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The Interview: Buster Douglas

In many ways, former heavyweight champion, James “Buster” Douglas, is the perfect Columbus icon. The night he beat Mike Tyson at the Tokyo Dome on February 11th, 1990—perhaps the biggest upset in all of sports history—Douglas, though a legit contender and No. 2 in the world at the time, was literally given odds from one [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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In many ways, former heavyweight champion, James “Buster” Douglas, is the perfect Columbus icon. The night he beat Mike Tyson at the Tokyo Dome on February 11th, 1990—perhaps the biggest upset in all of sports history—Douglas, though a legit contender and No. 2 in the world at the time, was literally given odds from one singular casino at 42-1. Tyson was destined, given his current wave of quick, brutal, knockouts, to defeat the much bigger and traditional force that Douglas posed.

Therein lies the irony. Much like our constantly on-the-verge city, entirely capable of great things when given the chance, Douglas was still relegated to “underdog” status. (Tyson was such a sure thing his corner forgot to bring the ice packs). Even after the fight, there was little to no respect for Douglas’ victory, and a tragic malaise fogged his career forever after.

Sitting in his gym at the Thompson Recreation Center, where he trains anyone—from young to old, male and female—willing to learn the sport he loves, Douglas admits he rarely relives that pinnacle moment in his life. It was a night that Douglas refers to as the “ultimate dream,” but his championship reign was only an eight-month flash, barely enough time to enjoy what he had rightfully earned.

That could be partially because he became an instant star. In a late-night appearance on Johnny Carson, the soft-spoken humility of the new champ was a refreshing counter to Tyson’s blitzkrieg ego, and Douglas seemed poised to have a long career. With millions in his pocket, he was a jet-setter, battling Macho Man at Wrestlemania, rubbing elbows with greats like Ali, and co-signing his name to his own Sega Genesis game, but the legitimacy of his title was constantly in kahoots thanks to a legal battle at the behest of promoter Don King, who claimed a long count on Douglas.

The “no regrets” Douglas doesn’t much want to dwell on those eight months, his bouts with depression, physically checking out, or his unceremoniously loss to Evander Holyfield (which some contend was the last great heavyweight match of the modern era). It was a diabetic coma that ended his career and by default urged him to come back to life. True to form, the comeback kid did resurface professionally, going a respectable 6-0 before finally leaving the ring for good. Ideally, Douglas could have sailed into the sunset, lived on a beach, become a fisherman, but he chose to return to his roots and his home in Columbus.

Now hiding in plain sight, Douglas is the happiest he’s ever been playing the “game of life.” In Columbus he’s free to blend into the background—as he does training young hopefuls five days a week at his gym—or take the spotlight as the city’s most iconic athlete when the moment strikes (during our interview he was autographing gloves for Urban Meyer’s grandson). With two of his four sons taking on dad’s calling, he’s seeing another generation of contenders rise up in the city where he was born and raised. And though in conversation we spent time reminiscing about Douglas’ peak in the ‘90s, Buster was determined that his future was the focal point, not the past.

So what have you been doing since retirement?

Well, that’s been awhile. The most important thing is staying healthy and taking care of myself and my family. After retiring I kind of let myself go and let depression get the best of me. When I finally got over that, I started getting back into the game of life.

You’re in here five days a week now training others. How’s that going?

Really well. The younger kids who come in after-school, they’re my team. They are the ones who compete. Throughout the day the older kids come in and train whenever. And you’ve got some people who come in just to work out. And you’ve even got some ladies who come in just to work out. That was something that I had to get used to. Back in the day when I was coming up, they were just here to watch. Now, there’s every kind of person from 10 and up. It’s inspiring.

You were a star basketball player in high school and college. When exactly did you start boxing and what made you abandon basketball?

My dad was a boxing coach, so I was always boxing. When I was 15 I went foolhardily into basketball and abandoned boxing.

So there were high hopes for a basketball career? Oh yeah. I went to Linden-McKinley. State Champs. We were number two in the nation.

Was your dad disappointed?

He wanted me to box no doubt, but he didn’t bother me. He never pressured me and that was important. He was hoping one day  I would snap out of it and get back in the ring because he saw a future.

Obviously then, when you start to compete professionally the ultimate goal is to become champion. A lot of people seem to remember that you were lucky to get a shot at Tyson, not that you were proven. What do you say to that?

I definitely worked hard to get that—it wasn’t given to me. That actually wasn’t my first shot at the title. My first shot was against Tony Tucker in 1987, it was for the IBF belt, but that didn’t go too well. I learned a lot. I kept hanging in there. I knew I had the ability, I just had to do it.

What was the reason then that you were the underdog against Tyson?

He was ridiculous. He beat all the former champions. He was the new wave of heavyweight. He looked good, he was fierce, he had speed. He had it all.

What was that night like after you had won?

Well, it was what I always call the ultimate dream. After the fight, I had I went up to my hotel room to relax and reflect. My son came up and talked to me for a while. He eventually left with everyone else and went upstairs to where it was getting wild. I sat up and talked to John Johnson (Douglas’ manager) and then I went to bed. The only part of the championship that I truly got to enjoy was when they called my name as the winner. To Tyson, I was just a fill-in fight on the way to fight Evander.

But it was you who got that fight with Holyfield. Did that fight come up too quickly? Were you not prepared?

You know, I could have done it differently, but I was as prepared as I could have been at that time. I didn’t have much time to get ready. The court case was tough. I was travelling everywhere, but it was either to a court in Columbus, or New York, or Vegas. That was a bummer; that was tough. I think it was always by design that I wouldn’t have time to prepare.

When you train, what’s that one piece of advice you give the kids?

It depends on the situation, as long as we have fun. But this is reliving it all over again. This is where it all started and I’m back to square one. A lot of times it feels like I’m 10 years old again, walking into Blackburn Recreation Center, not sure what I was going to amount to.

At 57 years old, another comeback is not in your future, right? You could wrestle?

I work with the kids now. Right now, I could do a couple rounds. A couple only. But if you gave me some time, I’ve always got one more fight left in me.

What do you want your legacy to be? Not just the guy who beat Tyson?

I just want to be the guy who made something out of his life. I want to be the guy who did something positive.

Do you want a statue in Columbus?

[laughs] I wouldn’t say no.

You too can train with the champ. Visitcolumbus.gov/recreationandparks/recreation-centers/Thompson-Community-Center for more info.

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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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