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The Interview: Mandi Caskey

The first time I met Mandi Caskey was three years ago—in an abandoned steel factory on the southside of town. She instructed me via text to climb through a hole in the fence on the outskirts of the property, hobble through the prickly August underbrush, climb the stairs, and meet her on the second floor [...]
Danny Hamen

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The first time I met Mandi Caskey was three years ago—in an abandoned steel factory on the southside of town. She instructed me via text to climb through a hole in the fence on the outskirts of the property, hobble through the prickly August underbrush, climb the stairs, and meet her on the second floor where she was working on her latest piece.

At five-feet-tall, she was a small splash of color in the grey expanse of expired industry, her dress patterned with bright yellow sunflowers; her combat boots paint-speckled, her smile freckled. Just 21 at the time, she was already well acquainted with the art of trespassing, cutting her teeth as a muralist in one of the largest free practice spaces in the city.

She was finishing up a naturalist-inspired mural based off of a black and white photograph of her grandmother drinking a glass of water, immortalizing her family member on the factory wall alongside scattered gang signs, graffiti lettering, and crudely painted phalluses. To me, this juxtaposition was intoxicating. Three years later, I still go back to that very same spot, her mural now crossed out by vandals, replaced with swear words and swooping grey circles. In a way, the impermanence of her work added a unique layer of beauty—a transformative expose of the temporal nature of art.

Back then, she went by the moniker Little Miss Birdy. For one, the majority of her early work was highly detailed murals of colossal birds painted in abandoned locations around the Midwest. Secondly, because most of her work was illegal, she needed a pseudonym. And thus, Birdy was born.

Caskey is the epitome of the starving artist success story—a CCAD dropout who used her intrinsic talent and social media savviness to gain success, debunking the constructed narrative that you need tens of thousands of dollars to make it as an artist. She has been commissioned to create murals by the city in government buildings, by eccentric millionaires for personal outdoor collections, and by an array of businesses—large and small—to create something beautiful, to give their brand a voice. Through her own craftiness, diligence, and skill, Caskey has climbed through the ranks and become one of the most sought after artists in the city.

What does the sobriquet Miss Birdy mean to you? Where did it come from?

When I was three years old, I was attacked by a bird roughly my same size … when I moved to Columbus in 2012, I had a dreadful phobia of birds. When my peers found out about my kryptonite, they were brutal. They illustrated me as a bird, squawked at me from across the campus and eventually started calling me … Birdy.

Around the same time, I was transitioning from “academic fine artist” into a “street artist.” During this period I was realizing my full potential, harnessing all of my fear and dispelling it. The larger and faster I started painting, I found that birds became the perfect image to explore. I didn’t realize it then, but painting giant birds onto walls was actually giving me the power I needed to defeat my fear.

So that is where Birdy came from—tell me about where Mandi came from. Were you a happy kid? Did art envelop you as a child?

I grew up lost in middle America, a.k.a Lima, Ohio. Living in a ranch-style house tucked in a neighborhood that had no kids my age gave me a great sense of self adventure and exploration. My teachers didn’t know how to interact with me as a child, so they placed me on a rainbow variety of medications for concentration. They even placed me at a desk facing the wall for a full year, completely excluding me from my classmates. That feeling of isolation forced me experiment with ways to express myself without being harshly judged or labeled as an outsider. That is when I discovered drawing. Art class didn’t start getting interesting until high school. I finally found the teachers that understood the way that I looked at the world and pushed me to achieve goals I never thought I would have. [They] both gave me the fundamental foundation to my artistic knowledge and became like family, especially after my father died in 2008. My dad was my biggest fan—he would always tell me how proud he was of my work. It was that year that I officially decided to become an artist. I know that’s what my father always wanted for me. Reflecting on my childhood, I see a very observant, rebellious, goofy kid that just wanted to create something memorable.

Did you feel defeated dropping out of art school, or did you know that it was the only way for you to succeed?

Art school, art school, art school … going into art school and dropping out were both necessary actions to my path to success. As we learn and develop, we start consciously and unconsciously visualizing our future, tracing imaginary paths to the outcomes of our standing position. I remember sitting in my small one bedroom apartment in Olde Town East, smoking weed, and visualizing that very future. I wrote down my current position and the many outcomes in which it holds. I didn’t like what I saw. I was 20. I wasn’t producing the work I should have and nothing seemed to fit. So, this little Birdy decided it was time to stop cold turkey. There was two weeks left in the last semester of my sophomore year. I was on the President’s list and had a very good reputation with the school when I completely stopped going, I didn’t turn any projects in. I didn’t say a word to my teachers. Even though I had everything done, I just couldn’t see any point leading my life in that direction anymore. Sure, I felt defeated, but used street art as a way to build that artistic confidence back.

When did you first realize that this was something beyond a hobby—a way to make a living?

I don’t ever recall a time where I needed or wanted validation for what I was doing as an artist, I just wanted to do it and do it well. This decision is never easy, and hands down the riskiest thing you can do as a young professional with no money saved up and only a small reputation as an artist. In 2015 I was just a waitress, a coffee maker, a person that worked a normal job. As I looked at myself, I started to realize I was putting so much of my time and effort into these jobs that didn’t define me. Being Mandi Caskey, the nice girl that served tomato basil at Brioso, wasn’t enough for me. I knew that if I jumped in I’d have to start swimming. There never was nor ever will be a backup plan. I never found the right time to drop out of art school and I never found the right time to quit my jobs to start my own business. Just doing it made sense at the time.

What inspires you to create? What excites you?

Most of my work is fueled by emotional havoc, whether its inner turmoil or a reflection of my surroundings. Creation is the only way for me to process my existence. It may sound lame or cliche, especially given I’m no savant, but the struggle with making art is the only thing that has never let me down. I’m always learning and expressing myself in different ways. I gather a mixed breed of ambiguous perceptions and recreate a feeling. Up until two years ago my work was purely selfish. It was always something I wanted to do for myself and if you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to look at it. As I mature, so does my attitude toward creating art. I learn my audience and the individuals I’m speaking to. I want my viewers to engage in a conversation with the work, place themselves in a vulnerable state and to receive unguided honesty. Now that I work more in the public realm, it’s extremely important for me to understand culture and human nature.

What would you say your art says about you as a person?

As a traditional painter and artist, I don’t create prints and I won’t recreate a piece the same way a second time. I believe this depicts me as a very honest and blunt person. Anyone that knows me personally understands that I wear my heart on my sleeve but I’ll be the first person to take off your rose-colored glasses. When the work is good, I’m happy and inspired. When the work is lacking, I become extremely introverted and my confidence plummets. As I think about it, I realize that I’m never the person that influences the art, the art has always influenced me. If I don’t finish something, I won’t sleep. If something isn’t good enough, I won’t stop until it is. Or I will start over. I hold my work to a very high standard because as an artist my biggest fear is leveling out and not progressing. There are a lot of people in this city that have been working to make public art more of a movement instead of an accessory. I feel like Mandi and Birdy stepped in at the perfect time to make arguments and point fingers at the things that need to change in order for the contemporary mural movement to live and survive in Columbus. I will always continue to push our cities art scene, with honest, unfiltered passion.

What projects are you working on now?

Currently, I’m working on three  private commissions, several mural proposals to go up in downtown Columbus, a collaboration with an international artist, a proposal for a solo show in Fort Wayne, a collaboration show with Ruth Award at 934 Gallery, a three-month residency to do three large scale murals in Lima, Ohio, a collaboration with a stalwart in the fashion industry, (I can’t name names yet,) was just nominated and chosen to be on the Create Columbus Commission, a mural in Cleveland, and several murals in Louisville, KY. These are the things for 2018 so far, and I would really like to force myself to make more work for me this year. I find myself going through that very familiar transitioning point. I can tell that it’s really a good year to work on self-reflection and my artistic needs. So stay tuned for some weird shit … 

You can see Caskey’s work on the top floor observation deck of the Rhodes Tower and at the Open Air Art Museum at The Inn at Honey Run in Lithopolis. To find more of Caskey’s work, visit her website birdyco.com and follow her Instagram at @miss.birdy. 

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Food & Drink

The Interview Issue: Columbus Brewing Company owners Beth & Eric Bean

Mitch Hooper

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Columbus Brewing Company was at the forefront of the craft beer movement. Beth and Eric Bean are making sure it stays that way.

The next time you crack open a bottle of Columbus Brewing Company’s Bodhi, turn the bottle around until you see a seal of approval label. On every single bottle of CBC’s brews, there’s a quality assurance mark, signaling to the drinker that the brewer is proud enough of this beer to put their name on it. The name you’ll find on all bottles of CBC is Eric Bean, co-owner and brewmaster. And while he and his wife—CBC co-owner Beth Bean—have become more focused on working on their business rather than working for their business since taking over this legacy company in 2014, beer is always on their minds.

In 2019, CBC celebrated its 31st birthday, marking it as one of the longest-standing local breweries in Columbus. The special year also welcomed in a first for the company: a brewery and taproom on the city’s west side. It might sound crazy that one of the oldest breweries in Columbus is also one of the last to open a taproom, but the Beans both echoed this sentiment: it was the next proverbial step. While stocking bars with kegs and grocery stores with bottles is a way to monitor how brews are doing in terms of popularity, the immediate feedback from customers in the taproom can help influence future brews, which are being created daily in the back. It’s the new age, and even local breweries want analytics.

The opening of the taproom also represents the work the Beans have put in since taking over CBC, a journey that can be split into many silos. The brewery they took over holds a legacy in the Columbus community— both as an institution that is local, and one that serves some damn good beers. It’s up to Eric and Beth to not just maintain that status, but better yet, propel it to the next level. Outside some financial help from a bank, the brewery is essentially independent of investors, meaning there is creative freedom, but also plenty of risk. It’s also up to the Beans to craft the voice behind the brand of the beer. With a few iterations under its belt, the current CBC logo represents the traditions built by brewers past thanks to the old style font, and the brewers of the future thanks to modern illustrations, clever names, and interesting designs on the bottle.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

The Beans are dedicated owners. While Eric starts his mornings bright and early for sensory tests and meetings, Beth is no stranger to working late into the evening, solving errors on the website and preparing for future projects.

In talking with the Beans, you can tell the two love every aspect of the brewing process. While showing (614) around the brewery, Eric’s eyes lit up as he talked about CBC’s sour program, or the new bottling system which helps monitor the amount of oxygen getting into the bottle once it’s sealed. (It turns out oxygen can be detrimental to beer over time after the bottling process, and the new device allows the Beans to discover where there might be kinks in the distribution line.) It’s subtle moves like this that ensure a quality product finds its way into pint glasses across the city.

“We’ve always said we don’t want people to buy our beer just because it’s local—we want that to be a bonus,” Eric explained. “We want to be the best beer on the shelf [...] And it’s difficult. Making high quality beer is not as simple as many small brewers have found. It’s a lot easier when people are coming over and drinking your beer for free.”

This love for beer has roots that run deep for Eric. Prior to CBC, Eric was the brewmaster at Gordon Biersch, a well-loved national restaurant and brewery chain that began in 1988. Before that, Eric took his time to master his craft—literally. He attended U.C. Davis, where he studied brewing science in the master brew program under the guidance of a German-trained brewmaster.

“Henrick was the brewmaster and he was like, ‘Look, craft beer is going to stay. What I see as a problem is there aren’t trained brewers in the U.S. There are a bunch of talented brewers that don’t have the technical skills,’ ” Eric recalled. “He was the one who really convinced me that if I wanted to make a niche in this industry, I had to go to brewing school.”

The goal for Eric since the beginning has been the same: make high-quality beer he can be proud of while also pushing the envelope.

Originally, CBC approached Eric about coming on as the head brewmaster. He had other ideas in mind, kindly declining the offer and following up with a bigger ask: could he just outright buy the company?

“It was a Friday afternoon meeting that wasn’t really planned, and within a couple of weeks we were negotiating it and putting it all together,” Eric recalled.

It didn’t take long for CBC to need more space for all the projects they were working on at the time.

“In the end at the old place, we’d have to drive the forklift into the parking lot to turn it around and get it back in,” Beth said. “We never thought we’d fill the new place, but if you look in the back, that’s not the case.”

The face and voice of the company comes from Beth, who manages the social channels with her own photography. It’s not often considered when it comes to drinking, but branding is a large part of what helps to sell your beers. While the true “King of Beers” might be up for debate, the trademarked King of Beers is something we are all too aware of. The same can be said for local brewers. Finding a way to stand out on the shelves is a challenge, and something as simple as a nice looking bottle design can be the difference between sipping a six pack of CBC IPA, or a case of Bud Light. The Beans entrust graphic designer Greg Davis to create the label designs, and his art work can be found on the murals inside the brewery and taproom.

The pinnacle of their hard work comes in the form of a bottle, the Columbus IPA. Prior to the Beans taking over, CBC was stocked with pale ales and lagers, but it was Eric who introduced a West Coast IPA to the line up. It was an instant success, and it led to the birth of other popular IPAs such as the aforementioned Bohdi and Creeper, both of which have been award recipients at the Great American Beer Festival.

“I think that’s why people know us, you know? Mostly IPAs,” Beth said. “That’s what really is the backbone.”

The Beans said 2014 is when they noticed the craft beer boom start to pick up steam. Couple a community’s interest in where their goods are coming from with a growing need for elevated options and you have the perfect storm for CBC. This is also when other local breweries started to find popularity, and the Beans tip their caps to places like Wolf’s Ridge for combining high quality beers with thoughtful dishes. While the CBC brewery and taproom currently doesn’t feature food, the Beans are working on a food adventure near Old Towne East called the Trolley Barn which will host CBC taps in the future.

Though the love of the brand and the beer is apparent, the care the two show towards its staff further proves the Beans’ dedication to quality. When the two took over CBC, the staff was much smaller than the more than 40 employees they have today.

“We always try to remember it’s not just Eric and I. It’s not just our house on the line,” Beth explained. “We have a bunch of employees and families that count on us and we are trying to make sure they have jobs in the future. We’re responsible for a lot of people—and not just us. Also the people we buy from. It’s like a whole community.”

As always for the Beans, its quality over quantity. This mantra is what has made this brewery into what it is today. And if Eric and Beth’s time at CBC has proven anything, it’s that all great things take a little time and a lot of beer.

The Columbus Brewing Company Taproom is located at 2555 Harrison Road. Visit columbusbrewing.com to learn more.

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Community

The Interview Issue: Columbus Partnership President/CEO Alex Fischer

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Alex Fischer looks towards the future of Columbus.

Alex Fischer is the most connected person in Columbus you’re unlikely to have heard of. Unless, that is, you dig beyond headlines and comb through the fine print of nearly any article discussing Columbus’ economic future, its business community, or even the recent campaign to keep the Columbus Crew in Ohio’s capital city.

To the engaged eye, Fischer—President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, an organization of 75 CEOs in Central Ohio—is everywhere, a ubiquitous presence at the intersection of city and state politics, economic development, and civic life. For the Tennessee-born-and- raised Fischer—whose versatile career includes stints in city planning, business, public policy, and the nonprofit sector— leadership means possessing the skill set to anticipate what is necessary for success, prompt action from others, or if needed, deliver it himself.

Such versatility and incisiveness is perhaps the trademark quality of an urban planner, and it’s no surprise that Fischer sought this interdisciplinary training from a young age.

Fischer came to appreciate the urban planning space as a high school student in Hendersonville, Tennessee, leading his peers in an effort to prevent the demolition of Hazel Path, an old Antebellum home in town. Through that fight, Fischer quickly learned the power of public protest and collective action.

“One individual didn’t change that development, but I think I participated in the dialogue that went from tearing down [Hazel Path] to preserving it and allowing development to occur,” he said. “In my hometown it’s still held up as a really good example of quality development that also had a historic preservation bent to it. And I can point to that and say, ‘Hey, I think I made a little bit of a difference.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Fischer spent his early career involved in a variety of business and charitable endeavors in Knoxville. The principals with whom he came into contact in those years shaped his understanding of cross-sector leadership.

“Tennessee has a tradition of public servants coming out of the business world, so I saw a lot of examples of business leaders interrupting their careers for public service,” Fischer explains. “At a young age, I got to know multi- billionaires on the community side of their passions, not the business side, and so those all influenced me to realize that now in this organization of 75 CEOs, that there’s a real opportunity for business leaders to use the strength of their businesses and their leadership for the betterment of their community.”

After several years in private industry, Fischer transitioned into the public sector, serving as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development before rising to the role of Deputy Governor and Chief of Staff to Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist in the early 2000s.

It was, perhaps, a bit of a surprise that the man with deep Tennessee roots, business connections, and a role at the pinnacle of local policymaking would transition to a similar position in Ohio. But that’s exactly what happened in 2002, when Fischer moved to Columbus to begin a position as the Senior Vice President for Business and Economic Development at Battelle, the Columbus-based scientific research and development firm.

Fischer acknowledges the transition to Ohio was a little odd—“because I was so deeply rooted in the ideals of what we’re doing in Columbus in a different state and different cities.”

He soon found his way to the epicenter of Columbus’ civic and business life—he now serves as a Trustee of The Ohio State University, and the Chairman of Nationwide Children’s Hospital—and developed an appreciation for the city’s unique professional culture.

“In the process [of moving], I found things in Columbus that I realized I had never experienced before. I’d never experienced the level of collaboration. The level of tolerance and acceptance in this city is pretty phenomenal in contrast to some other places that I’ve lived,” Fischer explains. “What’s so motivating [about working in Columbus] is this being such a perfect place to do the work. By that I mean this culture: the scale of the city, the collaborative nature, the Midwestern values, the fact that we have four seasons. All the ingredients exist here.”

At the helm of the Partnership, Fischer has vast capacity and bandwidth to influence the Columbus economy in the near-term while rallying leaders across multiple sectors behind an aspirational vision for the future. Columbus 2020, the city’s economic development plan for this decade, launched roughly 10 years ago and allowed Fischer a vehicle with which to implement his vision. He decided early on that the project would shoot for the moon.

”[Columbus 2020] was a very ambitious set of goals. All the analysis said we couldn’t meet the goals but it’s like, “OK, so what? Let’s go for it,” Fischer laughs. “And if we happen to miss the goals but in the process do some really great things, I don’t think anybody will complain. Well, we surpassed all the goals and it’s really interesting to have been accountable for it from the start until now.”

In addition to the obvious economic development successes in Columbus—the ongoing redevelopment of Downtown, recruitment of healthy corporations, and expansion across the 11-county Central Ohio metropolitan area— the region has benefitted from unexpected windfalls, such as the economic growth driven by data centers for big tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook. Fischer attributes Columbus’ successful branding efforts and continued growth to multiple factors, most specifically a uniquely collaborative culture among Partnership members and public officials, and an explicit focus on the recruitment of civic- minded companies and workers.

“I think it’s all about culture. I was not thinking this way 10 or 20 years ago. I think the future of the Partnership, the future of Columbus, is you keep preserving and teaching culture. That doesn’t mean that it has to be done exactly the same way— inevitably, it won’t because things are changing so fast. One of our cultural aspects that I’m proud of is that we’re comfortable in that very fast-changing environment [...] Continuing to evolve that culture by not just taking it for granted is really important. I think it could slip away if it’s not being cultivated.”

Columbus also stands out nationally in what Fischer calls “the talent war” as the home to approximately 150,000 college students, many of whom will be relied upon to remain in Central Ohio and continue the city’s economic momentum.

“The fierce competition for workforce is where we’re going to be leading the country [...] There’s less of a hierarchy in Columbus for people who want to get involved and make an impact.”

To be sure, Columbus’ traditional selling points remain part of the equation as the Partnership sells Central Ohio to potential clients.

“It still really does matter that we’re in the center of the U.S. population, we’re a day’s drive from anywhere, a great quality of life, a great cost of living. We’re not congested, despite challenges with the commute. All of that adds up. Increasingly, though, it’s about talent. Companies are moving where they can get the talent. And Columbus is a city that is recruiting the talent.”

The rebrand of Columbus’ economic development organization from Columbus 2020 to One Columbus coincides with the birth of a much greater ambition, of a future in which Columbus will be able to stand alone as a city, when the suffix ‘Ohio’ will be redundant and obsolete. Fischer is well aware that sustained growth will require more of the discipline and urgency that permitted success this decade.

Specifically, he stresses the importance the Partnership places on regional master planning throughout Central Ohio, coupled with what he calls “a relentless drive to the growth agenda.”

“No one should assume we’re going to continue to grow. That was the attitude 20 years ago. The last 10-15 years we have consciously built an infrastructure—of Columbus 2020, now One Columbus—of enabling that growth. There’s a science to it and we can never forget that,” he said.

“Our role is to make sure that we are continuing to grow, at the same time, can we do the best possible job of anywhere in the country at ensuring that the rising tide raises every single boat in a harbor? And can we defy the national trend of a growing economic divide?”

Learn more about the Columbus Partnership at columbuspartnership.com

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People

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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