Columbus’ Brewery District is a shining beacon of urban renewal in central Ohio; a place known for its top-notch restaurants, fitness centers, bars and all other things upper-middle class.
But a little behind Front Street, sitting ominously like a corpse hidden just below running water, there is an abandoned brewery still haunted by the area’s past. Inside, visitors have seen and heard clanking, creeping ghouls surrounded by screams of terror and twisted delight. And, just this year, there have been sightings of a butcher who dealt in more than just beef and pork. This menace has taken the lives of more than 38 people and reportedly has come back for more — or so Steve Kopelman, a producer of Columbus’s revamped haunted house TerrorFest, would like you to believe. The “Brewery Butcher” figures heavily into the redesign of this annual attraction.
“We wanted to have something relevant to the area this year,” Kopelman said. “We really dug down and did some research on the area and came up with this composite character, the Brewery Butcher.”
The abandoned brewery behind 477 N. Front St. has been host to various haunted houses over the last 20 years, said Kopelman, a veteran in the haunted house industry with 27 years of experience. This is his first year getting involved in Columbus with producer Dave Treisch.
“Columbus is a great haunted house market,” said Kopelman, a Houston native. “I own hauntedhouse.com, and the Columbus area had the third-most traffic to the site. I was drawn here by that. If Web traffic is any indication, this will be quite a year here.”
Spooky locations aren’t easy to come by, but the TerrorFest is in a prime one. The surrounding area is an anomaly in the otherwise bustling district, and the factory remains bare and intimidating, with ancient turrets and a crumbling facade.
“Up at the top you can see the numbers ‘1900,'” Treisch said, pointing his finger up through the rainy night at the barely illuminated roof. “That’s when it was built. This is our fourth year at this location after our old building collapsed, and it’s a good building.”
The TerrorFest, formerly the House of Nightmares, has prime real estate for scares, but what really counts is what’s inside. Complementing more than $250,000 in add-ons and equipment, 65 actors lurk inside the attraction waiting to shout, scream, rock coffins, climb fences, rev chainsaws and breathe down necks. The attraction, split into two consecutive sections, is enormous, but the actors fill it out, still managing shocks and surprises all the way through the nearly 20-minute-long maze of hallways.
The actors make up about a quarter of all the shocks in the house, geared up in everything from werewolf outfits to rotting Victorian dresses. Right from the entrance line, actors enhance the whole experience. The foyer features orange-lit, screaming skulls and hidden doors, but it also features the wandering “Casandra,” a gaping, vacant ghoul sporting a wedding dress and an enormous slash across her throat, as well as vampiric concession stand staffers and ticket-takers.
“There are $20 masks on display [at the concession stand],” said Chris Smith, spokesman for TerrorFest, “but there are masks inside that are worth thousands of dollars.”
The TerrorFest is a high tech establishment this year, utilizing a lot more than just make-up and spring-loaded booby traps. While there are still a few old-fashioned scares, there are also picture frames with talking tour-guides and transparent librarians, and even a spook on a bungee cord waiting to leap out and vanish before there is time to scream. The scares are so plentiful that it earned a spot as one of 12 “America’s Best Haunts,” in 2009.
“This location has been really great,” Kopelman said. “It’s pretty much a blank canvas [that] let us really play off our theme of the Brewery Butcher.”
The TerrorFest is open from 7:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays in October. General admission is $17, and “FastPass” admissions are available for $10 more. Information and discounts can be found at theterrorfest.com.