It was cold enough outside to see breath escaping from the mouths of people waiting in line for Ghost Lake.
You could see some people had breath that matched their pattering hearts, while others breathed slowly and steadily, as if they were taking a drag from a cigarette. Little existed between calm and terror at Ghost Lake, where visitors looking for an adrenaline rush waited in 13 different lines for the 13 Levels of Fear at Conneaut Lake Park.
Ghost Lake has been running since 2007, according to Jenny Moersch, manager of the “Dark Circus and Sideshow” house. This year’s festivities began Friday, Sept. 21, and will run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 p.m. to midnight, or 11 p.m. on Sundays, until Sunday, Oct. 28. The entrance fee is a flat $25 to go inside each house once. There are also escape rooms, which cost $5 a person per room.
Within the park there are 13 houses with themes that include the circus, phobias, Grimm’s fairy tales, haunted hotels, antiques, roller-coasters and more. For each house there is a regular line which lasts five minutes to over an hour depending on what happens inside the house. The “Bayou” and “Blue Streak” have the longest lines because the former includes a slide inside and the latter is a roller-coaster ride.
Some rides are more popular than others, either because of proximity to the center of the park, the fear factor or the theme.
“There’s a couple of them that were kinda corny,” said visitor Joey Esker. “The one that’s right over there by the carousel — that was definitely something I wouldn’t do again. I think it was burning hill. It was just, you walked in a circle and that was it.”
Managers of the houses pushed for people waiting in long lines to visit “Scaryland Forest,” which had no line. It was the first level of fear, meaning the scariest parts were the screams of a young girl dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood. At one point in the forest, there was an older woman sitting and knitting. Perhaps this played to the fear of growing old.
On the other hand, there were houses like “Forget Me Not Antiques,” the level six house, which awakened fears visitors did not even know they had.
Allegheny student, Dominic Bell, ’21, emerged from this house gasping for air realizing only then that he has claustrophobia. Within the antique house are old dolls, broken clocks and an entire hallway of layers of heavy, overlapping curtains that you cannot differentiate from people. After the visitor finally gets out of the claustrophobia inducing hall of panic, there is a moment of rest in a sepia-toned vintage room before the visitors have to push their way through blown up walls that closely resemble a plastic anus according to Allegheny student, Noah Stape, ’21.
Moersch, who has worked for Ghost Lake since it first opened, estimates thousands of customers visit the haunted houses each weekend with a peak during the Conneaut Lake Fall Pumpkin Fest, in the second weekend of October, with thousands of visitors per night.
Some visitors have turned Ghost Lake into a family adventure to recount old memories from the parent’s childhoods and create new memories for their children.
Father and son Brian Firment and Esker made an hour-and-a-half trip this year to see how Conneaut Lake has changed since Firment came years ago. Firment recounted how his family used to come to Conneaut Lake when he was five years old.
“It’s something different,” Firment said. “It was a lot better back then than it is now. Hopefully they make enough money from this to keep it up and running. It needs a lot of work.”
Slowly, the park is making changes to improve the haunting experience for everyone — one of those changes being the ban on alcohol.
In the last couple years, workers at the park have kept a keen eye out for visitors with alcoholic beverages, making them throw away their drinks on the spot or they will be kicked out of the park. Though this rule is not stated online, managers of the houses make announcements every 10 minutes when people are entering the park and waiting in lines. They remind the visitors of the family value of the park and how alcohol within the park and the use of cellphones within the houses are prohibited.
The rule went into effect a couple years ago for the safety of the volunteers in the houses who range from teens to older women and adults with disabilities.
The most annoying part of working at the park is the drunk people, said Chelsea Miles, manager of the “Bayou” house.
“The drunk people get really agrint … everywhere,” Miles said. “They end up breaking stuff. They hit people. A lot of our kids get injured because of people like that.”
There are up to 15 “monsters” or volunteers per house who have gone through everything from being punched, puked and peed on, according to Miles. Moersch recounted one of her worst memories one of her first years when she dressed up as Freddy Krueger and got her pinky dislocated by a child who ripped the thumb off her glove with her finger still inside it.
A lot of planning goes into Ghost Lake, and it is clear how passionate the volunteers are to show the visitors a good time. There is something for every lover of fear — houses and “monsters” to play on any fear both inside and outside the houses.
“We put a lot of time, a lot of effort into this,” Miles said. “It is pretty much our life. We have a great family here.”