The Haunted Jail
Open 7-9 p.m. Thursdays & Sundays
7-11 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays thru Nov. 9
116 E. Market St., Columbia City
The Haunted Jail
Judge. Jury. Executioner.
There are haunted houses, and then there are haunted places. The difference? The former relies on special effects and cunning craft to scare the pants off of you for one month out of the year; the latter need only exist, with its history of part fact and part fiction – both equally nightmarish. A genuinely haunted place is volatile year-round, but it is especially active when people invite the darkness to come and play each Halloween.
The Haunted Jail in Columbia City is the real deal. You know it the moment you set eyes on the looming, old, empire-style building. The Grim Reaper and his pet vulture bid you ominous welcome from the perimeter of the property. Carved from a tree as old as the jail itself, they are harbingers of the rich history and sheer artistry that await those brave enough to enter. But Grim and his beaked companion aren’t the only gatekeepers you must pass to gain admittance.
As we stood on the stoop of the jailhouse, fumbling around for our courage, a guide recounted the tale of Deimos and the damned soul of Charles Butler.
“You are standing at the site of Charles Butler’s execution, an event that scarred this community forever,” our guide began. “Butler shot and killed his wife, Abbie, in a drunken rage one evening back in 1884. Abbie was simply trying to protect their son from Butler’s notorious beatings. She pushed the boy out the door, taking a bullet to the back. She died three days later in the hospital.”
A chill filled the air, carried by a somber wind. He went on to say that when police arrived, Butler surrendered without a fight and confessed to the crime but would later threaten to haunt the grounds forever. As the gallows were being erected for Butler’s execution by hanging, a curious figure known only as Deimos was seen about Columbia City. He had the air of a well-traveled aristocrat, someone who had seen a great deal of the world. But he had never witnessed a hanging, and he decided Charles Butler would be his first.
“That warm June day, a remorseless Butler mounted the gallows,” our guide said. “As the executioners placed the noose around his neck and began reading last rites, the mysterious stranger pestered the guards with incessant questions. He was enraptured by this ritual. The guards did not take kindly to the onslaught of inquiries. They beat the stranger and placed him in a cell to resume Butler’s execution.”
As the gallows door dropped, the guilty man did not suffer the swift end of snapping his neck. No, Butler was too cunning, we were told. He would not go without a fight. He slowly slid down the trapdoor and began to strangle to death for the next 10 minutes. The crowd, horrified by this ghastly death, vowed never to have another execution by hanging again. But it was too late. Events were already set in motion that would change the town forever.
They brought Butler inside to discover the impossible: he still had a pulse. His heart beat faintly for another three minutes before he finally died. Make no mistake: this was not the end of Charles Butler. And as the sun went down, an even greater terror was growing in the depths of the jailhouse.
“As Deimos’ anger grew, so did his power. The guards had no idea they had imprisoned a king of the Nosferato,” orated our guide. “Deimos was a king of the Le Masshar de la Nui, a very old and powerful clan of vampires. And the folks in Columbia City were about to find out that you never anger a vampire king – a lesson you are about to witness yourselves.”
The doors creaked on their hinges as we were ushered inside. The air was thick with foreboding electricity. When you pass over the threshold, you’re immediately plunged into an immersive, interactive experience. You become part of the Deimos myth, like it or not. And there’s no turning back.
The third floor is open as a VIP section, a first for the Haunted Jail. Previously forbidden, this is where the warden and his family spent much of their time (a jailhouse must include a house portion, after all). Among other perks, the VIP experience also includes a glow stick to help light your way. Keep it to use as a night light when you get home. You’ll need it.
For those familiar with the Haunted Jail, some favorite terrors are back this year: the snake pit, Giggles the Clown, Grinder’s Meat Market, Doctor James “The Cutter” Johnson, Chainsaw Larry and perpetually tortured Cain, to name a few. Of course, Butler has actively haunted the area for the last 130 years, but the real horror is Deimos himself, who may be lurking in the halls or waiting in his tomb. While it’s polite to knock before entering, you do so at your own risk. Your rap at the door echoes like a dinner bell.
The jail cells and catacombs in what our guide called “the dungeon” are entirely authentic from the 1875 building. Prisoners were housed, beaten and even killed in these cells.
“This is where we get a lot of activity. So many lonely and angry souls …” he said. “You’ll know when they’re around. You’ll feel it in the air with temperature changes. You’ll hear their whispers and screams. They might even follow you home.”
As you travel deeper inside the jail, Deimos’s grip on your soul tightens. Your fear is with merit. The Nosferato king is infamously referred to as “The Soulkeeper,” and his appetite is never satiated. His minions track those who dare enter. They select the tastiest of humans based on the scent of their fear, delivering them into the clawed hands of Deimos, perhaps never to be seen again.
“You smell so much better when you’re awake,” a strange, arresting voice whispered in my ear. “Join our coven. Don’t fight it. We’ve been waiting for you …”