. It is hard to believe, but Halloween Haunts has been entertaining and educating Milwaukee area families since 1988. While the program has changed and grown over the years, it remains true to its original idea: to educate families about misunderstood nature in a kooky, slightly spooky way. Halloween Haunts makes learning fun for families and its success speaks for itself.
Thank you to all the families that have made our event their Halloween tradition for so many years! We'd love to have you share your favorite Halloween Haunts memory or photos with us. Complete the form below or bring them along to this year's event.
Share Your Memories of the Haunts
Please share your favorite Halloween Haunts story, photos, or videos with us.
1st Halloween Hike
Wehr Naturalist Sue Cook leads the first Halloween themed hike. It features a giant spider, werewolf, vampire (mosquito) and a witch. Visitors enjoyed cider and popcorn by a campfire after the walk.
Jack-o-lanterns Part of the Show
Fifty Jack-o-lanterns lined the 3/4 mile trail in 1989. Volunteers collected pumpkins from the Milwaukee House of Correction farm in Franklin and had a "carving party" to transform them into Jack-o-lanterns.
Halloween Hikes Expands
Halloween Hikes expands to two nights, with hikes leaving the building every 30 minutes. Characters included a tick (pictured), a devil who talked about prairie fires, and a witch.
Big Changes and a New Name
The event grows to four nights over two consecutive weekends with the support of our first corporate sponsor, Bank One. Larry Gietl of Gietl Signs hand paints our iconic banner.
Clowns Zippy and Scooter entertain visitors before and after the walk.
Familiar Characters Debut
The Druid made his debut, telling the story of the origin of Halloween by a fire on the savannah.
The witch becomes the finale at the amphitheater stage, complete with a bubbling cauldron.
Owls, Frogs and Witches, Oh My!
Some iconic Halloween Haunts characters debuted in 1995.
Great Horned Owl (and her favorite snack, Skunk) join the cast.
V.C. Frog starts looking for a clean pond.....
.... Witch moves into her home in our maintenance shed.
A Community Event Grows
Halloween Haunts has always been about community. After our pumpkins were smashed by vandals in 1995, the Franklin Police and their volunteer Auxiliary Group joined the event in 1996. They patrolled the trails and offered child safety information and fingerprinting in the Game Room.
Our trail was getting longer which meant more Jack-o-lanterns needed to be moved in and out each night. Local scouts became our Pumpkin Patrol as an Eagle Scout project.
The Princess of Magic Joins the Haunts
A Magic Show has been part of Halloween Haunts since 1993, but the show soared to new heights when Julie Sobanski, The Princess of Magic joined in 1998. Julie was (and still is) the only performing female magician in Wisconsin.
For years she entertained visitors while they waited for their hike to start. She always managed to time her tricks so the kids could see the finale before heading outside for their walk.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to offer an outdoors-only Halloween Haunts, Julie recorded a short magic show that was shared to participants on YouTube.
The Princess of Magic now entertains families after their walk. She'll celebrate her 25th year with Wehr in 2023.
Halloween Haunts Helps Fight Hunger
Halloween Haunts is possible due to the generous support of people within the community. We felt it was important to give back to that community by supporting some of the amazing organizations that fight hunger in Milwaukee County. We are excited to have the Food Drive back in 2023 as an in-person and virtual event supporting Hunger Task Forces Food for Families campaign.
Alice White Creates Iconic Madame Zelda
Countless children got a peak of their future from our kind-hearted fortune teller Madame Zelda, The fortune teller joined our Halloween Haunts post-walk party room in 1991, but she became THE STAR when Alice White took over the role in 2000.
Alice took the role seriously, studying palmistry books to create an authentic experience, but it was her compassion and ability to listen to each child's story that made her special.
There was always a line of children waiting to speak to Alice, but she gave each one time and a story of the positive future they had ahead of them. She would stay late to make sure everyone got their turn.
Alice retired from the role in 2017.
Rotten Log Gang Starts Rapping
The Rotten Log Gang stepped onto their leaf stage for the first time in 2005. Three energetic 8th graders brought them to life.
Deb McRae, the creator of all our Enchanted Forest creatures' costumes, outdid herself in developing the many legged millipede, centipede and roly poly costumes. Naturalist Karen Kerans wrote them a poem to rap and they've been a Haunts favorite ever since.
In 2007 Halloween Haunts coordinator Bev Bryant recruited 5th graders from her Franklin Girl Scout Troop to become the rapping arthropods. Karissa Minster, Brianna Mosley, Isabel McCreary, and their helper Chrissy Ramakrishnan volunteered until graduating in 2016. They even returned during college to help!