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This Weekend’s Haunting of the Hills Festival is Officially Back On

Haunting of the Hills Festival
Haunting of the Hills Festival: Photo Courtesy of the Ozarks Heritage Project

This is the story of a rural community that refused to go down.  The Haunting in the Hills festival is one that hundreds of families in southern Missouri look forward to each October...but this year, with federal cutbacks and the government shutdown, the event itself almost became a ghost story.  KSMU's Theresa Bettmann shares one example of Ozarks’ perseverance.

This year’s Haunting of the Hills Festival has been a labor of love for an area organization determined to see that the event did not die despite all of the obstacles stacked against it. The Ozarks Heritage Project (OHP), which began only nine months ago, took on the task of preserving this cultural treasure.  Lindsey Purcell founded OHP as an 18-year-old college student dedicated to maintaining the history of the Ozarks. 

Eric “Rick” Mansfield is the co-founder of OHP.  He says the most recent hiccup in planning the festival was the closing of Alley Springs Park due to the federal shutdown.  This came after a lot of hard work restoring the event when it was cancelled in March.  

“The event began, I believe, 14 years ago by the National Park service.  It’s been held at Alley Springs Mill, which is the National Park.  It tries to capture the heritage, the culture that grew up around springs in the Ozark mountain area.  It was abbreviated last year because of cut backs and this year was canceled because of Federal sequestration,” Mansfield says.

Local businesses have been hit hard with the closing of the Jack Fork River and now the national parks, according to Mansfield.  Being able to continue the Haunting of the Hills Festival, he says, is vital to the community.

“We think not only is it economically important, but we think it’s culturally important.  We’re all getting a little bit disconnected. Like I say, people look at hog’s head cheese, the making of apple butter and things like that and think, ‘wow that’s kind of neat.’ But that’s how people lived.  They had to be able to split shingles and roof a building or they didn’t have a roof,” says Mansfield.

The closing of Alley Springs Park due to the government shutdown didn’t end the festival—it simply forced organizers to move it to the Eminence City Park.  Mansfield says festival-goers will be able to take part in a variety of activities as they walk through historic timelines showing how life used to be.  Skilled crafts people will demonstrate basket weaving, spinning, wood carving, blacksmithing, soap making and more. 

You can also visit a Fur Trading Rendezvous Camp and an authentic River Camp.  And Mansfield says there will be a Brush Arbor to celebrate the Christian heritage of the Ozarks.  He says in the past preachers used to ride from place to place to assemble under a Brush Arbor.  Mansfield says they’ll have numerous children’s activities and live music. After dark things will get spooky.

“From 6 until 9 we will have storytelling around campfires.  We’ll have about 6 storytellers telling ‘tales from the dark side.’  Some ghost stories, some real tales,” says Mansfield.

Mansfield says you should take lawn chairs and flashlights for storytelling time.  The Haunting of the Hills Festival takes place this Saturday (10/12) from 9:00 am to 4:00pm and Sunday (10/13) from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  It’s free and open to the public. For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.