For the past seven years, Warren’s Jeremy Cross has spent weekend nights in October in a metal coffin 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,” says Cross. “Each of us, we kind of do it in our own way.”
Cross, whose favorite holiday is Halloween, is one of around 80 actors who haunt Fear Forest on Tod Avenue SW in Lordstown and make it the terrifying place it is.
The whole state of Ohio is a pretty scary place, at least in October.
The state is among the best in the United States for haunted houses. In fact, online haunted house directory The Scare Factor lists Ohio as the state with the most haunted houses – 127, 120 in California and 101 in Pennsylvania.
Incidentally, the states with the fewest haunts are Alaska, with just two, Hawaii with three, and Wyoming with four, according to The Scare Factor. Puerto Rico is rocking the bottom of the barrel with only one listed haunted house.
While The Scare Factor’s numbers may not be exact, there’s no doubt that haunts are popular in Ohio, with at least half a dozen trails, houses, and wagon rides operating in Mahoning Valley alone.
Cortland’s Jeffrey Jiang has run the Friday and Saturday night haunted trail, Maniacs in the Woods, for the past six years. The non-profit haunt started by his mother, De Anna Fuchilla, “who’s the one running the show and jumping through the hoops,” is set up by and bears most of the running costs of Boy Scout Troop 54.
“You really don’t know if it’s working until your first band comes through,” Jiang said of the ever-changing track.
He said scouts spent about four months preparing for the event, planning a theme and mapping the flow of about 15 scenes scattered along the trail at the Bazetta Optimist Club. They buy new props every November when Halloween items go on sale.
It’s no small task to haunt him, Jiang said. Every evening, the all-volunteer actors arrive two hours early for costumes and make-up. Plus, there are the fine details: making sure accessories have batteries, testing sound, checking lights and wiring.
“The amount of work that goes into it is amazing,” Jiang said.
Allen Tura has been working in the den business since the late 1990s, when he started designing for a den in Canfield, he said.
Tura makes Halloween props such as mechanical alligators and dinosaurs, and builds spinning vortex tunnels through her company, GEP Productions. He started because he felt that the accessories on the market were not of good enough quality.
“I have no diploma. I have no certification. I just have a good imagination and a mindset to design mechanical objects,” Tura said.
Tura and his wife, Juliana, opened Fear Forest in 2004, first as a haunted wagon ride and eventually as a haunted wagon ride, house, path and corn maze – “four terrifying attractions.”
Newton Falls special effects artists Sarah Rizer and Dan Click give Tura’s legion of monster actors their creepy looks with face paint, latex scars and lots of fake blood. They’ve worked on movies, but said they love hauntings just as much.
“Hauntings are fun. You have to be fast but also be creative,” Click says.
Tura said his lair is in a new setup and has new displays every year, which is part of what keeps people coming back – Tura estimates that around half the people who come to Fear Forest return.
The main draw for customers, however, is that in Fear Forest, they are truly scared, Tura said. Depending on the weather, the haunt can attract hundreds of people from all over northeast Ohio in one night.
haunted houses “have been popular since I was very young”, Tura said. He remembers going to the Warren Jaycees’ haunted house near the Hot Dog Shoppe.
Cross also recalled that his family hosted a haunted house at Skyway Drive-In in Warren when he was young, and that his uncle ran Hotel of Horror in Sharon, Pennsylvania.
“People like to be scared” Tura said. “They like that level of intensity.”
Jiang attributes the popularity of Ohio haunts to people who stay busy in the fall: “I think haunted houses are a way for us to explore before winter hits,” he said.
He does agree, however, that people like to be scared – it’s all about excitement and adventure, he said.
“I have people who come in every night who are absolutely terrified to be there, but can’t help themselves.”
And why stop, when there is so much fear to go around?
Other favorite 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 is hosting a Fill the Truck event today to benefit the victims of Hurricane Ian. The Scaregrounds will collect non-perishable 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 will also be on sale, with all proceeds going to the victims.
Local haunted houses
• The Original Haunted Hayride, Storeyland Tree Farm, 5148 State Route 7, Burghill. HOURS: Opens at 7:30 p.m. on October 22. PRICE: $8;
• Maniacs in the Woods, Bazetta Opimist Club, 2619 Hoagland Blackstub Road, Warren. HOURS: Open at dusk, Fridays and Saturdays in October. PRICE: $10;
• Fearhaven Haunted Forest, 420 Lincoln Way, Niles. OPENING HOURS: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in October. PRICE: $10 adults / $5 children;
• Hubbard Haunted Woods, 1429 Brookfield Road, Hubbard. OPENING HOURS: 7 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays in October. PRICE: $25 for one attraction, $40 for both attractions;
• Fear Forest, next to Dollar General, 6780 Tod Ave. SW, Lordstown. OPENING HOURS: 7 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. on Sundays in October. PRICE: $12 to $40;
• Nightmare at Canfield Scare Grounds, Canfield Fairgrounds, 7353 Fairgrounds Blvd., Canfield. HOURS: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in October and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays and Oct. 31 PRICE: $5 to $50