PLEASANTVILLE, Venango County — For decades, Joe Burt, of Pleasantville, would dedicate hours and hours of his time to entertain area kids.
Burt, his family and some neighbors hosted a haunted hayride that would draw hundreds. The event was always free and raised money to buy toys for kids.
After Burt passed away in November of 2020, his family knew they had to do something around Halloween to keep up with his favorite tradition. They settled on a scary drive-thru, and will be running the event at 23040 Fleming Road, Pleasantville, tonight and Saturday from dusk to 10 p.m.
The Pleasantville Volunteer Fire Department will close the road to one-way traffic to help with the event. They will also have a boot to collect donations.
While the event is on a smaller scale, the family is still bringing live actors to the property to scare, as they have been doing for decades.
“Joe always wanted something free for the local families to enjoy on the holiday,” said Krista Wiltrout.
They are keeping that wish going. “This year is a little simpler, but he always loved the sense of community that came with the event,” said Wiltrout.
It all started years ago with a wagon and an insidious idea. Burt had some cousins come into town and didn’t tell the rest of the family.
He then innocently told his kids, “Wouldn’t it be a nice night for a hayride?” He loaded the kids into the wagon, and started off into the woods. When Burt got to the designated scaring spot, the cousins jumped out.
His daughter’s, Krista Wiltrout and Amber Theuret said that he must have gotten them good, as that led to 20 years of doing the same routine, but with children from the community.
Burt didn’t even really like Halloween all that much, according to Theuret. “He just loved to scare us,” she said.
Somehow, word got out that Burt was giving hayrides in the woods, because the next year some neighborhood kids showed up.
“We started with 10 of us on a wagon, and that led to 500 people getting rides on five different wagons,” said Wiltrout.
Not only did the family get involved, but so did the neighborhood. Their neighbor behind the woods, Cheryl Danowski, was a part of the tradition since the beginning. A lot of the 45-minute hayride actually went through her property.
Their neighbor up the street even let the family use his property for parking.
During the 45 minutes, 50 to 75 people would set up in the woods at Burt’s designated scare spots. He wasn’t a control freak who would try to micromanage, he just let them do their own thing.
“He never knew what would happen, which added to the fun for him,” said Danowski. “There might be someone along the path with a chainsaw, or it could be zombies headed straight for you.”
This year, the family and their neighbors have really come together. Houses both down and up the street from the Burt’s have put out decorations on their lawn. They even asked their neighbor across the street if they could decorate on his property, which he loved.
The idea for the drive-thru even originated from a neighbor, Dave Warner
While the family is happy to remember their father, husband and neighbor by putting on the display, it has also been a difficult time bringing up lots of memories.
“Every night working on the displays I get sick to my stomach,” said Wiltrout. “I’m just sad he’s not here to enjoy it.”
Throughout the entire process of setting up hayride, Burt would have a big grin on his face. It was his favorite time of year.
“If he was still here, I could just see him coming to our camp and talking about all they still had to do tomorrow to get the hayride ready,” said Danowski.
The entire family said that the attention they are getting for the drive-thru is something that Burt wouldn’t have expected, and also maybe wouldn’t have cared for.
“He doesn’t like the spotlight,” said Theuret. “For him it has always been about the kids.”
Theuret is a lover of horror movies. Her dad hated watching them with her. The scares just weren’t as good as what they did in- person.
On a board in the display is a quote from one of her favorite horror movies, “Scream.” “Screaming is bad for the voice, but it’s good for the heart.”
The family hopes to hear some screams this year, and in their hearts will know that this is what Burt would have wanted, bringing people together for some fun and some fear.
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.