COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WANE) – For 30 years, the Columbia City Haunted Jail has been a centerpiece for northeast Indiana, creating frights and screams for all ages.
Before becoming a nationally ranked haunted house, the building served as an actual jail. The property on East Market Street was built in 1875. Haunted Jail Owner and Operator Paul Harrington says the area’s sheriff and their family would live in the front part of the building, while prisoners were housed towards the back.
Over a century later, the jail was repurposed to a haunted house. Harrington took over as the Haunted Jail’s owner a few years after it first opened in 1991.
October is the busiest time of the year for the Haunted Jail, but preparations for the spooky season begin as soon as January.
“We try to re-do at least 80% of the haunt every single season,” Harrington said. “So we want you to see something new, something fresh.”
Harrington says it takes a team of creepy characters, costumes and props to create a terrifying experience. Depending on the night, between 20-40 characters spread throughout the Haunted Jail to scare guests.
Characters tend to arrive an hour and a half before the jail opens to put on costumes and apply makeup. Not only do these characters need to look the part, but they need to act it out too.
“They have to be on cue,” Harrington says. “When a customer comes through, they have to know what their mark is, they have to know what their line is, and they have to hit it every time, thousands of times a night.”
Harrington also says his team does not spare a dime when it comes to their props and costumes. His team spends hundreds of dollars on custom masks.
“They conform to your face, they breathe with you, they move,” Harrington said.
With Halloween season winding down, more people are stopping by to make sure they get their frights in before the end of the month. That results in longer nights and less hours of sleep for Harrington and his crew. Even if he and his team is running on little sleep, he remains motivated by the horrified faces of those who visit every night.
“When we see that joy and terror on your face, that is the ultimate vitamin for us, that is the ultimate booster,” Harrington said. “We have enough time to sleep when we die.”
It’s one thing to learn about the work that goes into creating a haunted house. It’s another to actually experience the house itself. Watch below as WANE 15’s Josh Ayen goes through the Columbia City Haunted Jail.