YOUNGSTOWN – The large stone building opposite Ursuline High School was already a bit spooky – it was, after all, the McVean & Hughes Funeral Home for around 70 years – so it’s no wonder owner Erik Engartner wanted for several years to make it a haunted house.
“I always thought the house was kind of perfect with the turn of the century architecture, both inside and outside the building, and it just called for me to be a haunted house” , Engartner said.
Now the 121-year-old home-turned-funeral-home-turned-events-center has taken its place among local hotspots as Nine Lives at The Wickyards, which runs from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays of October.
Nine Lives at The Wickyards contestants walk through the entire house, including rooms that were used for funeral preparations, while working through a storyline revolving around a mad scientist whose experiments don’t go so well, a said Engartner.
Local bands play an intermission performance around 9 p.m. each evening. Upcoming performances are Lilith Mors on Friday and The Head Trips on Saturday.
Engartner said the lair is good for families because most kids can handle its level of fear.
“It’s not something you’re going to have nightmares about, but it definitely gives you the thrill of just being scared and walking through a spooky, spooky mansion,” he said.
Additionally, the Old House is known to have real ghosts — Engartner said paranormal investigators have resumed activity there.
While Nine Lives may be Mahoning Valley’s newest haunt, and apparently the only one that involves navigating an actual funeral home, it’s far from the only place to get a good scare.
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 the only valley.
Warren-area Allen Tura has worked in the den business since the late 1990s, when he began 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.
He and his wife, Juliana, opened Fear Forest in Lordstown in 2004, first as a haunted wagon ride, then as a haunted wagon ride, house, path and corn maze – “four terrifying attractions”.
Each night, the lair has around 80 actors, most of them dressed in terrifying costumes.
Warren’s Jeremy Cross, a veteran Fear Forest performer, has spent weeknights in October for the past seven years in a metal coffin in a cornfield, waiting to pop up and scare passers-by.
“It’s actually a lot of fun scaring people,” Cross said. “Each of us, we kind of do it in our own way.”
Cross, whose favorite holiday is Halloween, wears full zombie makeup, which is applied by Sarah Rizer or Dan Click from Newton Falls. Special effects artists give Fear Forest’s legion of monster actors their creepy looks with face paint, latex scars and lots of fake blood. The pair have worked on movies, but said they enjoy hauntings just as much.
“Hauntings are fun. You have to be fast, but you can also be creative,” Click said.
Back at the Wickyards, the building has been an event space for about six and a half years, but the haunted house is very different from the concerts and photoshoots it usually hosts.
Engartner said that while concerts involve entertaining a group for several hours, the haunting is moving multiple groups of people through the building. It features around 11 actors, many of whom had no previous scary experience.
“We had a few training sessions just to familiarize the actors with the environment and let them be creative in their own way,” Engartner said. “They have ideas that I won’t have, and they can share them with each other.”
Cortland’s Jeffrey Jiang, who oversaw Maniacs in the Woods, a scout-run haunted trail at the Bazetta Optimist Club, for six years, said it was no small task to haunt.
He said scouts put in about four months of preparation for the event, planning a theme and mapping out the course 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.
“The amount of work that goes into it is amazing,” Jiang said.
The work, it seems, has paid off as haunted houses across the state remain popular. But what brings the crowd?
Haunted houses have been popular since I was young,” Tura said. He remembers going to Warren Jaycees’ local 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 haunts in Ohio to people who stay busy in the fall: “I think haunted houses are a way for us to explore before winter hits,” he said. declared.
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 spots in the valley include Fearhaven Haunted Forest in Niles, Hubbard Haunted Woods and Nightmare at the Canfield Scare Grounds.