By Douglas M. Campbell
The sounds of leaves rustling and ominous screams filled the air as the Halloween season came to a close in Youngstown. Woodland Cellars, a winery in Hubbard, held a haunted wine trail on Logan Way from Oct. 2 to Nov. 1 from 5-10 p.m.
Nate and Dani Wilson, owners of Woodland Cellars, recently purchased the Sampson Estate. Built in the early 1900s, the estate has a unique history. The estate burned down in the 1920s, and eventually was rebuilt; it became a spiritual retreat center in the 1950s.
“I was talking to a zoning inspector — he had brought up this property which contained two mansions and 27 acres. It just peaked my interests through that description,” Nate Wilson said.
The property will be renovated to become part of their winery. During the renovation of both mansions, the Wilsons decided to take a break and use one of the mansions to partake in Halloween festivities.
“Initially, the haunted wine trail came about by exploration of the mansion. You come through here by nighttime with a couple of friends and the creepiness occurs naturally,” he said.
Jim Bogus, a haunted house consultant, helped the Wilsons turn their mansion into a house of horror.
“One of the first things we look at is the safety and security of our guests and staff. We make sure there aren’t trip hazards, there is sufficient light and our guests have a fun and haunted time,” Bogus said.
Wilson said assembling the perfect atmosphere for a haunted house was a collaborative effort between Wilson, Bogus and volunteers who portrayed the monsters.
Ryan Sheffield, a senior management major, portrayed the Grim Reaper inside the attraction.
“I can’t just come in here and say, ‘I’m going to scare someone tonight.’ I try to position myself well. I’m dressed in black, so I try to find the right dark area so I can be at the right place at the right time to get the right scare,” Sheffield said.
The haunted house took further precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic to ensure safety for both staff and guests.
“The upside of a haunted house is everyone is wearing a mask, and they are wearing masks underneath their masks. We keep things spaced out. The line out front is spaced out and we space guests out in between by a minute before entering the mansion,” Wilson said.
Scare prompts were altered to fit safety guidelines.
“The scares are more subtle, not necessarily up in your face like a lot of haunted houses in the past. We try to keep that social spacing, and it’s more theatrical and more imagery,” Bogus said.
Other events at the haunted house included a haunted trail directly behind the mansion, food stands, an escape room and a kiddie’s haunt.
Tickets were $15 per person. Wine tasting before entering the mansion was an additional $5. Drinking wine was permitted in the mansion.
“We were concerned initially we’d get a kid-drops-ice-cream-on-floor scenario. People may be jumpy going through so we have larger cups with smaller pours. So you get your money’s worth and you can shake it a little,” Wilson said.
Wilson appreciates the community’s reception to the haunted house throughout the month of October.
“The crowds that have turned out have been amazing, and we want to thank the community for the support. It’s hard to be the first haunt in the neighborhood,” he said.