Nightfall returns to Old Tucson after hiatus

click to enlarge Nightfall returns to Old Tucson after hiatus
(Jamie Ryan of American Heritage Railways/Submitted)
Nightfall actors Dave Cavallaro and Greg DeBenedetti at a press conference at Old Tucson on Aug. 17. Cavallaro plays Mayor John Olsen and DeBenedetti is candidate Jack L. Nice. The Nightfall staff from behind the scenes, encourage visitors to interact with as many characters during their visit as possible.

Nightfall returns to Old Tucson Studios on Thursday, Oct. 6, to Sunday, Oct. 30, after a two-year hiatus. The spooktacular event closed its doors indefinitely in August 2020, due to the pandemic.

This year, the 30th annual spooky celebration has transitioned into an “interactive haunted Halloween experience,” inviting visitors to step into 1880s Tucson, while immersing themselves into a singular ongoing story.

Nightfall creative director Erik Blair said while the event remains a haunt with plenty of scares and haunted mazes for those who want them, he encouraged park visitors to follow clues and engage with cast members to uncover multiple mysteries, allowing themselves to determine their night’s outcome.

“Ultimately, I think we’re really creating something here that brings Old Tucson back, that brings Nightfall back, continues the history of this location and of its events in a way that I think people are going to recognize and appreciate,” Blair said. “(It) also opens it up for a little more family friendly capability to Nightfall.”

Old Tucson Studios, which was recently acquired by the American Heritage Railways (AHR) from Pima County in April, is looking forward tto new initiatives that include seasonal events, theatrical entertainment and film production, according to Kristine “Kiki” Keefner, Old Tucson Studios’ general manager.

“We are a definite startup community right now,” Keefner said. “We hope to embellish and create new ideas and come up with a new breath of life into Old Tucson.”

AHR operates Old Tucson Studios under the subsidiary corporation Old Tucson Entertainment LLC and usually focuses on the preservation of American railroads.

“They preserve pieces of American history and try to find ways to help audiences enjoy and experience (them),” Blair said.

The Nightfall production has also hired new and former employees from the community, some of whom assisted Blair in creating its immersive “script,” which is about 250 pages.

The Los Angeles-based Blair was hired by AHR in May, prepared to hit the ground running. He’s been traveling between LA to Tucson since.

“We all have a lot of hats right now, because it’s not only putting the haunt back up but it’s also getting Old Tucson back on its feet at the same time.” Blair said.

According to Blair, “haunts” of this scale normally get about a year’s worth of preparation time.

“We tapped into every resource and person we could find so that we could take and understand as much as we could about what has happened over the last years that happened before the pandemic,” Blair said. “There is a surprising amount of information that exists within both the data and people.”

“I’m excited to see where Old Tucson can go because it already has great roots. It’s a matter of building upon those to make it even more successful,” Keefner said.

AHR is planning a Christmas-themed event, followed by a “Western experience” in the new year, Keefner said.

Blair calls the Christmas special a more “intimate” experience set in the same 1880s period.

“We have a studio that has been around forever in Tucson that is absolutely a Tucson institution and now we have the ability to make sure that it not only stays open, stays functional (and) that people can still enjoy it,” Blair said.


WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 6, to Sunday, Oct. 30; timed entries run from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

WHERE: Old Tucson, 201 S. Kinney Road, Tucson

COST: Tickets start at $35 for adults; $30 children ages 5 to 11; free for children through age 4. Tickets on sale at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 1. Parking is $5


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