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The Interview: Coyote Peterson

“The bullet ant felt around with its stinger and, boom! It just nailed my forearm. Its stinger was so long it got lodged into my arm, and we got this all on camera. I dropped to the ground. The amount of venom that went into my arm was easily three times the amount a person [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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“The bullet ant felt around with its stinger and, boom! It just nailed my forearm. Its stinger was so long it got lodged into my arm, and we got this all on camera. I dropped to the ground. The amount of venom that went into my arm was easily three times the amount a person would normally take in a sting. It felt like it got smashed by a scalding hot hammer. I was on the ground in agony. I don’t remember a whole lot of it. I just remember, “OK, try to compose yourself so you can give the audience … a description of what’s going on right now.”

If there’s any way to properly introduce Coyote Peterson to the uninitiated, the above description of his latest dance with danger in the Costa Rican jungle should suffice. The OSU alumnus and YouTube sensation has made a name for himself by venturing to exotic locales and getting wildly intimate with toxin-bearing creatures that most of us have never heard of. (614) wanted to catch up with him in the midst of his meteoric rise to Internet fame, and decided I was the right person for the job. With a background in animal behavior, and several years experience working with venomous arthropods (colloquial moniker: “bugs”), I have extensive training in how not to get stung. With Coyote Peterson, that pendulum has swung the other way. As a child, Peterson’s mother took him on lengthy and nomadic vacations across the country, allowing him to independently explore the places they set up camp. He would follow around roadrunners, as he found they would lead him to horned lizards. This tendency earned him his wily, canid title. Those days in the desert cast a mold for Peterson’s fearlessness and desire to interact with the wild. He studied film at Ohio State and wrote screenplays, while never losing his love for the wild. Eventually, he hit a crossroads where his enthusiasm and self-taught animal handling skills would collide with his production team’s collective desire to produce original content. Soon, their YouTube channel was launched. After only two years, Brave Wilderness is one of the all-time fastest growing channels on YouTube. It boasts five million subscribers and gets 2.5 to 5 million daily views. Its most popular video, in which Peterson is stung by a cow killer wasp (widely believed to be the second most painful sting on the planet), has well over 26 million views. He expects the aforementioned footage of the bullet ant (deemed the single most painful sting in the animal kingdom) to blow that out of the water when it’s released this month.

With names like “Wolverine Face Off” and “Yikes! Quilled by a Porcupine!”, the dozens of videos on the channel beg incredulity. As such, I expected this interview to go off the rails, trying to corral what I figured would be a yahoo seeking to shock and dismay, using animals as unwitting participants in his sting shoots. I presented him with my personal list of field-tested “Rules for Working with Wild Animals.” To my utter delight and surprise, the person that spoke to me on a long-distance phone call from a jungle-adjacent hotel in Costa Rica was a genuine and composed animal lover. His childlike excitement burst through the fuzzy phone line in an unmistakable implicit message: he’s fighting the good fight in the name of nature.

Rule No. 1: Roll with the Punches (or Scratches, Bites, Stings…)

You gotta roll with everything, and just hope you can walk away from it. When we were in Arizona, we were shooting and I was jumping boulder to boulder. I slipped and fell 15 feet off the side of a cliff onto my head. I could have killed myself and managed to miraculously stand up and walk away from it.

We’ve covered the bullet ant and the cow killer stings. You have a video where you allowed a Dungeness crab to crush your index finger in its claws. How much of this is for science, and how much of it is sensationalism?

The ultimate goal of the sting videos is not their shock value. Obviously, they draw people to our channel. It’s about getting education out about the animals that a lot of people fear. So, if I’m stung by a scorpion, and you see me walk away—OK, you may be less likely to kill it, and just respect it from a safe distance. Now with something like the [cow killer] or the bullet ant, these are animals that are known for the power of their sting. And our real goal with a lot of this is to give people the opportunity to see how bad the effects can be of taking a sting. The one that actually was the scariest was the Tarantula Hawk. That thing was just wicked looking.

Obviously you are a very adventurous person, you’re willing to put yourself in risky situations. What’s outside your comfort zone?

I’m really not afraid of anything when it comes to animals. My ultimate goal is to one day be able to swim alongside a great white shark. No cage—just free swim along with a great white shark, just to see what happens. There isn’t anything in the natural world that scares me. Honestly, humans scare me more than animals do. Control is a tough one to define. You have to look at it from the animal’s perspective. You come in as an invader and you need to get this scene, but you still need to realize that these animals are very powerful. Take a 300-pound alligator, for example: if it chooses to, it can explode outward. If you’re not prepared to restrain that, you’re going to find yourself in a very bad situation. And sometimes there are more dangerous things about the environment than the animals. We got stuck in a massive rainstorm in the rain forest and we were stuck in a canyon. It went from being a trickle of water to thigh deep water rushing through; trees are falling down in the jungle, rocks are falling down the sides of the canyons. That’s what’s gonna kill you.

The transition from your film studies background to your current field has been well documented. Being that you do not have a scientific background, how do you ensure that you are producing a scientifically literate and accurate show?

I do a lot of research before we go on these trips. [Biologist] Mario [Aldecoa] and I work very closely together. We may target 15 species we have a good chance of coming across. We double-check all of our facts before an episode is released. We always have a biologist that travels with us, and also a ground expert. In Costa Rica, we’re working with both a herpetologist and an entomologist. So, someone who knows about reptiles and amphibians, and someone who know about insects and arachnids. They rattle off (something about a creature), and I’m like, “That’s way too much for people to understand; give me three basic facts,” and that’s how we’ve found a way to bring cool science to a platform like YouTube, where everybody has Attention Deficit Disorder. And we’re keeping them captivated.

I read in a previous interview that your entire team is Columbus based. Is that still true?

Oh yeah. I’m sitting here next to our wildlife biologist right now, Mario Aldecoa, from Florida. We are in the process of relocating Mario to Columbus, so our whole team is Columbus-bound. My business partner, Mark Laivins; my producing team, Chance Ross and Chris Kost; we are all Columbus-based and we’ve all been friends for over a decade now. We love everything the city has to offer, and for us it’s just a really great place to be an artist and an independent filmmaker and content creator. When I first started, people asked “how are you going to make a career out of a city that is not Hollywood?” And sure enough, YouTube came along, and we started developing this animal show and now we receive more views daily than pretty much any television show that’s out there. We’re really proud to know that we’re creating this international phenomenon about the wilderness, and it’s coming from right here at home.

What’s an ideal day for you in Columbus?

I’m from Westerville. I have an eight-year-old daughter, and we love to spend time at Columbus MetroParks. Blendon Woods and Blacklick Woods are my favorite go-to spots for taking media people. I’ve researched the snapping turtles that live there. My ideal day in Columbus is in the spring—the buds are just coming in on the trees, birds are out, weather’s changing, everybody’s excited because Spring in Columbus is absolutely perfect. I’d head out to Blendon Woods, go out in my kayak, catch a couple snapping turtles, get lunch in uptown Westerville, then head into the office for a little bit and do some work on post-production and voice-overs. Then pick up my daughter from school, and up to the Polaris area for dinner.

Tell us a story of a recent shoot where something went unexpectedly.

We were out with HBO’s Vice News crew. We had them for three days on location. We had taken them out to look for frogs, like “oh, this is safe, we can have the reporter hold a little frog.” We were in Costa Rica for three weeks searching for a highly venomous snake called a Fer-de-lance earlier this year, and couldn’t find it. We were back and looking for a frog, and sure enough, there in the leaf litter was a four-foot Fer-de-lance. So, this episode just became about filming this snake. They had a camera man, a producer, and a host. Then we’ve got my team, plus our wildlife specialists from on location, and we had another team that we hired to hold the lights for us. So we’re deep in the rainforest, it’s muddy, dark, there are other creatures who could potentially bite or sting you, and here I am handling the most dangerous viper in the Western hemisphere. And the host was terrified of snakes, so it became a really intense situation for her. Bystanders are the first thing I’m worried about. If someone else is bitten, that’s a major liability. Everybody else’s safety is priority number one, and then your own. With a snake like that, I handle it with what are called snake tongs. A bite from that snake could take my life. We ended up getting a really good episode out of it.

I’m sure you’re aware of the incident that happened a few years back in Zanesville, when an entire private collection of large exotic animals were released from a farm and subsequently destroyed. This was quickly followed by creation of the laws on exotic animal ownership in Ohio (there previously were very few regulations.) What are your thoughts on private ownership of exotic animals?

I think if someone has the means to be able to keep and take care of animals, it works when someone is rescuing them. It amazes me sometimes to think that someone can go and buy a tiger cub. Now, if you are a big cat rescue facility and you are taking in a displaced animal, that’s one thing. But if you are able to go into a shady auction somewhere and purchase a leopard or a tiger—there definitely need to be stronger regulations when it comes to that. I know a lot of people that do have large animals in captivity, and they have them because they saved them from bad situations. What happened in Zanesville was an absolute tragedy, and there are a lot of gray areas regarding what actually happened that day. We don’t work with zoos. We do work with wildlife rehabilitation centers. It’s not that we don’t support the work that zoos do, we just prefer to promote places that animals are naturally wild, or being rehabilitated or rescued. We just did an episode on wolverines in Alaska. The guy that owns the sanctuary has been doing this for 30 years. He’s got a moose in captivity; this moose was hit by a car, and it won’t survive in the wild. This guy has enough land on his property that the animal’s enclosure is absolutely enormous. It has a swamp, it has forest. So keeping an animal in captivity like that is one thing. But keeping, you know, a Siberian tiger inside a chain link fence, is something else.

A lot of people fantasize about being the next Crocodile Hunter or Bear Grylls. What do you think sets you apart from them?

I grew up being influenced by Jack Hanna. He’s a hometown hero; I’ve watched his show since the ’90s when I was a kid. Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin came after that. I loved Steve’s presentation style. Excitement and really getting those animals close to the camera. Corwin was kinda comedic and quirky, and people loved his personality. When I got a bit older and started watching Man Vs. Wild, I realized Bear Grylls is one of the most influential entertainers and precursors to our series because he just really made you feel like you were right there on his adventure. We said, “OK, how do we emulate what all these people have done and combine it into our own thing?” I think we’ve done a pretty good job of learning from people that have come before us, mixing it with today’s technology and camera equipment, and really just taking it to the next level.

Coyote Peterson’s Brave Wilderness channel debuts the video footage of the bullet ant sting just before Christmas, and he’s hoping to rack up record views. Check out this and other videos at youtube.com/bravewilderness.

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Scream Team: Behind-the-scenes look at local haunting industry

Mike Thomas

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Like many a fiend of silver screen fame, the origins of Kelly Collins’ career in terror involve some teens, a campground, and a fateful ride into the deep, dark woods.

Thirty-eight years ago, Collins was general manager at a campground. Every Saturday at noon, he’d hook up a wagon to a tractor and treat the young campers to a hayride through the woods. The route Collins followed circled around an old oak tree, before turning around and coming back to the start. One Saturday, some mischievous teens sprang out from behind the tree, giving quite a scare to the unsuspecting wagoneers. All of the children screamed in surprise—then they laughed.

Kelly Collins (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This gave Collins an idea. To spice up his little hayride, he would arrange for the teens to act out the same routine the next Saturday— but this time, he’d up the ante by giving them rubber masks to wear. His plan was set in motion, and this time, the startled youngsters on the wagon cried all the way back to the campground.

“That was a bad idea, but it got me thinking...Why don’t we have a hayride at night and call it the ‘Spooky Hayride?’ ” Collins recalls. By fine-tuning the balance between fear and fun, Collins’ new enterprise was a success, and would set him on the path to a lifelong career in the haunted house business, or “haunting” as it’s known to its practitioners.

Early in his career, Collins became a key figure in the Central Ohio scream scene. After his haunted hayride, he spent a couple of seasons overseeing the Hallowscream event at the now- defunct Wyandot Lake. It was there that he was approached by Ken Schnacke, General Manager and President of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who tapped Collins to create and lead the “Terror Park” event that was held at Cooper Stadium for a decade.

When the Clippers made the move to Huntington Park, the Terror Park event was shelved. Collins set out again on his own, founding the Scareatorium: a haunted house attraction occupying a 40,000-square-foot space in a northeast Columbus strip mall.

Over the next decade, the Scareatorium would serve as a hub for haunters, attracting and nurturing some of the city’s top talents in the field. From actors, makeup artists, set designers and people who just appreciate a good scare, the group that grew from Collins’ enterprise came together over buckets of blood and latex viscera, but now enjoy the valuable connection of a genuine community.

A longtime compatriot of Collins, Keith Newsome was one of the creative minds behind Terror Park and the Scareatorium. Though he specializes in visual effects design and fabrication, Newsome’s talents in haunting are wide-ranging. Since retiring from 13th Floor, Newsome has remained a vital member of the community, teaching classes on topics ranging from makeup application to mask making and performance.

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This season, he’s lending his skills to an attraction in Lancaster, Ohio titled “A True American Haunt: Birth of a Nightmare.” The house is set up in the Miller Building, a “poor house” originally built in 1828, which event promoters suggest may in fact be haunted. According to Newsome, the building is classified as one of the top-10 haunted houses in the United States, and was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of The Travel Channel show Destination Fear.

“It’s actually a haunted place. I don’t believe in that crap...I do now,” says Newsome. “There’s something in that place. I don’t go on the third or fourth floor anymore.”

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Whether patrons can expect to encounter bona fide spirits along with latex-clad actors in this haunt remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the event serves an important purpose. All proceeds from this haunt will benefit Habitat for Humanity’s plan to revitalize the historic Miller Building, and to help build housing for local veterans.

The charitable angle for this event comes as no surprise in an industry that at times seems like an extended family. People attracted to haunting come from every imaginable background, but are united by a common passion.

“I’ve had people who are financial managers of huge companies, down to people who are almost homeless,” says Newsome. “The cool part about it is that we treat everybody equally. When you walk in, you’re automatically family.”

One member of Newsome’s haunt family is Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, an artist who has turned a passion for body art and makeup into a year-round career.

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Gonzalez’s first foray into the industry came while volunteering with her eldest daughters at a home haunt. Stepping up to fill the need for a makeup artist, Gonzalez gleaned what she could from YouTube videos. Her tool kit at that time consisted of, as she calls it, “that really crappy makeup you get at Kroger around Halloween.”

After encouragement from her peers at smaller attractions, Gonzalez eventually made her way to the Scareatorium, where she met Newsome. Newsome introduced her to higher-quality, water-based makeup, and she went on to mentor under the more experienced effects artist for two years.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Today, Gonzalez is the owner of Aftershock Art, a thriving face painting and body art company that operates year-round. She’s also found a healthy sideline doing moulage—the art of creating realistic, simulated injuries on actors during training exercises for the military and first responders.

Like her mentor, Gonzalez sees the past support and encouragement from members of the haunt community as a foundation of the success she now enjoys.

“It’s something that we’re all passionate about, so once you find your niche in that community, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is—you have that weird background, and you have a family for life,” Gonzalez explains.

While basking in the warm embrace of your fellow ghoul is reason enough to keep some hooked on this line of work, there’s another essential element that unifies all haunters: the love of the scare.

“I fell in love. I didn’t know you could have so much fun scaring people,” says Ashley Shilling, another former employee of Collins from the Sacreatorium days who today serves as general manager of the 13th Floor Haunt.

Ashley Shilling (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

“Being an actor is a huge stress relief,” Shilling explains. “Getting to scare people kicks in your endorphins, especially if you can make a big man that looks very intimidating scream like a little girl—that’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night, you’re just relaxed.”

Whether drawn to a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find in the world at large, or simply in it for the thrill of scaring people, the haunting industry has an undeniable pull for those that find their way into its spooky ranks. Even retired industry veteran Collins is unable to fully step away from the work, and is gearing up for his first season as manager of a Spirit Halloween supply store in Newark, Ohio.

“When you scare people, and they scream and run away from you, it’s a great way to let out pent-up frustration,” Collins says. “You could have the worst day in the world, and within a few minutes of working at the haunted house, you feel so much better. It’s a great tension reliever.”

In professional haunting, one person’s fear is another’s bliss.

For more information on the 13th Floor Haunt and other haunted houses happening in October, click here.

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Photo Gallery: HighBall Halloween

614now Staff

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HighBall Halloween is the nation’s most elaborate costume party. Staged in the Art & Soul of Columbus, the annual event bridges runway style with the culture of the Short North Arts District.

Much like in years past, the city turned out in full force and full costume to celebrate fashion, fall, and fun with host Nina West.

Here's a look at some of the best looks of HighBall 2019:

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I Love My Job: CBJ national anthem singer Leo Welsh

Regina Fox

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Every day, people all around Columbus drive/ride/walk to their jobs, eager to contribute their passion and talent to the city. This series aims to highlight those people and give them a platform to spread their love for their careers. Welcome to I Love My Job.

You may not know his face (depending on your seats), but you definitely know his name: LEO! Longtime Columbus Blue Jackets national anthem singer Leo Welsh has been stealing the hearts of hockey-goers at Nationwide Arena with his impressive pipes and passion for the game since 2003.

Here is why he loves his job so much:

614: What do you love most about your job? 

LW: The thing I love most about my position with the CBJ is being such a fan and being part of the game experience. It is a total thrill every single time. 

614: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

LW: The most challenging part would have to be maintaining my health during the winter. Hard to sing well when you aren’t feeling your best. 

614: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

LW: The most rewarding aspect is when I am singing and I can see young people singing along to our National Anthem.

614: What’s the best story you have from your time with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

LW: So many great stories and interactions with fans and our military honorees. Most recently the playoffs from last year strand out. The CBJ had a World War II veteran on the ice with me every night. These men were all special and excited the crowd and made it very easy for me to be focused on honoring our country. Several were arm in arm with me and singing along to our National Anthem, very special moments. 

614: Who has been the most influential mentor in your career so far?

LW: I have had many great teachers and mentors. Maestro William Boggs stands out. He is one of the reasons I moved to Columbus following graduation from Ohio University. He offered me a job with Opera Columbus. He was critical when he needed to be, demanded preparation from his singers and was supportive by offering examples and best practices at all times. Truly a great mentor.

Leo will be leading players and fans in the national anthem this Friday as the Blue Jackets open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. Puck drops at 7pm.

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