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Dare to Scare

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 [...]
J.R. McMillan

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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,
the ScareAtorium.

“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.”

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, aka Smiley Virus prepares dinner for her son and a friend. She’s been performing for eight years. By Brian Kaiser

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.

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Arts & Culture

Virtual Experiences bring culture to our couch

614Now

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Now that we're all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we could use some entertainment beyond hours of Netflix bingeing. And yes, Carole probably did it*

WOSU Public Media has come to the rescue by putting together a list of local, virtual experiences to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your bunker. Here's a list of just a few upcoming events ranging from music to the arts.

Sunday, March 29
Columbus Symphony’s Russian Winter Festival – The Columbus Symphony broadcasts its Russian Winter Festival ll concert, featuring masterpieces by Prokofiev, Borodin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky at 1 p.m. on Classical 101.

Columbus Goes Live – The Cyber Festival –  A virtual entertainment experience streaming across different pages to support local performers who are directly impacted by the critical shutdowns of venues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Join in and make history by supporting your favorite bands, comedians and performers in the Columbus area.

Why not a virtual bar?

Brewdog is even getting in on the act with its upcoming, Brewdog Online Bar. They plan to "open" for business at 6pm on Friday, March 27th. The bar plans to feature live beer tastings with our co-founders James and Martin and other beer experts, homebrew masterclasses, live music & comedy and more.

Brewdog will be sharing further details soon and a complete schedule of the events on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

*Carole, as in this Carole.

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Things To Do

8 things to do this week that don’t involve human contact

614now Staff

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It is a strange time to be alive, Columbus. With the concerns and cases of coronavirus on the rise, you may be feeling worried, fearful, and/or unsure of what to do.

In addition to washing your hands to protect you from the virus, you may want to consider being more of an inside person this week. To curb cabin fever, consider these eight activities to keep you occupied indoors.

Plan a getaway

Once the threat of coronavirus is over, which Gov. Mike DeWine assured would happen in yesterday's address, you'll be ready to get the hell out of Columbus. Consider planning a trip to one of the Scarlet Oaks cabins, Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, Yellowsprings, or the birthplace of bourbon!

Schedule a whacky road trip

Already have a vacation on the books and worked into your budget? No problem! Opt for a cheaper, shorter adventure with one of the destinations highlighted in our Worth The Drive series: Buckeye Express Diner in Bellville, Kewpee Hamburgers in Lima, Cincinnati's Hathaway's Diner, Dietsch Brothers chocolate in Findlay, and Waldo’s G&R Tavern.

Test your Columbus knowledge

You're sick of all your board games and you hate the idea of spending another weekend in front of the tube. Liven up your entertainment with Columbus trivia! What is the hottest month on average? What is Hilliard's median household income? What year did the Kahiki close? See how well you know your fine city.

Binge local podcasts

Not only do podcasts entertain, inform, and engage you, they're also great to binge while multitasking. Podcast + mopping the kitchen? No problem. Podcast + walking the dog? Easy. Podcast + julienning veggies? Careful… but definitely possible. Be sure to support local podcasters! We're sure you can find something that'll pique your interest in the list below.

Get hooked on knitting

What better time to dive into your hobby than a worldwide viral outbreak? And though cold weather is almost completely behind us, it's never too early to get a jumpstart on those Christmas gifts. Click the button below to learn more about where to find materials and resources.

Explore the pasta-bilities of a home-cooked meal

You’re probably hungry after all that knitting. Flex on the fam by whipping up a delectable home-cooked Italian meal. You'll have to slip out of the house to grab your groceries from famed local market Carfagna’s, but trust us, it'll be worth it.

Get hyped for Ohio State Buckeyes 2020-21 season

With no spring game to rev your engine pre-season, you may be feeling a Buckeyes football void right about now. To help plug it until the opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 5, check out old Ohio State hype videos below. O-H!

Read the latest issue of (614) Magazine

The physical copies of the March issue of (614) Magazine are flying off the racks, but you don't have to go out into the world to read it. To learn more about the Columbus esport revolution, the latest food and drink news, and other updates in the community, click the button below to read the digital issue.

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Things To Do

Listen Local: 10 Columbus podcasts to binge

Regina Fox

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The thing with binging TV is that you have to be using two senses at once to be engaged: sight and hearing. That really cuts down on the possibilities of getting other things done simultaneously. But, podcasts on the other hand require only one sense—hearing—so the productivity possibilities are exponentially greater.

Podcast + mopping the kitchen? No problem. Podcast + walking the dog? Easy. Podcast + julienning veggies? Careful... but definitely possible.

That, plus the power of spoken word has the ability to inform, entertain, and inspire you unlike any other media.

Now that we've presented a great case for podcasts, consider subscribing to one made right here in Columbus.

The Rock Doc Chronicles

Interviews, Current Events, Entertainment

Being the on-call doctor to some of your favorite musical acts comes with a lot of stories. Dr Randy Sharma (@rockdocohio) sits down with some of his famous patients to discuss whatever comes to mind.

Ohio v. The World

Culture, History, Places & Travel

An Ohio History podcast, hosted by Alex Hastie.

Rogue Squadron Podcast

Culture, Entertainment, Hobbies

Star Wars Comedy, craft beer, gaming, and more. It’s the rowdiest podcast in the galaxy!

Momcast

Culture, Entertainment, Self-Help

Columbus, Ohio moms Mindy Drayer, Mikaela Hunt, and Stacy McKay discuss everything relating to being moms and parenting on weekly installments of the Momcast.

Columbus' Entrepreneurs' Podcast

Business, Entrepreneur

Columbus Entrepreneurs’ Podcast is primarily for members of the Columbus, Ohio chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). The stories are inspiring and focus on core principles of EO, including speaking from experience instead of advice giving, building peer learning experiences, and focusing on the top and bottom 5% of our lives.

Chatimals

Entertainment, Hobbies

Chatimals is the nature podcast where information meets imagination. Each episode covers one kind of animal with an eye out for all the goofy, surprising animal facts.

The Sounds of Bustown

Culture, Entertainment, Music

A bi-weekly podcast featuring interviews about the musical creation process with people in the music scene in Columbus, OH.

Thrive and Connect

Culture, Self-Help

How to live your life in a more genuine, simpler manner and develop abundance in all aspects – yourself, family & friends, and business relationships.

Columbus! Something New

Culture, Entertainment, Places & Travel

Why do we do what we do? Why does C!SN exist?

  • To introduce listeners to local entrepreneurs and big thinkers
  • To be a conduit between community and events, museums, and new experiences
  • To be a value to entrepreneurs as we broadcast them to the world
  • To be a value to listeners as we expand their world and bring them new ideas

The Digital Analytics Power Hour

Business, Technology

Each episode is a closed topic and an open forum – the goal is for listeners to enjoy listening to Michael and Tim share their thoughts and experiences and hopefully take away something to try at work the next day.

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