Replete with ornate gardens and a brick mansion fronted by towering, white columns, Rippavilla Plantation winds the clock back to the time of the Civil War. In the fall, the smells of bonfires and steaming hot chocolate fill the sprawling grounds as they host pumpkin paintings and other old-timey, outdoor fun. The Rippavilla corn maze tests internal compasses and scarecrow-bribing techniques on a 10-acre, labyrinthine path. As they pass through the maze, guests encounter signs that boast historical facts about major Civil War battles in 1862, putting them in touch with the site's legacy. For a plus-size serving of fresh, autumn air, guests can also board the hayride to circle the grounds, which are devoid of the sinister ghouls that often emerge at many fall festivals; instead, the grounds remain family-friendly throughout the night.
In the gulches of an abandoned phosphate mine, a labyrinthine path echoes with the roar of unseen chainsaws and the rustles of hidden ghouls. Monsters and zombies lurk in the darkness at Millers Thrillers Zombie Paintball Hayride and Haunted Woods, but it isn't mere craving for blood or brains that makes them so eager to terrify––the scary staff members actually receive a bonus for making visitors wet themselves. Really. “I did always like Halloween," says founder and owner David Miller.
Miller wasn’t always in the pants-wetting business, but you might say the business of Halloween in his blood. He grew up growing and selling pumpkins with his grandfather and––though he admits he was too scared to try them as a kid––his interest in haunted houses led him to intense study in the art of scaring, including seminars and conventions. His interest in creating eerie worlds inspired him to begin his walk through haunted woods and zombie-paintball hayride––during which visitors wield mounted paintball guns to fire upon advancing zombies and blank canvases hurled by poltergeists. But landing a few paintball hits won't be enough to ease the natural terror of the haunt's surroundings. “There’s a lot of spooky stuff around all this country farmland… with no streetlights in sight,” Miller says. “We…play on the fact that people are going to feel like they’re lost in the middle of nowhere.”
Despite the fright fest’s scariness, Miller’s real aim is to give visitors a good time. Staff members go easy on little kids and the elderly, and at the end of the walk, customers can calm chattering teeth around a fire pit and rejoin the world of the living by gathering around the concession stand or a stage that hosts a nightly illusionist and zombie drum line.
When Franklin On Foot founder and guide Margie Thessin discusses the Civil War’s impact on Franklin, she shuns dry textbook summaries. Instead, she gathers groups before historic homes and battle sites, and she explains, “The war happened here. The people who lived here– this war was their 9/11. This was their Pearl Harbor.” Suddenly, she sees sets of eyes light up, as minds make the leap from musty tomes and texts to the people who lived¬—and fought and died—where they now stand 150 years ago.
To make history relevant, Ms. Thessin humanizes it, honing in on the famous and lesser-known people who shaped Franklin and the struggles they faced to do so. In that spirit, she seeks out guides who are not only passionate about history but possess a natural knack for storytelling.
In keeping with her commitment to orchestrate vivid tours, Ms. Thessin conducts them by bike or on foot. “You get so much from a place by walking it instead of looking out a window of a bus—you may as well fly at 32,000 feet,” she says. Small groups of sightseers stroll or if preferred, Charleston across the downtown area or expand their tour’s scope by cruising on one of Franklin On Foot’s 24-speed Fuji bikes.
Bluewater Scuba, a PADI Five-Star Instructor Development Center, helps aquatic adventurers achieve underwater prowess during the comprehensive diver-certification course. The staff of professional PADI instructors guide students through up to 8 classroom hours, up to 12 hours in the facility's heated pool, and 16 hours watching Free Willy on loop. The staff and divers then migrate into the aquatic splendor of a local rock quarry for four certification dives, divvied between two days. At the beginning of each pool-training and certification dive, amphibious pupils are outfitted with rental buoyancy compensators, regulators, gauges, and tanks. Afterward, the newly certified divers receive PADI Open Water Diver certification cards, which represent lifetime PADI certification and VIP access to local pools' deep ends.
Rather than design a haunted house around cheap scare tactics or imaginary monsters, The 99 grounds its theatrical tour of the grotesque in sobering reality. The show has no shortage of frights, but each brutally dramatic scene takes inspiration from the leading causes of death for teens and young adults.
The production derives its name from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's statistics, which report that 99 people aged 12–24 die in America every day—a grand total of nearly 37,000 lives annually. Guests take a guided tour of the 20,000-square-foot theater, where they pass through 14 rooms filled with spectacularly made-up actors who vividly recreate the deaths of teens and young adults by drugs, drunken driving, and peer violence.
Walking through Belmont Mansion's Victorian-era plantation is like exploring an alternate history. The stories presented by the 2,000 artifacts that fill the 18 rooms are all true, but in place of the 19th-century South's traditionally male-dominated household, tour takers witness evidence of a plantation controlled, enlivened, and energized by a woman. After inheriting a fortune from her first husband, Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham oversaw the construction of the mansion with her second husband, basing the style off an Italian villa and completing the project's first phase in 1853. Over the years it would change appearances as dramatically as a caterpillar on Halloween—sometimes by her hand and sometimes not. She commissioned a Prussian-born architect to expand and embellish the house six years after completion, and fled as the Civil War's Battle of Nashville destroyed most of the plantation's outbuildings, including the greenhouse, bear house, and zoo. After Adelicia sold her home in 1887, it transformed into a girl's school, then a girl's academy and junior college, and, in 1952, became part of the Belmont University campus.
Today, Belmont Mansion is the largest house museum in Tennessee, inviting visitors to wander past cast-iron neoclassical statues in the gardens, to cross the fountain courtyard, and to study the original water tower and few remaining gazebos. Stoic marble busts, decorative boxes, and a four-post bed fill the interior's 10,000 square feet, alongside more than 120 works of art. During a themed art tour, which is not included with this Groupon, expert docent Mancil Ezell introduces visitors to these masterpieces, including two 400-year-old Flemish paintings. And for those bright-eyed visitors captivated by the surroundings, the staff also coordinates weddings, building on a tradition established when Adelicia married her third husband on the grounds in 1867.