Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Frightworld 2014

     Finally, Ghost and his friend What a Witch made their annual pilgrimage to FrightWorld America's Screampark. After our recent interview with Stephen Szortyka, Frightworld's GM and Director of Operations and master of all things terror, we were excited to see what spooks were in store for us this year!

 This season, Frightworld moved into a new and much larger space, and the possibilites ran through our heads, to see just how they would make use of all the new room. Upon entering we were instanly conflicted on which wicked house we should explore first, and impressed with the layout of the houses. 

 There was "Eerie State Asylum," "Grind House," "Condemned," "Phobias"-- and the all new "Insantiy." Did we want the backwoods terror of the "Grind House?" The creepy old Asylum? A walk through haunted woods? Or whatever "Insanity" had in store for us? We decided on the Asylum first. 

 Walking into the first room of Asylum, the door shutting behind us, I was instantly aware of what I love about Frighworld, and what makes this haunted attraction so special. Right off the bat, there are new tricks-- and delightfully startling and scary treats-- in the old Asylum. Frightworld is a master of reinvention, and their actors were-- as they seem to take pride in being-- at the top of their game that night. Across the board, Frightworld's actors are so adept at becoming a character it is always impressive. Boo School, it would appear, pays off.  The patients wandering the Asylum were excellently unnerving this year. Halfway through the house, we looked both ways down a hallway. To our left, lay a part of the Asylum we had walked through. To our right, looking farther down the hallway, was what appeared to be the neighboring house. Yes, from the Asylum you can see into the Grind House, and vice versa. The effect in person is wonderful, and exactly the kind of detail that makes Frightworld stand above the rest. 

 Without spoiling the scares, the highlights of Frightworld in their new space are legion. In the "Grind House," we walked into a closet-- in clothes and mess and darkness-- and the claustrophobia it induced was surprising, and got this Ghost's heart going strong. And, as always, the balloon rooms did not disappoint. For anyone unfortunate-- or fortunate? -- enough to not know what the balloon rooms are, they are the walls (and sometimes ceilings and floors) made of balloon-like material which you must walk through to make it out of a haunt. This Ghost and Witch have always appreciated the simple terror they throw on you; the claustrophobic darkness pressing into you, making you wonder if you will get out alive (literally). As I walked through an even longer-- and more twisted-- balloon room at Frightworld, the scare worked its best on me. What had to be about 10 seconds before emerging from the room, I found I had been in there long enough to take the scare to the next level. I was sweating, panicked.  In other words, the ballon rooms this year, with more space to stretch out, did not disappoint. 

The Ghost, the man behind Frightworld and the Witch. 
 "Insanity," Frightworld's new house, is a big bowl of tricks and treats. Without getting into any spoilers, there is a scare in "Insanity" that made me scream, curse and jump at the same time-- and instantly clap. A top notch, class act jump that is just brilliance. Bravo, Frightworld. The puzzle within "Insanity" was the perfect mix of environment and mind-teaser-- and we were so impressed with this new house. 

We have written here before about the walk in the woods haunt. The kind that take you through sheds and graveyards and outdoor scenes of darkness and fright. The kind that so many haunts seem to forget.  "Condemned" offered us  our terrifying walk in the woods this year... the one we were waiting for. We tried to linger and enjoy the atmosphere, but the pig-faced residents chased us away. The cemetery, and other mist filled nighttime scenes in the haunt were darkly beautiful. Our haunted hearts loved every minute of it. 

 In talking with Stephen Szortyka after we experienced all the haunts, we saw first hand how his passion for his haunt and his team who puts it all on exists in every dark corner of Frightworld. In the haunts, in the actors, in the air and on the screen of horror movie trivia-- Frightworld gets it. Frightworld cares about the art of the scare, and explores what frightens us with both a knowledge of the past and an originality that is always a breath of fresh air-- the kind that takes our breath away. 

 Frightworld gets fear right. Whether it is the creaking doors of the asylum, the silence of the graveyard before you meet its residents, the visceral terror of "Grind House" or the emotion of "Insanity" -- Frightworld knows what scares us-- and is never afraid to use anything that makes us wonder, or see, what terror makes us jump in the night.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween in Western NY, 1932

 Tonight, for something different from the vaults of the crypt. This season, the ghost and the witch have posted quite a bit about the places of western NY that lurk in the dark side. But tonight, here is a rare gem-- a video shot in 1932 in Buffalo, NY, of school children parading in their Halloween costumes.

 This video appeared on YouTube a while back, having been transfered from 8MM film. It warms the haunted heart to see how Halloween has lasted, and lived on through the years as a time of-- among other things-- masks and costumes and the magic of childhood.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Exploring the Dark Side of Western New York: Frightworld Screampark

     Tonight, we will continue our series, "Exploring the Dark Side of Western New York," where Ghost and his haunted friend What a Witch will visit or explore an area, place or attraction in western NY that has a dark, spooky past, or lends itself to the darkness we long to explore. 

Exploring the Dark Side of Western New York: Frightworld Screampark 

     For this installment of western NY's dark side, we come to Frightworld Screampark, WNY's premiere haunted house attraction. This year, we again sat down with Stephen Szortyka, GM and Director of Operations for Eeire Productions and Frightworld America's Screampark, to talk about what makes Frightworld so widely popular-- and wildly unique-- in western New York. 

Stephen, thank you so much for sitting down with us to talk about Frightworld this year. Ghost and WhataWitch are dying to know….

What new things can we expect this year? 

 With our transition from the Northtowns to Depew, our customers can expect all BRAND NEW floor plans as well as a brand new attraction: INSANITY.

Frightworld is in a different location this year. What advantages do you see in the new space? 

 We are really excited about the new location! We are back in Depew in a 70,000 square ft building. It’s a great area! We have more space to make our attractions larger than before and more space to bring fear to our customers. Its been a great year thus far!

Your haunted houses are huge, and massively detailed. Eerie Asylum alone is so intricately detailed. When do you start planning for your setup each year?

 That’s a great question! We spend all year brainstorming different ideas and concepts that will intrigue our fans. We are constantly trying to impress our fans, as well as ourselves! We are really excited because we were able to expand our floor plans for each attraction this year! Some haunts are 50% larger than they were last year!

How long does it take you to build the houses, and how much help do you have in putting it together? 

 Our build crew and set dressing crew are extremely talented! Depending on the length and size of the attractions depends on how much time. Of course, we would love to spend months detailing an attraction, but that’s not feasible. Generally a house will take 2-3 weeks for build and 2-3 weeks for set dressing.

It seems like every few years another haunted house attraction pops up in WNY. How do you stay ahead of the competition and what do you think sets your attraction apart from the others? 

 I am confident in saying that we uphold a reputation of a very detail oriented event and our fans expect that every year. Making sure that our event holds up to that reputation is our main focus, and making sure that our scares and fears are current and up to date! Like I've said before, it takes months of preparation and research to understand what works and what doesn’t work. Congrats to the new comers to the industry and we always wish them best of luck in business!

Do you frequent haunted house conventions or attractions in other states to keep up on trends in the industry? 

  Absolutely. One of the biggest conventions for the haunted attraction industry is held in St. Louis every year. Transworld Haunt Show brings vendors from all over, bringing the newest sets, props, costumes, and technology. We always try to attend other haunted attractions but generally, we do not get the time as our favorite Halloween season is making sure our event is the best experience for our fans.

What is the creepiest or favorite acquisition you have made for your screampark? 

  We like to give the persona to our fans that once they walk through our doors, they forget that there is a real world out there, and they are now consumed in Frightworld. Once our fans walk through the door, it’s a whole different world. From the main floor to our bathrooms, you will be engulfed in fear and the unknown.

What kind of training are your actors given each year? 

  Each year, our actors attend a 4 hour "Boo School" where they are put through a rigorous training seminar. They partake in hands on training within the attractions. They understand Fear, the underlining reason why society gets scared. Different techniques, different movements, customer and actor safety, and customer flow within the attractions.

Frightworld’s reach extends beyond WNY, having notably been featured on the Travel Channel. Where are some of the furthest locations your guests have come from?

 Our furthest fans have come from as far as Hong Kong and Taiwan, CRAZY, I KNOW! Majority of our customers are from the Buffalo area, Syracuse, Rochester, Canada, and Pennsylvania. We have been lucky enough to be voted #1 haunted attraction in the Northeast and #1 in Buffalo, NY. Our Eerie State Asylum was actually voted #1 best attraction maze as well!!!! As well as being featured on the Travel Channel we were also voted many other awards! It feels GREAT to see all of our hard work, pay off.

Like many people, we were wrapped up in the hysteria that was HBO’s “True Detective” earlier this year. The show was a modern horror and crime mystery that drew largely from Robert Chambers’ 1895 horror book “The King in Yellow.”  So, let’s talk about Carcosa from the show. The moment we saw the creepy underground lair in the show’s finale, we thought it would make for a spectacular haunted house experience. Any chance we will ever see this—or something like it’s ruins-- in the future?  

 That’s a touchy subject. We would LOVE to mimic some of these great shows/movies that are coming out, but we also want to make sure we are original in everything that we do! Our fans love our work, and we want to make sure we withhold that reputation! Generally, we stay aware from mimicking shows and movies!

Frightworld seems to always fit the right balance of different kinds of horror. Unlike a number of horror attractions, you seem to understand that one cannot live on shock and gore alone, and feature a balance of more modern horror and the appeal of the seemingly older, as with the creepy old asylum. Is this intentional? 

 Yes, and very good observation! We have 5 differently themed attractions! We want to make sure that our fans are scared. Sometimes, an asylum may not scare a customer, but I can guarantee you that they fear something in one of our other attractions! We want to make sure that we have the ability to appeal to a wide array of fans. Like you said, we need to make sure we have balance.

Many people perceive people in your industry as being “dark” or “morbid.” What response do you give people who say such things, other than “Thank you”? 

 Many of us are just as normal as the person who is saying that. With normal day time jobs, graduate and undergraduate students as well as very talented industry professionals. There is a business side to this event that takes an extensive amount of time and expertise, between marketing and advertising to managing over 60 employees as well as our digital and media designs, commercials, both TV and radio production.

We often read in the paper about attractions like this- combined with the raging hormones from groups of teens and preteens- causing a bit of a disturbance of the non-paranormal kind. What kind of security measures do you have in place to keep your demons…errr…customers…exercised? 

  Customer safety is our main focus! The whole event is designed around making sure our fans are safe. We employee Cheektowaga uniformed police officers to patrol our event.

We are both dying to know if those claustrophobic balloon passages are part of your exhibit this year. They scare the living daylights out of us in a good way and WhataWitch is eager to experience them again… we all know its bad luck to disappoint a witch, Stephen. 

  Well I am glad to say that they ARE BACK. No bad luck for me this year with disappointing any witches :)

All Photos Copyright 2014 Frightworld Screampark. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Exploring the Dark Side of Western New York: The Buffalo and Erie County Naval Park

   Tonight, we begin a reoccuring new series, "Exploring the Dark Side of Western NY,"  where the Ghost and his haunted friend What a Witch will visit an area, place or attraction in western NY that has a dark, spooky past or lends itself to the darkness we long to explore. 

Exploring the Dark Side of Western New York: The Buffalo and Erie County Naval Park 

     The Second World War was a time of unimaginable human loss, the kind no generation since will ever be able to fully understand. While every war is a time of darkness, impossible sacrifice and tragedy, the second great war-- in terms of loss, destruction and the stakes which were on the line, fought for and defended-- has become a nearly legendary time in world history. Unlike Europe, Asia and the Pacific, where the destruction of World War II is still seen in so many buildings and throughout the land, the United States is not so physically marked. However. Some of the remnants of this horrific moment in time have come home, and some lie here in western New York, in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval Park.

     The Naval Park is home to three retired battle ships: the USS Croaker, USS The Sullivans, and USS Little Rock. These floating cities, where men lived, died, killed and fought lie in the waters off the Buffalo harbor, having become one of a kind floating museums to that dark time, a part of our past. Stepping from the vibrant, busy Buffalo waterfront and onto these ships is a feeling unlike any other; stepping from one world into the next; onto a ghost ship, a museum, a place of such history.

     It should come as no surprise that all three ships are reported to be haunted.

     Unexplained things have been happening on these ships since they were brought to the Buffalo waterfront. Tourists, naval park staff and western New Yorkers alike will tell you, yes, they believe the ships to be haunted. The stories, reports and local mythology built around the ships have attracted tourists and the likes of the Syfy Channel's "Ghost Hunters" program. 

     The first ship, the USS The Sullivans, is a World War II Destroyer named for the five Sullivan brothers from Iowa who lost their lives in the Guadalcanal Campaign. Although the Sullivan brothers never served on this ship, reports that George Sullivan, suspected to be the last brother to die, haunts the ship. Like many ghosts, there are several stories about how George died. One account says a very emotionally distraught George dove into the water and frantically tried to find his brothers in the water when their boat was sunk, and George was drowned as the ship went down. A second story sees George desperately searching for his brothers, only to be attacked by a shark. A third account says he became delirious after several days at sea, waiting to be rescued, and that he swam away from the other floating survivors, never to be seen again. However George may have died, in story and spirit, the ghost of George Sullivan has made it home to the USS The Sullivans to live. 

     We began our tour of the Naval Park on this ship. The first room entered has photos of the ill-fated brothers lining the walls. Local legend has it the photos taken of and by George's picture come out distorted. Adding to the suspense of the room where ghosts may appear were tourists, who had the misfortune of misstating World War II history within ear shot of WhataWitch. That day, and all days, she is sure to correct you.  

     Our self-guided tour took us through of the living quarters and mess hall of the ship where we were made to truly understand the feeling of what it was like to live, work and serve aboard this ship. There are countless exhibits along the way: Marine Corps Memorabilia from World War I to the present, Ex-POW Memorabilia and Contributions of Women in the Military, among them. 

     The second ship we visited was the USS Little Rock, which once allegedly was used as a hospital to care for men injured in battle on another ship. Many of those men died on the ship, taking their last breaths in the mess hall. The day we made our tour was a hot, early autumn day. When we boarded the ships, the sun was shining, beating down heat. When we emerged from one of the rooms on the Little Rock-- having spent an unknown amount of time wandering the halls and rooms rumored to house ghosts-- we noticed the skies had darkened. Almost immediately-- while we walked from a control room at the front of the vessel-- the skies opened with torrential, wind-swept downpours. Seeking shelter in random crevices and rooms on the ship as we progressed, running from the rain and further into the small abandoned city where so many people once lived, we saw the ship in an entirely new, eerie light. Another popular legend about the ship is that, in the mess hall during open hours, you can hear recordings of the faint, long-ago whistle that would proceed announcements. More than once we stopped, unsure if we had heard something. Was it the wind, the rain? Or the sound of the whistle lasting, being heard across the years. 

     In one of the rooms near the mess hall, we stopped to watch a TV playing the episode of "Ghost Hunters" featuring the Naval Park. Reacquainting ourselves with the known ghosts and reportedly haunted areas of the ship, we sought them out, looking for a feeling, a photograph that might show something. Whether it was a room where a man died, a hallway we knew nothing about or descending into the brig, the ghosts of so many years ago were there, though they may not have been photographed or seen. 

     Our tour ended on the USS Croaker submarine. Sent to the Pacific theater in World War II to fight against Japan's Merchant Marine and Navy, the Croaker boasts six World War II Pacific war patrols and three battle stars. Going down into the submarine, you are instantly thrust into the world the men who once staffed these vessels lived in, even more intimately than the first two ships. As you walk the length of the submarine, ducking and watching your head as you fit yourself through a door, and further lose yourself in a world of metal and cramped quarters, you feel a sense of unknown anxiety, as you wonder what it could possibly have been like to live in these walls, so far under the water, in an endlessly dangerous war. In a sense, you feel the ghosts of all the men who must have gone through so much, so many years ago. Additionally, submarines are creepy. Period.

     Leaving the ships and looking back at them, you are struck with the awesome feeling that in such a space, that you can see from the dock, so much history happened, so much of it so painful, difficult and noble. Like a cemetery the vessels stand, testaments to those who once lived, and who-- in stories of heroism, tragedy and ghosts-- live on. All in the Buffalo harbor. 

-by Ghost and WhataWitch

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A World Where There Are Octobers

     Welcome back, October. How I have missed you. The weather, the cool, the colors begin. The harvest, the abundance, the peak of life. Is there a better way to ring the month where autumn takes full hold, than in a pumpkin patch?

     I don't believe so. This past Sunday, a visit to Kelkenberg Farms in Akron, New York. A warm morning, a quiet farm of several acres. Fourteen dollars allows one a ticket to the corn maze and the pumpkin patch. We wandered around the farm before the horse-drawn ride out to the pumpkin patch. We saw a charming old dog blind in one eye, the chickens, the goats, the horses. We walked through rows and rows of mums, past corn stalks for sale and into a country store that smelled of candle wax and pumpkin spice.

      And then we boarded the cart. The horses take you a distance from the main farm, and out to the pumpkin patch. Having not been in such a pumpkin patch for many years, the childlike glee that filled my Halloween haunted soul was almost too much to take. Unlike many farms and places where pumpkins are sold, Kelkenberg allows you to pick any pumpkin, regardless of size. We walked amongst the rows of pumpkin vines, bright orange decaying pumpkins, perfectly shaped pumpkins, enormous pumpkins. In search of the great pumpkin, the one I would take home.

      In the end, I decided on the largest pumpkin I'd ever brought home. Not the biggest one from the patch of so many, but the largest one the best for carving that I could find. This decision I regretted almost instantly on the walk back through the patch, to where the horses would pick us up and take us back to the farm; I persevered. Stopping more than once to rest. And am glad I did. Finding our pumpkins, washing off the mud in a basin with a pump. Exploring the corn maze, with friends, a candy apple and cider in hand. The perfect way to welcome the season of the witch, the month of the orange glow.

     Welcome, October.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Leaving Salem

     In Salem, when we weren't in cemeteries, we were walking around the city. Visiting the magic shops, the mystical places that offered stones to help with stress, love and other things in life. We saw the shops selling Halloween goods, and museums dedicated to the trials. And we saw the statue of Elizabeth Montgomery, the actress who played the witch character of Samantha on the 1960s-1970s TV series.

      We saw the other side of Salem, the histroy unrelated-- directly-- to the witch trials. The places of Nathaniel Hawthorne, starting with the Customs House. At the Customs House, we were given an incredible tour by a US Parks Ranger who wore his interest for the writer Hawthorne on his sleeve. We saw the original, striking and initimdating eagle statue famously described in Hawthorne's novel "The Scarlett Letter," and we toured a ship outside the Customs House at the Salem Maritime Musuem. We then saw the real House of the Seven Gables, which is famously the setting of Hawthorne's ghost story. Photos were not allow in the House, but there was a cat who lived there. And the tour was taken up a concealed staircase to an attic room where enslaved people slept. The air in this attic was, to say the absolute least, heavy, and hard.

     From there we saw the Witch House, the only building still standing with an actual connection to the Witch Trials. The House of Judge Jonathan Corwin, aside from providing a look at how a home was kept at the time of the trials, also gave us an opportunity to see a spoon believed to have been owned by trial victim John Proctor.

     But leaving Salem, we made the most meaningful stop of all. Before we left, to begin the drive home, we drove to a street in Danvers, and drove down a narrow driveway in between two houses and properties to some woods. A Massachusetts historical sign proclaimed this the "Samuel Parris Archealogical Site." Just in the first few trees in these woods, there is a stone foundation left from what appears a small home. This foundation belong to Samuel Parris, and it was here in his house where the hysteria was born; where Tituba entertained the girls who would go on to accuse women and men of witchcraft with her fantastical stories. Being on the quiet grounds is deeply moving, bringing the magnitude of the tragedy so great it has become a tourist attraction because of its history and the lore it produces home to a place where you know, so clearly, this was all so real.