Family Fun at the Corn Maze

Looking for something fun to do with your family this season? Bestmaze Corn Maze provides fun for the whole family! Today, Mark Benjamin of Bestmaze fills us in on this fall attraction.

Mark is a full time farmer along with his father, John. They raise corn, wheat, and soybeans in Ingham County.             

For more on Bestmaze and other corn mazes in Michigan, visit michigan.org.      

Q: For those unfamiliar with Bestmaze, can you provide an overview of what visitors can expect?

A: Visitors to Bestmaze can expect a great all-around experience – from maze flow, groomed trails, and security towers in a large maze.  Those who have been coming here for years now know that if the kids want to go away from “mom and dad” during the day, our four security towers can keep the kids in sight while parents can explore at their own pace with a break from the kids.  Our towers make it great for large youth groups; adult leaders know we can find Billy in a matter of minutes for them and send him out the exit trail when the bus needs to leave for home.  Want help? Just raise your hand or ask a tower.  Of course, if you do not ask for help the security towers will watch you walk in circles until you figure that section out.  Optional exits are about every 15 minutes and the whole maze could take over an hour. Even on a rainy day our trails are not a mud bog as our trails are so well groomed and a complete drainage system was installed. 

Nothing scary is in the corn maze.  But if you want scary, there is a separate Trail of Terror on the other side of the field.  Coming to our field this year is the main prop of national haunters convention that was filmed as it was being made and then at the convention for the Travel Channel.  Most people think a farmer’s corn field cannot be as good as the big haunts known around the country…but we are and we even trade props every year with these other haunts.

There is also a special laser tag arena that becomes a zombie shoot after dark.

Q: What’s the history behind Bestmaze?

A: I am the 6th generation farming in this township. We started the maze 12 years ago and called ourselves Maze & Market, selling pumpkins and sweet corn.  We were being told by customers to change our name to Best Corn Maze.  So after hearing that over and over, we settled on Bestmaze Corn Maze.

People asked us from year one to add a haunt as well. Our first haunting year was like several haunted farms you go to – there were kids hiding in the corn yelling “boo.”  It just wasn’t on par with the corn maze. So with our reputation we had to bring the haunted trail up to the standards people were familiar with about our maze.  Now, Trail of Terror is a full-blown sensory overload with animatronics that people would only expect to see at a major theme park like Universal Studios. People are blown away after experiencing Trail of Terror and the $10 admission after being accustomed to handing over $20 and more at other haunts.  They feel like they have found a hidden gem.

Q: Are there new attractions this year for visitors?

A: We have a laser tag arena carved into the corn field.  At night it becomes a zombie shoot, but…the zombies shoot back! You are armed with a semi-auto laser tag outfit (a good quality one) and the zombies get single shot equipment.  Problem is they get more lives than you do of course, but one zombie cannot take you out by himself.  Several hits need to be made on you. 

Every year the look of Trail of Terror changes!  We never do the same show two years in a row.  We learned early on hearing from customers who got tired of the same thing at their local haunt year after year after year.  The maze theme changes every year. In 2008 we did a special “Pure Michigan” theme.  This year is a Mayan theme with Hun Hun Ahpu the Mayan Corn God, the Pyramid of the Sun, and the Mayan Calendar.

Q: What’s your favorite part Bestmaze, or corn mazes in general?

A: Two things: seeing people who have come for years who say things like we have been coming here since your first year back before you had to expand the parking lot and watching people go through the maze from the towers.  It is amazing how we are able to predict how people will react to trail choices as they come across them.  I could go up on one of our towers and film people navigating the maze, and tell you what 90% of the people will do at key spots in the maze.  And it is almost mind boggling how many people choose the correct path after exhausting all other options.  But the laughs and smiles as they navigate through is why they keep coming back year after year.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about corn production in Michigan?

A: Well, this year they would be surprised how tall our corn is compared to corn all over the state and nation.  Carving the Mayan Corn God in May must have had something to do with us getting rain is worst drought in 50 years.  The local news came out last week doing a story on just that. 

Biggest surprise would probably be just how far production has advanced in recent years.  In 1984 when I graduated, a yield of 120 bushels an acre was a decent yield.  Today, 120 bushels would be a disappointment after hitting 200 bushel level the last few years. And what really surprises them is we are doing it with less chemicals and fertilizers put into the environment at the same time.  Science and technology advances in agriculture have been huge.

Q: Where can people go for more information about Bestmaze?  

A: Our website (www.bestmaze.com) is the best place to go.  It has our hours, prices and more.  It also has pictures of every year’s maze.  It is really easy to get to as well since an interchange off of I-96 is just one mile away. We are an hour’s drive from Grand Rapids, Detroit, or Kalamazoo.  If you “like us” on the Bestmaze Facebook page, you will get updates during the season.

Mark Benjamin is a full time farmer along with his father, John.  They raise corn, wheat, and soybeans in Ingham County. For more on corn mazes and other fun fall attractions, visit michigan.org.                 

Live Chat with “Haunted Travels of Michigan” Authors

Please join us Tuesday at 3 p.m. for a live Web chat with Kat Tedsen and Bev Rydel, the authors of  “Haunted Travels of Michigan.” Kat and Bev will take your questions about some of the haunted places in our state and share their experiences. If you can’t make the chat, a replay will be available at the box below. You can also check out our Q&A with Kat and Bev from last week. We hope you can join us!

A Q&A With Two Michigan Ghost Hunters

Bev Rydel, left, and Kat Tedsen are the authors of "Haunted Travels of Michigan."

Kat Tedsen and Bev Rydel are the authors of “Haunted Travels of Michigan,” a book chronicling their adventures exploring haunted places across Michigan. They were kind enough to take time out of their schedules to answer some of our questions. See them in person at the Historic White Horse Inn on Oct. 26 and 27.

Q. How long have you been exploring haunted places in Michigan?
A. Since 2006. Over the last five years we have completed more than 160 investigations. Each year we travel thousands of miles across Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsula searching out Michigan’s most reputedly haunted locations. With a skeptic’s eye we investigate each site and attempt to separate fact from fiction. We’ll spend weeks analyzing evidence and additional months on historical research all to determine the truth behind the stories of hauntings.

Q. What do you look for when you are exploring a location?
A. First we have to find a location. We’re looking for a place with a long history of reported paranormal activity. Next, we want it to be public so people traveling through Michigan can stop, if they choose, to visit and explore the location.

As investigators, we stay alert for the slighted noise or movements that may seem out of the ordinary. We monitor temperature and energy fluctuations in a room using a variety of equipment and gauges.

It is believed that a ghost is energy and that, when an entity comes near, it will draw energy to themselves. This causes the temperature to sometimes drop and high levels of energy fluctuations to register on gauges. Audio and video with infrared night vision are also part of an investigator’s gear bag.

Of course, a real paranormal investigation (ghost hunt) is not nearly as exciting as seen on TV. Most of the time it is very quiet and uneventful. Nothing is experienced. It is only in reviewing audio and video that evidence is identified.

Q. Where are some haunted places in Michigan? Can you give a quick summary of three places?
A. Over the past 4-5 years we’ve discovered many locations in Michigan with paranormal activity. Perhaps one of our most compelling is the Calumet Theater in Calumet, MI and, just a few blocks away, the site of the Italian Hall Disaster.

The Italian Hall Disaster occurred on Christmas Eve 1913. Hundreds of people, mostly children, crowded into the Italian Hall for an afternoon party. During the event, someone called “fire”. This started a panic. Adults and children rushed for the single staircase leading to the exit. They tripped and fell on one another blocking the stairway. When all was over, more than 70 deaths occurred through suffocation. Most of those were children. Adding to the tragedy, there was no fire that afternoon. Who called fire or why they did it remains unknown to this day.

The bodies of the deceased were taken to the Red Jacket Opera House, which is now the oldest section of the Calumet Theater. The evidence captured during our investigation of the Red Jacket Opera house and small memorial park where the Italian Hall once stood was compelling.

Another of Michigan’s most haunted is the beautiful Whitney Restaurant in Detroit, MI.  This magnificent mansion now restaurant was built by Detroit’s wealthiest lumber baron, David Whitney, Jr., around 1900.

Reports of strange phenomena began in the mid-1980s during the time the home was being converted to a restaurant. Since that time there have been frequent reports of apparitions primarily on the second floor. One of those wandering apparitions is said to be Mr. Whitney. There have been other reports of shadow people on the second floor. Disembodied voices have also been heard in the second floor ladies room.

We completed several overnight investigations with paranormal team, Highland Ghost Hunters.  From those investigations, some of our most significant and compelling evidence was collected. Based on that, it appears to validate the claim of its haunting. Perhaps even more fascinating, some of the evidence collected connects with historical events that occurred in the house over 100 years ago.

Yet another fascinating haunted location is the Terrace Inn in Petoskey, Michigan. The original inn was built in the 19th Century and rebuilt in 1911, after a fire. It was a popular resort hotel during Michigan’s Chautauqua era.

The inn is said to have been active for decades. Objects moving across floors and tables have been reported.  Disembodied voices, mists traveling up stairways are just a few of the other reports. Its most well know ghost is The Lady In White.  She is said to roam the hallways and, occasionally, into a guest room. There is also reported to be the apparition man in a tweed jacket standing out on the balcony looking in. Perhaps the most active spirit is that of a little shadow person that hangs out in the basement.

After several extended investigations, the audio and video evidence was overwhelming. This evidence appears to connect historical events and people, which may identify at least some of the ghostly apparitions that roam the inn.

Q. Are there haunted places in the Upper Peninsula?
A. We’ve already discussed the Calumet Theater and site of the Italian Hall. But that’s just scratching the surface. There are many reports of hauntings in the U.P. Too numerous to name here but a few include:

Seul Choix Point Lighthouse in Gulliver. Legend says the ghost of former lighthouse keeper, Captain Joseph Willie Townsend, remains. Our investigation and collected evidence may or may not validate old Willie is there, but seems to indicate evidence of something paranormal going on at this historic lighthouse.

There are the Paulding Lights in Watersmeet. For those who haven’t seen them, the Paulding Lights are white, yellow and red lights that appear in the evening sky at the far end of a railroad track. These lights float erratically, moving forward, back, and sideways then just disappear. Some believe cars and trucks on a distant roadway are causing the strange lights but others, including an in depth investigation  by SyFy producers of Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, disagree. It cause remains a mystery.

Folklore has it that a railroad brakeman was swinging his lantern to stop a train from hitting rail cars. The train struck and killed him. The lights seen are thought to be from the brakeman’s lantern.

Q. Are there different groups or events in Michigan that focus on haunted places?
A. We have heard there are several paranormal events in Michigan that include historical ghost walks and group investigations.

Every August, Michigan hosts one of the country’s largest paranormal conferences. It is hosted by the Upper Peninsula Paranormal Research Society and the Kewadin Casino Resort in Sault Ste. Marie.

The conference draws over 1,000 people annually and features some of the most well known and well respected people in the paranormal community. Special guests have included Ghost Adventures Crew from the Travel Channel, SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, John Zaffis and many more.

Todd Clemens, Haunts of Mackinac offers a unique Downtown Haunted History Tour of Mackinac Island and night time investigations of Mission Point Theater and Soundstage.

We, Haunted Travels of Michigan, also host a variety of overnight and weekend ghost hunting adventures. Some of our regular public hunts include A Ghost Hunters Weekend at Historic Terrace Inn in Petoskey, MI. Here guests have the opportunity of spending a weekend at one of our most haunted locations. This event includes ghost stories, dinner, and an all night ghost hunt of the inn.

Another of our most popular weekend public hunts takes place on Mackinac Island, A Haunted Weekend on Mackinac Island. The weekend is filled with daytime and night time ghost hunts that take guests to some of the island’s most remote and reputedly haunted locations. Our special weekend also brings in Todd Clemens’ Downtown haunted tours and Mission Point Theater investigation. For this special weekend, Haunted Travels of Michigan opens up the resort’s most notoriously haunted Room 2200 for private investigation.

All of our public events and ghost hunts can be found on our website’s events page: www.hauntedtravelsmi.com/events

Q. How can people find out more information about you?
A. People can find out more about us and what we do on our website, www.hauntedtravelsmi.com

If people would like to be kept informed on our public events, presentations and the latest on our investigations, they can join our Haunted Travels friends’ list. To join, people can go to our website and register or simply email us.

We are, of course, authors of a paranormal book series, “Haunted Travels of Michigan.” Our series was awarded the International Paranormal Acknowledgement Award for Best Paranormal/Educational Book & Authors.

Our stories are not your typical ghost stories focusing on urban legends and folklore.  We want to bring readers into actual paranormal investigations with us.

In addition, we’re very historically based. For us, it’s not just about the haunting but the history that creates the haunting. If we can capture paranormal evidence that connects to true historical events and/or people, it provides a compelling reinforcement of a connection between the past and present.

Of course, each story stands on its own. However, to add an extra dimension, we have linked every story to our website’s Secret Room (password protected). The Secret Rooms allows the reader, if they choose, to hear and/or see audio, video and photographs taken during the investigation. This, of course, includes the evidence collected.

Our books area available for purchase at most major booksellers including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.