Editor’s note: Since it came to our attention there was a documentary made about local haunted attraction performers, we wanted to
do our own documentary work to accompany it. Rather than unmask the performers entirely, Brian Kaiser wanted to place them in their everyday lives, yet still in their night-job uniform. Unsettling? Unique? Yeah, probably a bit of both.
No one plans months in advance what to wear to a Christmas party. That’s why Halloween has quickly become the favorite holiday for those tired of turkey and averse to eggnog. The trend is more than seasonal—it’s cultural.
Horror movies are hotter than ever, and Netflix and Amazon are clamoring to greenlight projects that once would have withered. Originally an outlier, AMC’s The Walking Dead routinely draws more viewers than all NFL games combined. Even Jo-Ann starts stocking shelves in July with spiders and skulls long before the last of the fireworks fade.
Despite your costume cred, stitch witchery, and amateur pumpkin craft, haunted house operators are way ahead of you. For a few weeks a year, their long lines and theatrical thrills pack them in. But what goes on behind the scenes has largely remained an industry mystery—until now.
The indie documentary SCARE rips the mask off “haunted attractions,” the technical term for live performance venues that defy your sense of reality, and occasionally
control of your bladder. Columbus filmmaker Don Patterson “shot and chopped” the project over more than a decade, culminating with the final season of a local landmark of terror,
“There’s so much more to this than just building a haunted house. You’ve got actor training, and make-up artists, and scene decorators,” explained Kelly Collins. He and his wife Neena founded the Midwest Haunters Convention, the country’s largest gathering for operators and enthusiasts, bringing standards and insight to the industry. “There’s more to a haunted house than handing someone a mask and saying, ‘Here, go scream at people.’”
For those who still tremble from memories of Terror Park at the old Cooper Stadium, Frightmore Manor in Dublin, and The Northland Asylum and RIP’s 3D Funhouse—now better known collectively as the ScareAtorium—you can thank Kelly and Neena, whose fitting 13-year run is practically unprecedented.
“When Kelly and I first got together, I had no idea there was such a thing as the haunted attraction industry,” she confessed. “Don has footage in the documentary going all the way back to Terror Park. He’s been capturing it since the very beginning.”
Ask any performer whether screen or stage acting is more challenging and rewarding, and most would agree on latter. And there’s definitely evidence of that in the ranks of haunted attractions. From the high school goths who maybe never fit in to theater folk looking for a novel outlet for select skills, there’s a tribe here that starts to resemble more of a family from one year to the next.
“I got my start as the general manager of a campground, and every Saturday at noon I’d get on the tractor, take everyone up into the woods, circle this big tree and come back,” he recalled. “One day a bunch of kids hid behind the tree and jumped out and scared everyone.”
“There’s more to a haunted house than handing someone a mask and saying, ‘Here, go scream at people.’”
Instead of scolding them, Kelly recruited them—keeping the standard hayride by day, but creating a spooky hayride at night that proved wildly popular. That’s when he was approached by the local Jaycees to turn it into something more. They’d recently lost the lease on their haunted house and partnered with Kelly to create a haunted hayride. He was hooked.
“The Jaycees are credited with creating the haunted house industry,” he explained. “Many of the oldest haunts in the country were started or still operated by the Jaycees.”
Short for “Junior Chamber,” the Jaycees, like many long-standing service organizations, have struggled in recent years to attract younger members. But for decades, they operated haunted houses as both a fundraiser and a recruiting effort. Even I didn’t know the Jaycees created the concept of the haunted house, and I used to volunteer throughout high school at one they operated in my hometown in the storage barn of a creepy old train depot.
Ohio actually leads the nation in the number of haunted attractions. Lower lease and land costs are part of it, but so is the Midwestern work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. But it’s still a business.
“Even though we’re only open in October, Neena ran the business year-round. A lot of people who make the jump from home haunt to a professional haunt don’t last long,” he revealed. “Whether they decorated the backyard, garage, or basement, you can’t go to a bank to borrow that kind of money for a seasonal business that’s only open 20 days a year.”
That was the impetus for the Midwest Haunters Convention. Unlike private trade shows that mostly showcase cheap eeks and pricey props, the couple started a public convention to bridge the transition from passion project to profitability, offering classes on the business and art of haunted attractions.
“People sometimes get into it thinking they’re going to make money, but it typically takes three years to break even. They often fail for lack of knowledge, like not understanding fire codes,” Kelly noted, sharing the story of a haunt in an old school building that had to put $150,000 upfront into a sprinkler system before they could even open.
“Code standards are higher for haunted houses than they are for schools,” chided Neena. “People often ask us what it takes to run a million-dollar haunt and I tell them about $3 million.”
Neighbors can also be a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing. Germain Amphitheater closed for lots of reasons. Competition, controversy, and crowd control killed it long before an invasion of Scandinavian furniture. But noise and traffic complaints from nearby homeowners were probably the final nail in the coffin.
“Having a haunted house in a former funeral home sounds great, until you consider the parking problem. There just aren’t enough spaces,” he explained. “We had three great locations, but with 10,000 people coming through a year, even we had to keep moving.”
Upping the adrenaline also requires keeping things fresh, which for the Collins required replacing roughly a third of the attraction each year, with construction on new rooms starting as early as March.
Fortunately, their rate of staff return provided the continuity many haunts lack and envy. They fostered talent with an audition process and informal mentoring from actors and artisans who quickly became more than just part-time employees.
“When we’d break for meals, I’d make everyone put their phones away. I was a dad like that to everyone,” Kelly confessed. “Of the 150 or so staff, we had about 85 percent return year after year. It really became more of a family. We cherished it,” Neena noted.
The Collinses recently sold their creepy creation to Thirteenth Floor, the nation’s premiere haunted house operator. Though the two are technically retired, and their haunt lives on under new management and through the documentary, it may not be the last we see of them.
“Kelly will still be consulting with the Midwest Haunters Convention and he may be doing some work with Shadowbox Live in Columbus,” Neena revealed. “Even in retirement, he’s busier than ever.”
13th Floor Haunted House, still Columbus’s largest haunted attraction, is located at 2605 Northland Plaza. For open dates, tickets, and group rates, visit 13thfloorcolumbus.com. To view a trailer for SCARE, visit youtu.be/teo0UHkCldY.
614NOW Survival Guide: Asian Festival
Every year, the beautiful and lush space at Franklin Park Conservatory plays host to The Asian Festival. It’s a festival where Ohioans come together to celebrate all Asian cultures and cuisines ranging from China to India to Vietnam. Whether it’s inspired dance, martial arts, or new-to-you desserts, this festival offers a chance to explore Columbus’s rich Asian culture while enjoying a day at the Conservatory.
And before you head out this weekend, here are a few tips to making the most out of Asian Festival.
Let’s Just Get This Out Of The Way Now: It’s Free
Obviously, food and drinks, and anything else you want to purchase costs money, but it’s totally free to hang out. Bring your little ones! This time you won’t have to use the classic white lie to get free admission. You know the conversation I’m talking about: “Ok, today, you guys are all 10-years-old, got it?”
Hot From The Sun? Cool Off With Dessert
Asian Festival is mostly outdoors and Ohio’s summers can be just as brutal as Ohio’s winters. J-Pops are popsicles, but these send your local ice cream truck guy running home to his mom. These gourmet pops come in flavors like lemon basil or watermelon mint. On the other hand, options like Aloha Ice is your stop for shaved ice in a multitude of flavors. And of course, rolled ice cream courtesy of Simply Rolled Ice Cream LLC is your Insta-aesthetic option.
So You Think You Can… Art?
You don’t have to be exclusive to being a spectator throughout the weekend, there’s plenty of ways to participate. Saturday is loaded from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. with craft-driven activities like Chinese calligraphy at 10 a.m., or paper animal construction at 4 p.m. Sunday keeps this ball rolling with activities like kimono design at 2 p.m.
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Step Out Of Your Cuisine Comfort Zone!
The classic American/Midwesterner in you might only think of that takeout joint down the road from your house when you think of Asian cuisine, but I’m here to tell you, you’re sorely mistaken and missing out. Asian food spans across many different countries. Do you love Ramen? Ok, admittedly, that’s an easy one, but your kids will know it and probably love it* (*no promises, kids are unpredictable).
What about Bahn Mi? Never had it? It’s a Vietnamese sandwich that will change your damn life. There’s also the opportunity to try the popular Hawaiian dish, poke—a rice bowl that typically features raw fish with veggies and sauces. Even your vegan friends can find a delicious Indian meal from Flavors Of India.
Have A (Tea) Party!
Saturday also plays host to tea tastings for those looking for something new in their mugs. The first of the two is slated earlier in the day while the second will serve as one of the last events to cap off the first day of the festival.
Asian Festival is happening Saturday, June 25 from 10:00AM- 8:00PM and Sunday, June 26 from 10:00AM0 6:00PM at Franklin Park.
614 Survival Guide: Dime-A-Dog Night
Warmer days are finally here and it’s that time of the year everyone can’t stop talking about. No, it isn’t patio season. We aren’t talking about summer festivals, either. We’re talking baseball, and more specifically, we’re talking hot dogs you can buy for just 10 pennies.
The Columbus Clipper’s Dime-A-Dog Night is not only a chance to enjoy America’s pastime, it’s a chance to test your eating endurance. How many hot dogs can you put down in nine innings? To beer, or to not to beer; that is the potentially bloated question. And you do realize how many dogs you can get for $20 right? That’s 200 dogs, dawg!
Surviving this madness, however, is an art unto itself. You can expect longer lines, but everyone is just getting hot dogs so you can also expect them to move relatively quickly. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we are here to help. Here’s a six tips to making the most of Dime-A-Dog night.
6.) Bring the Tums, hun
Don’t be a hero, bring the anti-acid. Hot dogs are hotbeds for hidden ingredients, and you don’t know when one will drop a missile of indigestion upon you. Be prepared, pack the little chalky tablets.
5.) Bring The Little Ones
Dime-A-Dog night is a great way to change up the speed of things throughout your weekdays without having to tank a ton of money into entertainment. Beyond the insanely cheap Sugardale hot dogs, children under the age of 2 get in for free!
4.) Be Early (duh!)
This is a no brainer, but it pays to be in the know. For 7:05 p.m. starts, the gates will open 90 minutes prior to opening pitch. On the other hand for 6:35 p.m. starts, the gates open one hour before opening pitch. Being first in the gates means you have first crack at the fresh hot dogs that weren’t made at lightening speed to keep up with orders. This leads me to my next point….
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3.) Know The Flow
Dogs at the beginning of the game taste better than dogs later, but there is a Goldie Locks point. At a certain moment during the game, bellies are going to get full and the rush for more food slows down. This is when you should have your second wind. The hot dog slinging has slowed down and the lines aren’t nearly as long. Take it easy on the first run through and save some room for dessert: more dime-a-dogs.
2.) Beer: Your Enemy, Or Friend?
This tip is more of a “check yourself before you wreck yourself” thing. For some people, beer is the magical elixir that allows them to devour hot dogs like Joey Chestnut (*not literally). If this is you, you know the fuel to your fire. For other people (me), beer and carbonation fills the stomach too quickly leaving no room for more hot dogs. If this is you, mixed drinks are your happy alternative.
1.) Go Crazy And Buy More Expensive Tickets
#NotAnAd. Seriously, though. Think of the money you’ll be saving on dinner (and potentially breakfast the next day if you wear cargo shorts). Two quarters will get you five hot dogs and that’s damn near an entire pack from the store. A few extra bucks could be the difference between catching a fly ball and never coming close. Protip: the seats along the third base line are nice, but make sure you bring your shades because that sun set shines directly in your eyes blocking your view… of more hot dogs.
3 ways to fill Game of Thrones gap until next week
In the world where Netflix has made series available in its entirety for maximum binge-watching, waiting a week for the next episode of Game Of Throne feels something like an eternity. It seems like there’s not enough fan theories to dig through, reviews to confirm your beliefs (or send you into spiraling rage), and the famous three words “Winter Is Here” is practically tattooed on your forehead.
Last night’s first episode of the final season has taken the world by storm, and here’s a few ways to get your fill of GoT until the next episode aires.
Game Of Thrones Pub Quiz at Fado Irish Pub | 4022 Townsfair Way
Monday, April 15, 7:00 PM
So you think you’re the smartest fan in the city? Put your money where your mouth is then! Hit up Fado for their quiz night on all things GoT and finally prove all those hours on the fandom wikipedia page were worth it. If you’re victorious, you’ll win a the King’s Feast which is dinner for eight. And $10 specials on buckets of beer is always a win in our books.
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Game Of Thrones Night at Ruby Tuesday | 1978 Summit St.
Monday, April 15, 8:00 PM
Let’s face it, anyone who doesn’t watch the show (AKA most of your co-workers who don’t pay for HBO) aren’t really looking forward to your Monday morning ramblings recapping the latest episodes. Instead of being avoided at the office, stop by Ruby Tuesday to discuss in-depth all the rumblings and developments in each episode with all your other fellow fans. Your co-workers are already relieved, and Ruby Tuesday will have pizza and beer.
Game Of Thrones Dinner at 101 Beer Kitchen | 7509 Sawmill Rd.
Tuesday, April 16, 6:30 PM
It’s a feast fit for royalty at 101 Beer Kitchen as they’ll be hosting a large dinner akin to the Purple Wedding—hopefully your name isn’t Joffrey Baratheon—for $75 a ticket. Your food and cocktail menu will include specialty GoT-themed entrées and drinks, and it’s encouraged to wear a costume so you can have a chance to win prizes!
Looking for more ways to show off your fandom? Check back periodically for an updated look on what Game Of Thrones events and parties are going on in the city.