Verdun Manor is one of the best haunted attractions that ever opened in America. The late Lance Pope was a haunted industry ICON, leading the way in both design, special effects, flame effects and so much more. Lance Pope died much to young but he left a legendary haunted attraction behind that will go down in haunted history as one of the greatest haunts of our time. Verdun Manor is located just outside of Dallas, Texas and still operates today under the ownership of Lance’s parents, specifically Sue Pope.
We always planned to feature Verdun Manor on a cover of Hauntworld Magazine someday but Lance suddenly passed away. Let us take this opportunity to interview Lance’s mother Sue Pope and learn more about Verdun Manor as well as its legendary creator Lance Pope.
Q: Sue thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about not only the haunted house but your son Lance.
A: You are most welcomed
Q: Before we dig into all the details of the haunted house for 2004. Tell us what kind of boy was Lance, meaning growing up?
A: Growing up, even at an early age he displayed great imagination and artistic talent. His kindergarten teacher took me aside and asked if I was aware of this child's imagination Being an artist myself, we made sure he always had materials to do the projects he wanted to pursue. He could always make you laugh and was my best friend.
Q: How did he eventually get into all this haunted house stuff?
A: Around the age of seven he seemed to be interested in old mansions, haunted houses, and bats. We live on a farm and we had a golf cart which he used to drive the neighborhood kids through the woods where he had created a haunt, with sound effects supplied by his portable tape recorder. While in high school he rented an old, dilapidated, rundown house on the highway and started his first haunted house. In the off season he was a manager at Six Flags where he met many of his friends who still work at Thrillvania. While attending college he found an old house across from the campus and was at it again. There he had all the drama students from the college and his friends from Six Flags and they had a blast.
For many years when Lance was small, we showed Arabian horses at the State Fair Grounds where Haunted Cannon Manor was on the midway. Every minute he could get away from the barns he would go over there and talk with the owners and work. One day while he was still operating his haunted house across from the campus, the owners of the haunted house on the midway called and offered to sell him the attraction, but it had to be moved within 30 days He did not own any land at the time and the attraction was brought to our farm to be stored. He leased land in Forney, Texas, where it operated for about seven years. In 1996 Thrillvania opened in Terrell, Texas, on forty six acres of land with a multitude of exciting expansions planned. He was truly living his dream!
Q: How did Lance end up with all of those animals?
A: Animals were always a part of Lance's life. He was repeatedly rescuing or healing some little creature he would find in the woods in his room. We once had a bat in the garage refrigerator. At the time of his death he had two young tigers and a lion. Through a friend of mine, we were able to place them with a wildlife refuge in San Antonio, Texas, where they are doing great. Three wolves remain at Thrillvania cared for by the couple which resides there. Stinky Pinky the ferret lives with her grandparents - us.
Q: He was nearly killed by his own Lion. What exactly happened and where you hoping he'd get rid of those Lions once and for all?
A: His first and most beloved lion, Timba, had passed away and he was trying to replace him. The lady he purchased King from would not sell him unless Lance agreed to take his mate, Queen. Now we know why she wanted to get rid of Queen. Seems she had tried to kill others and she almost did kill Lance the third night after he had brought them home. He refused to let us put her down and she went to another breeder who did not enter his cages. He had all these fine cages and I thought monkeys would be better, but no he went on to get more lions and even tigers. He greatly enjoyed their company and old King died about a week before Lance did.
Q: I know this is tough but what exactly happened to Lance? Did you ever find out how he died? Was there any health issues that led to his death?
A: From the very beginning Lance had a compromised immune system. I stayed in the hospital six months in order for him to be born He had a rough childhood with regard to illness, but seemed to get much better as he grew older. After he permanently damaged his liver by handling some chemicals improperly, being eaten by a lion, and incurring severe smoke inhalation damage while fighting a fire that occurred during the previous season, I guess it was just too much for his body. Unbeknownst to his dad and I, he was battling a low blood sugar problem which had made him loose consciousness on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, this time no one was there to call 911.
Q: Many rumors have circulated about Lance's remains. Can you tell us where someone could visit Lance burial site?
A: Lance lies at the foot of his grandmother in a large family plot at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. This has been the most heart wrenching part of it all - the finalization of placing a stone. He had drawn what he wanted for his headstone and we are still looking for it. Those that have seen it said they doubted the cemetery would allow it. Whatever we come up with, it will be elaborate and befitting as he would have wanted it. Prior to opening the 2004 season, we placed a commemorative stone in the iron fenced courtyard on the Thrillvania midway. The thick gray granite stone shows the Wolf Studio logo and reads "Lance Pope, Founder, January 27, 1965 - December 17, 2002, He trusted his imagination and lived his dream with his brothers and friends".
Q: Did you realize how loved Lance was within the haunted house community prior to his death?
A: His father and I were totally unaware and shocked as to how well he was regarded within his industry. This and the fact he had countless wonderful friends has been such a comfort to us We lost our only child and have been adopted by so many wonderful loving people. Some of the employees involved with running the house have worked with Lance since he was sixteen years old, it is truly like a family. Many of the couples working there met and married during the seasons and are now having families. They have been so generous to share the babies so we can be grandparents.
Q: So please fill us in on what happened with Verdun Manor 2003. What was the process and conclusion of allowing someone else to buy the attraction. Lastly how successful was the attraction last season?
A: In 2003 we were in no condition to continue running Haunted Verdun Manor, there was just too much of Lance throughout the park for us to cope with. We had a very amicable and successful lease with Steve Kopelman for the 2003 season.
Q: From our understanding you're not running the attraction yourself. What are the future plans for Verdun Manor? Will you continue to run the attraction, sell it?
A: During the 2004 season we will be personally involved in the management of Haunted Verdun Manor along with the tremendous crew members who have made it the success it is today.
Q: Is the attraction still for sale and how would someone go about contacting you for details?
A: We are pretty much committed to running Thrillvania for the 2004 season and have already begun work. Both Mr. Pope and myself are no spring chickens with regard to age and we will have to assess this issue when the season is over. Serious inquiries can be sent to 476 Hidden Valley Trail, Midlothian, Texas 76065, 972-299-5298
Q: Who's helping you run the attraction for 2004? Are you making any changes and what is that process?
A: The same group of Lance's loyal friends will be helping us run Thrillvania. Thrillvania never opened it's doors without change and those are in progress. Lance never wanted people to come and not get their money's worth. He had a lot of plans on the drawing board and eventually we will get to most of them.
Q: In 2003 Clear Channel spent a lot of money marketing the attraction. What will you do different to market the attraction? Will you have to invest your own money to get the attraction going for 2004? Does that scare you?
A: Needless to say, we will not have access to the abundant advertising generated by Clear Channel, but Lance was always able to get the word out and we have a great deal of repeat patrons. Granted this is not personally our cup of tea, but it was Lance's dream and with the help of others we can make his legacy continue.
Q: Suzette, now that your first season is under you belt tell us how everything went?
A: I was extremely pleased that the season went without incident. I have always been concerned about safety for the patrons and the employees in the midst of such a large crowd of people. You never know what some people are capable of and training to handle the unexpected is important.
We certainly would have appreciated better cooperation from "Mother Nature" this year. In 2003 there was no rain period; but in 2004, we got an abundance of rain plus the share of rain from the previous year.
Q: Did you learn to love the haunted house business or was it more work than you expected?
A: Running the haunted house was an immense challenge for me in that I was totally unfamiliar with all aspects. I had to rely heavily on the wonderful crew Lance has had for all these years. I developed a whole new respect for Lance's abilities. I kept searching for his calendar to go by, to do lists, check off lists before opening, etc. - there were none. The guys told me he just kept it all in his head.
I would like to take this opportunity to state how much we appreciate all the phone calls, cards, letters, emails and visits from those of you in the industry. So many of you have been extremely caring, kind, and considerate.
Q: What where biggest challenges of running the haunted house?
A: I found the greatest challenge of running the haunted house to be marketing. Long ago when Lance first opened Haunted Verdun Manor in Forney ( approximately 50 miles from Dallas), the Texas Department of Transportation was threatening to close him down all the time because he was backing up traffic on the highway each season. Now days Halloween is such a vast industry and there are so many more venues for the public to attend. Creative advertising is a must and I feel inadequate in that field. Running a corporation with approximately ninety employees generates a whole lot of bookkeeping and I despise paperwork.
Q: What are your future plans for the attraction? After running it for one full season do you plan to continue to operate the attraction or do you still want to sell it?
A: The park will hopefully always continue to operate and exhibit the creativity of so many artists Lance once tutored. The sale of the park would have to be to the right individual or group with a proper vision and the agreement that the park must constantly be maintained and repaired.
Q: Will you be attending the Halloween show in March or do you plan to send people from the show?
A: We don't have exact plans for the Halloween show in March at this time; but we will be hosting a tour for the Haunted Attraction National Trade Show and Convention scheduled for April in Dallas.
Q: If you end up operating the attraction again in 2005, do you plan to purchase new items, change anything, etc?
A: Operation of the park this year will be less difficult, in that we will have a much better grasp of the process and the procedures. It will be a draw as to which of the changes the crew is eagerly hoping to implement and entertain the public with.
Q: Sue thank you for updating everyone about Verdun Manor and your late son Lance Pope. Lance was a dear friend of my own and I hope you take pride in the fact that Lance was one of the best haunters this industry has ever known.
A: Larry, thank you so much for your compliments with regard to Lance's talent and your wanting to do this interview. Hope you have a wonderful New Year and maybe we will meet some day soon.