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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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Things To Do

“Different kind of luxury,” offered at The Mohicans newest treehouse

614now Staff

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From the open road to the campground, Airstream's iconic, Ohio-built trailers are among the most stylish camper options on the market.

Now, The Mohicans Treehouse Resort and Wedding Venue wants you to enjoy the Airstream experience like you've never seen it before—25 feet off the ground.

Built from a 31-foot re-purposed 1978 Airstream trailer, the "Silver Bullet" is the latest in the resort's lineup of luxurious treetop cabins. Equipped with black walnut flooring, recycled barn siding walls, indoor and outdoor showers, a skylight and a sauna, this cabin mixes the old with the new by blending vintage materials with the aluminum details of the classic aerodynamic trailer. 

"This is something I've thought about doing for a long time," The Mohicans owner Kevin Mooney said in a statement. "A few years ago, Airstreams were considered the ultimate in camping luxury. My other treehouses were built with luxury features, like hardwood walls and trim, black walnut flooring, cherry ceilings, ornate windows and quality furnishings. The Airstream offers a different kind of luxury."

Those interested in reserving this or one of The Mohicans other spaces can contact (740) 599-9030 or [email protected] for pricing and availability.

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Things To Do

Date with Danger: 10 exciting outings for adrenaline junkies

J.R. McMillan

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First dates are the worst dates. Expectations are impossibly high, and almost always fall short. The delicate balance between intriguing and arrogant tends to favor a lot of forgettable chitchat and awkward silence. And the longer couples are together, the more boring it becomes.

Sometimes, you need to be bold and hold nothing back. Skip the white linen tablecloth and track down that new food truck. Forget the latest rom-com and go for an obscure indie film. But if you really want to impress, make it the best first excursion or overdue evening out you and that certain someone have ever had by booking a date with danger.

Here are some local adventures to get your hearts pumping and hormones humming — because adrenaline is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Kinetic Climbing and Fitness

Rock climbing, or “bouldering”, is a year-round sport for beginning to advanced climbers at this enormous west side facility. Come conquer the walls, or work your way up and under one of the angular ledges if you dare. Owner Tony Reynaldo is not only an accomplished climber himself, but a world-renowned climbing equipment designer whose unique finger and toe holds pepper the colorful vertical playground.

The Bullet Ranch

If Bonnie and Clyde were a contemporary courting couple, they’d probably be road-trip regulars at The Bullet Ranch in Pataskala. In addition to the standard amenities of an indoor rifle and pistol range, rental firearms include an authentic 1928 Thompson machine gun with two drums of ammunition. There’s also a 5-stand shotgun course out back during warmer weather with a little more boom for your buck.

Royal Arts Fencing Academy

Satisfy your inner swashbuckler with a pointed lesson in classical fencing from a seasoned professional. Founder Julia Richey, a former member of the Russian National Team, began fencing when she was just 14. Though Royal Arts east side studio started as a club for sport fencing, it has grown to include classes for long sword, samurai, and yes, lightsabers. There’s even bartitsu (think British gentlemen’s jiu-jitsu) for the debonair duo.

Columbus Axe Throwing

What’s more deadly than a dart and less blunt than a bowling ball? Axe throwing, of course. If you’re looking for something sharp and spontaneous, you really can walk in, grab a slab of metal on a wooden stick, and hurl at a target on the wall. Tucked away off Busch Boulevard, it’s safe, simple, and supervised — and there’s beer. What could possibly go wrong?

Movement Activities

Join the circus for the weekend without quitting your day job. Among the many unexpected startups at 400 West Rich, Movement Activities offers aerial dance classes. Their monthly beginners workshop will show you the ropes before moving on to more advanced maneuvers. Between the trapeze and the climbing silks, you and your partner could be fifty shades of fit and flexible in no time flat.

LVL UP Sports

If body paint is too weird, why not try paintball? LVL UP Sports offers multiple distinct parks in one. From the dense darkness of “The Woods” and Minecraft-inspired “Cubez” to the castle and kingdom of “Valken Village”, this Grove City shooting gallery is close to home, yet worlds away. And when both of you get back and throw your clothes in the wash, who know where the night might lead?

ZipZone Outdoor Adventures

Explore 20 acres of elevated trails on the grounds of Camp Mary Orton, just north of 270 and 23, as you zip from platform to platform over the forest below. Courageous couples might consider a “Zip Rush” tour with two new sky bridges and a free fall “rappel”. Two-hour canopy tours reveal plants and wildlife in silent serenity, while monthly moonlight tours make the most of Earth’s round romantic satellite. 

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

Every couple eventually argues over who is the better driver. Here’s your chance to finally find out. In addition to operating two professional racecar circuits about an hour north of Columbus, Mid-Ohio also offers performance driving schools. Learning the physics and dynamics of high-speed racing might seem dry. But climbing into an Acura ILX for several pulse-pounding trips around the track should get your engines going.

Skydive Greene County

There are plenty of fly-by-night outfits willing to let you jump out of a perfectly good aircraft. But Skydive Greene County, founded in 1961, is the oldest skydiving school in Ohio. Why take chances at 10,000 feet? The private airport in Xenia is a short drive for a fast free fall. Tandem jumps are available all year, weather permitting. (Please note, you’ll each be strapped to a stranger, not each other.)

Balloon Masters

If slow and serene is more your style than a speeding car or plummeting from the sky, try a tranquil sunset view from a hot air balloon instead. From a “champagne flight for two” to a bona fide “balloon wedding”, Balloon Masters even has a honeymoon package paired with a local bed & breakfast on Lake Logan in Hocking Hills for a weekend away — and a polite, piloted escape from your guests and in-laws.

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Food & Drink

Discount Date Destinations: Saturday Samplings at The Refectory

Lindsay Pinchot

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Welcome to Discount Date Destinations, where we’ll bring you the best places in the city with date-night-worthy atmospheres and food and drink specials that won’t break the bank. In today’s installment, we head to The Refectory.

For many, The Refectory evokes images of elegant anniversary dinners and impressive date nights, and rightly so. The Refectory has long been established as one of Columbus’ best and most beautiful restaurants, serving contemporary American and classic French cuisine. It probably isn’t one of the first places you think of when you hear “discount,” but maybe it should be.

Every Saturday afternoon from 12pm- 3pm, The Refectory hosts Saturday Samplings, a weekly wine tasting event. For only $15-$20 per person, depending on the flight that week, you taste a selection of different wines and help yourself to light hors d’oeuvre while relaxing in the Refectory’s charming bar area.

When you’re done tasting, additional glasses of the wines are only $5 each, so you can stay and sip your favorites. Last weekend, my husband and I attended the first in a themed, two-part Saturday Sampling series: For the Love of Wine. We had a great experience.

The ambiance was wonderful, especially for a wintry Saturday. Upon arrival, we were given a warm welcome and tasting cards listing information about each of the wines we’d be sampling. At the top of the tasting cards was a question, “When did you first fall in love with wine?” which led to some entertaining conversation, both between the two of us and with the staff. The sommelier poured each wine as we were ready for it, giving us a little background on it and explaining what we could expect from the taste. Between glasses we snacked on an array of breads, cheeses, oils, and hearty dips.

The best part? None of the selections were too pricey and all were available for purchase from The Refectory’s wine shop. Our favorite taste of the day was only $12.99 a bottle.

Saturday Samplings is a fun, relaxed way to experience The Refectory where all wine drinkers, from newbies to decades-long aficionados, will feel welcome. For the Love of Wine (Part 2) is this Saturday, so grab your valentine and head to The Refectory for a cozy afternoon. When you’re done, buy your favorite bottle to take home and split snuggled up on the couch.

https://www.facebook.com/refectoryrestaurant/posts/10158294760883826:0

The Refectory is located at 1092 Bethel Rd. For more information, visit refectory.com.

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