There are thousands of haunted house attractions that open up in cities around the country each year around this time but there’s only one place where you can see the world’s longest snake in captivity, nearly get your leg chomped off by a live alligator and slide five stories from heaven to purgatory to hell. Kansas City’s “The Edge of Hell” claims to be the country’s oldest commercial haunted attraction and some think that it, and its sister attraction, “The Beast,” are the scariest haunted houses in the nation.
When I saw a photo of Medusa, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest snake in captivity, I had to find out more about her and the other attractions at this place. I spoke to Amber Arnett-Bequeaith, whose family owns “The Edge of Hell,” about Medua, Clamp the Alligator and why people still love haunted houses.
How old is Medusa?
She’s 8. We got her as a baby; she was tiny. She weighs over 350 pounds. It takes 15-18 people to get her out and hold her.
Why would you want to do that?
She likes to go for walks in the park sometimes. Only in the summer when it’s very warm. And we get her out for media events. She has a lifestyle cage where she lives in the offseason and she’s in “The Edge of Hell” show during the season.
A lifestyle cage?
(Laughs) She has her own slide. “The Edge of Hell” has a five-story slide where you go from heaven to hell. She has her own slide where she goes down to swim. She loves swimming and she likes to climb trees at the park.
You bring a 25-foot-long snake and let her slither around in public parks? Is that legal?
It’s not a public park; it’s a private area.
What kind of snake is she?
She’s a reticulated python.
Did you have any idea how big she’d get?
No. In captivity, snakes don’t usually eat regularly. But she wants to eat all the time. She’s very hungry. She loves to eat.
How big is she?
Twenty-five feet, two inches.
What does she eat?
She still eats rabbits, but they’re really small for her so she might have to eat 7 or 8 of them at a time. She’s graduated up to eating hogs, goats, deer. She really likes raccoons too.
Hogs, goats and deer? You drag an entire dead deer or hog into her cage for to eat?
No. Constrictors have to kill it themselves, otherwise they won’t eat it. We buy her organic hogs and organic food.
So you put the live animal inside the cage and just let her go at it? That sounds grisly, do you watch this unfold?
The trainer stays in there to make sure she doesn’t choke.
What’s he going to do, give her the Heimlich maneuver?
That’s what we always joke. I don’t know what he would do. Our trainer was made unconscious by a snake before. He passed out before he even knew he was in trouble. His wife saved him.
So does Medusa eat an entire hog or deer in one sitting?
Constrictors swallow hole, so she can’t eat half and save the rest for later. They don’t bite that way. She has to eat it all in one sitting and the lump moves down through her body.
How large an animal can she swallow?
She usually eats 50-75 pounds at a sitting. She needs at least a 50-pound meal about once a month, sometimes more.
And does she snack in between?
No. She just has the one big meal.
Where does she come from?
She comes from the Sulawesi Islands in Indonesia. The trainer bought her on the Internet, but you can’t do that any more.
She doesn’t just slither around the haunted house free does she?
I don’t know, you’ll have to come to the show (laughs). No, she has her own cage at “The Edge of Hell” and we’re open two months out of the year. Her cage is probably 20-by-20, but we’ll have to expand it next year because she’s getting too big for it.
How did she get big enough to make it into Guinness?
A combination of her eating habits and genes. Also, she’s very happy and just loves to eat.
Tell me about “The Edge of Hell.”
“The Edge of Hell” is the oldest commercial haunted attraction in the U.S. It opened in 1975 and this is our 38th season. It’s a family business. Before we did “The Edge of Hell,” we did one called “The Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe.” It got rave reviews and the next year we purchased the building and opened “The Edge of Hell.”
Is Medusa one of the things people like to see the most?
She’s something people look for. We study the psychology of fear. Every person scares differently and has their own adrenaline reaction to things. “The Edge of Hell” is a five-story warehouse building. The premise is that if you live on the edge, you’ll encounter these sorts of demons – rats, snakes, the hounds of hell, vampires. You get a glimpse of heaven, but unfortunately you made too many bad choices and you go to purgatory down the five-story slide and end up in hell. People gaze at her; she’s a beautiful beast. Mesmerizing.
Does she scare the crap out of people?
She does just by capturing their gaze.
Has she bitten anyone?
Oh no. I was bitten by a black snake when I was young but I still don’t have the snake phobia that others do. Sometimes she isn’t in a good mood when we get her out though. She gets nervous and has to go to the bathroom when people are taking pictures of her. But she’s very loving toward her trainer, Larry Elgar.
Is this something everyone likes to do at Halloween time, visit a haunted house?
It is. Especially here in Kansas City, with us being the oldest, and “The Beast” is really the best haunted attraction in the U.S. And we have “The Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe” and “The Macabre Cinema” and those are 501 3c’s for a local charity called the Dream Factory.
What’s “The Beast”?
“The Beast” is patterned around time travel. You go into a Southern Louisiana mansion; you enter into a swamp where we have a live alligator. His name is Clamp. You look at this live alligator and proceed into the swamp and an animatronic alligator snaps at your leg. And then you go down a shoot slide to Jack Ripper’s London, and you’re in a pub.
And the werewolf forest is a quarter acre in size and over 10,000 square feet. In the old days, people looked over rails into attractions; we pioneered the open theme where you are inside the attractions. In “The Beast,” it’s all about the phobia of being lost. There are people who are in the werewolf forest for 45 minutes and can’t find their way out.
Tell me about Clamp.
He’s growing like a weed. We’ve had him since he was tiny. Now he’s 8 feet long. He’s very fond of chicken.
You throw him live chickens or give him breasts?
He likes all chicken parts. We don’t feed him anything live.
And how often does he eat?
He prefers to be fed regularly – every week. But Larry doesn’t worry about him choking on anything like he does Medusa. That’s his love.
And what does he do in the offseason?
He has a lifestyle cage as well but he’s a real bear about being transported. We have to wrap his mouth but he likes to swat around a lot. He’s funny like that.
[Photos courtesy of "The Edge of Hell" and Kevin Scott Ramos, Guinness Book of World Records]