Working for a newspaper does, at times, have its perks. For example, last week I got to get a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of Cedar Point's 14th HalloWeekends event.
In case you're not familiar with HalloWeekends, here're the basics: Every fall for about 7 weekends, Cedar Point opens back up for visitors, offering up a host of spook-tacular themed shows, events, and haunted houses/outdoor areas alongside the usual thrill rides that make the park so famous. The rides run during the daylight hours, and then, once the sun goes down, the monsters and creatures come out to play (and to scare).
I attended the media day preview of this year's HalloWeekends extravaganza, complete with a tour of the park's newest haunted house, a taste of the offerings at the haunted banquet dinner, and plenty of interviews with the people behind the scenes who make the whole event run smoothly.
Coaster and Screamsters: Behind the Scenes at HalloWeekends
It's dark. An eerie fog is creeping across the midway. Up ahead, a dark figure stands, motionless, silhouetted against the night by blue and green strobe lights. Somewhere, someone cackles menacingly.
No, this isn’t the set of some horror movie. Instead, this is the scene of Cedar Point’s Halloweekends, which is going strong in its 14th season.
For seven weekends each fall, Cedar Point transforms from a regular amusement park into a haunted playground once the sun goes down. All manner of ghoulish creatures slink through four haunted houses and five themed outdoor zones with one aim: to scare.
Many of these “Screamsters” — the title given to the seasonal employees hired to don masks and makeup and costumes — return year after year.
Amanda Backer, a server working at Boeckling’s Banquet within the G.A. Boeckling’s Eerie Estate haunted house, is back for her second year this fall. Made up to look like an undead maid, Backer said she enjoys getting to play her spooky role again,
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “I scared myself the first year.”
Sporting a head of tangled hair and armed with a fake black rat, Backer, along with Cassandra Edmonds and Gary Pace, provide service to the handful of guests paying to have the haunted fine dining experience called Boeckling’s Banquet. They also pop out from behind cabinets, appear out of shadowy corners, and fix guests with intense stares in the haunted house.
If Backer notices that someone is visibly afraid, she said her scare tactics change.
“If it’s like a little kid, I’ll leave them alone,” she said. “But if it’s an adult, definitely I’m going after them.”
And her scare method?
“I beat on walls and hope that works,” she said.
“We use a lot of misdirection scares,” said Tim Walsh, Cedar Point’s director of group sales, describing a type of scare that requires at least two people. One distracts, and the other often sneaks up from behind for the scare.
“It works,” Walsh said, “It works well.”
Halloweekends itself seems to be working. The event began as a way to extend the Cedar Point season into the nice-weathered months of September and October. The first year consisted of about 1,000 styrofoam tombstones, rubber bats and some rented haunted houses. These days, Halloweekends is much more than that.
“We plan for this year-round,” said Robin Innes, director of public relations for Cedar Point. Employees and family members scout out garage sales and antique stores throughout the year, keeping an eye out for the little details that set Cedar Point’s haunted houses and scare zones apart.
Largely in charge of this planning is John Taylor, Cedar Point’s manager of graphic services, who is often referred to as “Mr. Halloweekends Himself.”
This year, there’s a team of 350 Screamsters scattered across the park each night.
Screamsters are hired into positions, and can choose what zone they prefer to work in. Taylor decides their costumes and makeup, and they are responsible for developing the personalities of their characters from there.
“Each monster has their identity,” Taylor said. “We try to keep those in tact for them from year to year. So when they come back they can still be the ‘Snake Guy’ or the ‘Cat Person’ or whatever.”
Many creatures have full facial prosthetics, which are created and painted specifically for each monster by a team of makeup artists.
“We have a really talented crew of makeup artists that we use,” Taylor said. “A majority of them come back every year.”
Each weekend night, they each do makeup and masks for roughly 20 Screamsters. But Bren Rockwell said this is not a “job” for the Rockwells.
“It’s play, you know, it’s play,” she said. “It’s so much fun.”
They may have to do some different makeup this year for Halloweekends’ newest edition: Dr. D. Mented’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
The new haunted house is set up like a mental institution, and its crazed inhabitants look the part.
“I think it could be our scariest yet,” Innes said.
At least until next year.
If You Go…
Weekends through Oct. 31
- Fridays: 6 p.m. to midnight, with only a portion of the park open.
- Saturdays: noon to midnight.
- Sundays:noon to 9 p.m.
- Sunday, Oct. 10: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Sunday Sept. 26 and Oct. 3: Outdoor scare zones closed.
- Fridays: $29.99 for adults (ages 3-61, 48 inches and taller).
- Saturdays and Sundays: $45.99 for adults; $19.99 for juniors (ages 3-61, under 48 inches tall); $19.99 for seniors (age 62 and older); free for children under age 2.
- New for 2010! Dr. D. Mented's Asylum for the Criminally Insane
- G.A. Boeckling's Eerie Estate
- Happy Jack's Toy Factory
- Club Blood
Outdoor Scare Zones
- Terror Island
- Fright Zone
- Fear Faire
Not everything about Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends is about scares and fright. The park offers a number of family-friendly activities and options, especially during the daylight hours.
- New for 2010! Magic Dance
- New for 2010! Search for the Hidden Dragon
- Monster Midway Invasion Celebration
- The Good Time Ghouls: A Halloween Hullabaloo
- Edge of Madness…Still Crazy
- The Return of Dr. Cleaver
- Gypsy Fortune Telling Camp
- DJ Zumbo
- Midway Monsters
- Graveyard Rockers
Fun for children
- The Magical House on Boo Hill
- Hay Bale Maze
- Peanuts Halloween Show and Kids’ Costume Contest
- “Funtime Frolics”
- “Snoopy’s Sing-a-long”