Oct 16, 2022
For the past seven years, Jeremy Cross of Warren has spent weekend nights in October in a metal casket in a cornfield, waiting to pop up and scare people with his zombified face and the element of surprise.
“It’s actually a lot of fun to scare people,” Cross said. “Each of us, we kind of just do it in our own way.”
Cross, whose favorite holiday is Halloween, is one of some 80 actors who haunt Fear Forest on Tod Avenue SW in Lordstown and make it into the terrifying place it is.
The whole state of Ohio is a pretty scary place to be — at least in October.
The state is among the top in the U.S. for haunted houses. In fact, online haunted house directory The Scare Factor lists Ohio as the state with the most haunted houses — 127, to California’s 120 and Pennsylvania’s 101.
The states with the fewest haunts, by the way, are Alaska, with just two, Hawaii with three and Wyoming with four, according to The Scare Factor. Puerto Rico rings in at the bottom of the barrel with just one listed haunted house.
While The Scare Factor’s numbers might not be exact, there is no doubt that haunts are popular in Ohio, with at least a half dozen trails, houses and hayrides operating in the Mahoning Valley alone.
Jeffrey Jiang of Cortland has run the Friday and Saturday night haunted trail, Maniacs in the Woods, for the past six years. The nonprofit haunt started by his mother, De Anna Fuchilla, “who is the one running the show and jumping through the hoops,” is put on by and supports most of the operating costs of Boy Scout Troop 54.
“You really don’t know if it works until your first group goes through,” Jiang said of the ever-changing trail.
He said the Scouts spend about four months preparing for the event, planning a theme and mapping out the flow of roughly 15 scenes scattered along the trail at the Bazetta Optimist Club. They shop for new props every November, when Halloween items go on sale.
It’s no small task putting on the haunt, Jiang said. Every night, the all-volunteer cast arrives two hours early for costumes and makeup. Plus, there are the little details: Making sure props have batteries, testing the sound, checking lights and wiring.
“The amount of work that goes into it is astonishing,” Jiang said.
Allen Tura has been in the haunt business since the late 1990s, when he started designing for a haunt in Canfield, he said.
Tura makes Halloween props such as mechanical alligators and dinosaurs, and builds spinning vortex tunnels through his company, GEP Productions. He started because he felt the props on the market weren’t good enough quality.
“I don’t have any diplomas. I don’t have any certifications. I just have a good imagination and a mindset to design mechanical items,” Tura said.
Tura and his wife, Juliana, opened Fear Forest in 2004, first as a haunted hayride and eventually as a haunted hayride, house, trail and corn maze — “four terrifying attractions.”
Special effects artists Sarah Rizer and Dan Click of Newton Falls give Tura’s legion of monster actors their frightening looks with face paint, latex scars and plenty of fake blood. They have worked on movies, but said they enjoy haunts just as much.
“The haunts are fun. You have to be quick but can also be creative,” Click said.
Tura said his haunt is in a new configuration and has new displays every year, which is part of what keeps people coming back — Tura estimates that about half of the people who come to Fear Forest return.
The main draw for customers, though, is that at Fear Forest, they are genuinely scared, Tura said. Depending on the weather, the haunt can draw hundreds of people from all over northeastern Ohio in one night.
Haunted houses “have been popular since I was a young kid,” Tura said. He remembers going to the Warren Jaycees haunted house near the Hot Dog Shoppe.
Cross likewise recalled his family hosting a haunted house at Skyway Drive-In in Warren when he was young, and his uncle running Hotel of Horror in Sharon, Pa.
“People like to be scared,” Tura said. “They like that level of intensity.”
Jiang chalks up the popularity of haunts in Ohio to people staying occupied in the fall: “I think haunted houses are a way for us to explore before the winter comes,” he said.
He agrees, though, that people like to be scared — it’s a matter of excitement and adventure, he said.
“I have people that come every single night who are absolutely terrified to be there, but can’t stop themselves.”
And why stop, when there’s so much fright to go around?
Other haunts in the Valley include The Original Haunted Hayride at Storeyland Tree Farm in Burghill, Fearhaven Haunted Forest in Niles, Hubbard Haunted Woods and Nightmare at the Canfield Scaregrounds.
Nightmare at the Canfield Scaregrounds today is hosting a fill-the-truck event to benefit victims of Hurricane Ian. The Scaregrounds will collect nonperishable food items, personal hygiene items, diapers, flashlights, batteries, trash bags, clothing and shoes, feminine care supplies and water to send to Florida. T-shirts and hoodies also will be for sale, with all profits going to victims.
Local haunted houses
• The Original Haunted Hayride, Storeyland Tree Farm, 5148 state Route 7, Burghill. HOURS: Opens 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22. PRICE: $8;
• Maniacs in the Woods, Bazetta Opimist Club, 2619 Hoagland Blackstub Road, Warren. HOURS: Opens at dusk, Fridays and Saturdays in October. PRICE: $10;
• Fearhaven Haunted Forest, 420 Lincoln Way, Niles. HOURS: 7 to 11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in October. PRICE: $10 adults / $5 children;
• Hubbard Haunted Woods, 1429 Brookfield Road, Hubbard. HOURS: 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays in October. PRICE: $25 for one attraction, $40 for both attractions;
• Fear Forest, next to Dollar General, 6780 Tod Ave. SW, Lordstown. HOURS: 7 to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays in October. PRICE: $12 to $40;
• Nightmare at the Canfield Scare Grounds, Canfield Fairgrounds, 7353 Fairgrounds Blvd., Canfield. HOURS: 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in October and 7 to 10 p.m. Sundays and Oct. 31. PRICE: $5 to $50
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