Halloween haunts

Audiences get an immersive experience with the cast during performances of The Sleepy Hollow Experience at Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre in Chillicothe.

Halloween is an increasingly popular holiday, and more and more people are looking for ways to celebrate. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2018 data, spending on Halloween has nearly tripled since 2005, growing from roughly $3 billion to more than $9 billion.

In addition to the costumes and the candy, people are also looking for Halloween experiences — like haunted houses, corn mazes, pumpkin picking, ghost walks, and hayrides. If you’re looking for something a little different, however, Ohio has plenty of options that can help add a spooky twist to your Halloween itinerary this year.

The Sleepy Hollow Experience at Haunted Mountain
October 3 – November 2

Summer at Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre in Chillicothe means Tecumseh! — the outdoor drama that has been entertaining audiences for decades. When the leaves start to turn and the autumn wind begins to blow, the theater turns into Haunted Mountain, and things get much spookier.

Sugarloaf began running Halloween programming five years ago. What started as a traditional haunted attraction has turned into a fully interactive and immersive theatrical experience built around Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

The program now includes a haunted trail, an escape room, and a play based on the Irving story, which can be experienced individually or via a combo ticket. “The play itself is not a traditional play,” says Brandon Smith, CEO of the Scioto Society, which runs the theater. “The audience moves onto the stage for a scene and then into the parking area for the final sequence. It’s an immersive experience, and the story continues if you go to the haunted trail.”

Smith says the play is suitable for the same age range as Tecumseh! (6 and up), although that will depend on the individual child. The haunted trail is also PG-rated. “We do traditional old-school scares,” Smith says. “It’s family friendly. It will scare people, but we’re not going for the gross-out.”

Fairborn Halloween Festival
October 18-20

For those who are really serious about Halloween, a trip to Fairborn during the season should be in the works. According to Matt Owen, executive director of Fairborn’s Chamber of Commerce, the town’s Halloween festival is one of the largest in the state, drawing more than 10,000 visitors.

At the center of it all — literally — is a wild, old-fashioned five-and-dime store called Foy’s. The store is run by Mike Foy, the third-generation owner of the 90-year-old business, and its footprint has expanded to include Foy’s Halloween Store, as well as adult- and kid-oriented costume shops. Foy’s gets the credit for starting the Fairborn Halloween craze. “Foy’s has six stores downtown, and they are busy all year round,” Owen says. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why aren’t we hosting the Halloween festival to end all Halloween festivals?’ But we had no idea it was going to get this big.”

The Foy family made a concerted effort to embrace the holiday. The store’s decorations are a prominent part of Fairborn’s Main Street, and the tourists who have been drawn to the stores inspired the town to kick off the Halloween festival eight years ago.

The festival is decidedly family friendly. All of the downtown shops are open, as well as a host of street vendors, crafts, and art. There’s live entertainment, both on-stage and around downtown, as well as street performances such as Irish dancing and belly dancing. The festival also includes a beer garden, food trucks, and Halloween parade.

“We’re also having the Zombie Mobile back, which was a big hit for us last year,” Owen says. The vehicle is a 1930s-style paddy wagon full of animatronic zombies..

Shock Around the Clock
October 12-13

If you love horror movies and have a spare 24 hours, then the Shock Around the Clock movie marathon at the Drexel Theatre in Bexley is right up your alley.

The guest of honor at this year’s event will be acclaimed cinematographer Michael Gornick, who will introduce two of his films, Day of the Dead and Creepshow. The marathon features a dozen movies, including classics from the 1940s (Frankenstein Meets Wolfman) through current creepers (Ohio premieres of The Wretched and The Dark Red) with lots of cult favorites (Crash, Shaun of the Dead, Hitchcock’s The Birds) and more. There’s also a costume contest and a scream contest, with lots of prizes.

Those who survive the entire 24-hour experience will be issued an official “Shock Certificate” as a testament to their dedication and stamina.

All Hallows’ Eve
October 12, 19

The Ohio Village at Columbus’ Ohio History Center provides Victorian-era chills (and an appearance by the Headless Horseman) over two weekends in October.

The village is a bit of a time machine on a normal day, but near Halloween, the staff transform the location into a spooky carnival with plenty of activities for adults and kids. You can learn about the history of popular Halloween traditions in the U.S. while carving pumpkins and making masks.

There are fortune-tellers, Victorian parlor games, traditional dancing, and a 19th-century-style masquerade party. Costumed historical characters roam the village and share stories about Halloweens of the past (as well as classic ghost stories). You can even visit the vintage funeral parlor and meet the top-hatted undertaker.

The event is capped off with a live reading of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” around a bonfire — watch out for a dramatic appearance by the Headless Horseman himself.

Halloween campouts

There is no shortage of scary movies based around ill-fated camping trips. You’re alone in the woods at night, miles from civilization and reliable cellphone coverage. What was that noise outside the tent? An animal? Or … something else?

Fall camping is always fun, but Hocking Hills State Park adds a seasonal element with its annual Halloween Campout. The event includes a ghost hunt at Ash Cave, pumpkin decorating, a hayride, trick-or-treating at Old Man’s Cave, a costume contest, and a family-friendly spooky movie.

There are also Halloween campouts at East Harbor (Oct. 4–5 and Oct. 11–12), Lake Loramie (Oct. 11–12), Paint Creek (Oct. 11–12), Mohican (Oct. 18–19), Indian Lake (Oct. 19–20), and a number of other state parks.

Visit the ODNR website for more information.

Escape From Blood Prison
September 27 – November 3

Scary haunted house attractions are everywhere in October, but few could boast the ambiance of the shuttered Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield.

For the past several years, the 19th-century prison, which closed in 1990, has hosted an intense haunted house attraction from late September through early November. Visitors wind their way through the cell blocks of the massive facility for a roughly 30-minute tour that includes encounters with axe-wielding maniacs, ghost inmates, and scary clowns. There is usually a live band playing outside, and this year the haunt also features the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Review, which includes circus performers, magicians, and modern-day “freaks” like the tattooed Lizard Man.

The reformatory also offers private and public ghost hunts on select Fridays throughout the year, as well as both guided and self-guided tours.

The Halloween Express
October 5-26

You’ve heard of the Polar Express, but what about the Halloween Express? Each fall, the Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation operates a non-scary Halloween train ride for kids and adults.

The volunteer group operates quarter-scale steam and diesel locomotives (which are used for the rides), and also has a museum and displays of full-size railroad equipment.

Guests ride on a scale model 1950s steamliner called the Riverside Train (owned by the Hancock Historical Museum) and can view Halloween-themed light displays and other types of holiday displays along the tracks.

The train operates from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The group also offers a Trick or Treat Halloween Train (afternoon and evening runs) on Oct. 19 and 26 that includes stops around the track so costumed riders can collect treats.