Ghost Lake

Frightened guests hurry by a caged gorilla in the The Demon House at Ghost Lake at Conneaut Lake Park on Saturday night. INSET: A ghoul jumps out from behind a casket in the Funeral Home section of Ghost Lake.

CONNEAUT LAKE — With an attraction that boasts its reputation as one of the largest haunts in the Northeast, you can bet I was not prepared to face the 13 Levels of Fear offered at Ghost Lake at Conneaut Lake Park ... even after meeting some of the people behind the costumes and face paint.

“It’s really a gauntlet,” said Dominic Baragona, president of Mid America Events, the company that hosts Ghost Lake.

The attraction’s opening page on its website even warns the faint of heart that ambulances are located nearby and suggests you “check with your psychiatrist before you dare the 13 Levels of Fear.”

While Baragona helps to come up with the concepts for the levels of fear, George Hartman, volunteer maintenance man and stand-in manager when Baragona is absent, works to make those ideas come to life.

Lucky for Hartman, he had the opportunity to measure the scare factor of each level based on my reactions, oftentimes leading to a death-grip on Hartman’s arm when chainsaws roared to life.

Ghost Lake’s Clown Town, the second level, is one of Hartman’s favorites that he designed, but definitely not a favorite of my poor nerves.

“I would say 50 percent of people are afraid of clowns,” Hartman said. Check. I am one of that 50 percent. “You add chainsaws in the mix and that goes to being deathly afraid of clowns.”

Double check. Deathly afraid.

After only the second level, during which clowns — one of them Hartman’s son — chase you through Conneaut Lake Park’s Kiddieland with chainsaws, my heart was pounding and my palms were sweating.

In retrospect, I am certain I made a fool of myself, but Hartman was right: clowns with chainsaws really get the blood pumping.

In between two of the levels, Hartman kindly reassured me: the attraction has special “scare coaches” for those volunteers who aren’t naturals at instilling fear right off the bat. Fantastic. I couldn’t wait.

Of course, that’s the level of dedication it takes to maintain around two hours of fear throughout the attraction, Hartman said.

Just ask volunteer zombie Andrew Garlick, who nearly ended up with a broken jaw thanks to his dedication.

Garlick, 22, of Saegertown, is a veteran “scare coach” who sometimes spends his time crawling military style as a zombie during the Zombie Nightmare level, grabbing at the ankles of patrons who don’t think to look down. But this sometimes leads to being kicked in the face, he said casually.

I was surprised I wasn’t one of those people, to be frank.

Hartman said it’s not entirely uncommon for some of the volunteers to end up with black eyes, but that’s just the mark of a good scarer.

“It’s almost a reflex for some people,” Hartman explained. People get scared and they punch; that’s life for these volunteers.

On the other side of the scaring, some visitors have had asthma attacks before but Ghost Lake has had no cardiac incidents.

I asked.

In between the Funeral Home level and the House of Evil, I was about certain I had finished running sprints: I could feel my pulse throughout my entire body.

Perhaps the scariest attraction is the seventh level, the Last House on the Left, Hartman’s pride and joy. For me, part of the fear factor was the sheer time it takes to find your way through the maze that is the house, complete with gutted walls and no lighting. One of the monsters yelled at Tribune photographer Shannon Roae, Hartman and me to “get out while you can.”

I was doing just that. Trying, anyway.

The seventh level is the perfect halfway point to the 13 levels, long enough to try your strength and an extra dose of creepy.

But it’s a necessary evil to make it through to the rest of the levels. Did I mention you can’t skip any? Each level must be completed before moving on to the next one, said volunteer Arlene Bradfoot.

After the Last House on the Left was my favorite, the 3D Carnival of Fear, complete with 3D glasses. Perhaps this was my survival instinct speaking, but in some ways the glasses add to the fear — they’re an unusual addition, feeling like a hindrance to your sensory abilities. How could I know what was coming when I couldn’t even see like I normally do?

Despite being one of the best-lit levels, the 3D paint-adorned graveyard brought frights of a trippier kind.

If you can make it through the first 11 levels, two of the Conneaut Lake Park rides are in worked into the final two frights: Devil’s Den and the Blue Streak Ghoster Coaster.

Even if you think you’re stronger than the other more than 20,000 yearly visitors to Ghost Lake, put yourself to the test against Baragona and Hartman’s approximately 200 volunteer scarers—complete with 16 chainsaws. Don’t worry if you cry, it’s happened before.

Amanda Spadaro can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

You can go

Ghost Lake's 13 Levels of Fear is held at Conneaut Lake Park, on Center Street, Fridays through Sundays until Nov. 1. Adult tickets are $25 on Friday and Saturday, children 11 and under are $15. On Sunday, adult tickets are $20; kids, $10. Ticket sales end at 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9:30 p.m. on Sunday and Halloween night. More information can be found at or by calling (330) 799-3111.

Did you know?

On the average night, Ghost Lake's 16 running chainsaws go through about 10 to 15 gallons of gasoline.

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