Columbia City Haunted Jail (2022 Review)
Columbia City Haunted Jail 116 E. Market St. Columbia City, IN 46725 http://www.columbiacityhauntedjail.com
Date of Visit: 10/8/22 Reviewer: Lindsay
If you know any of the lore surrounding the full moon, you'll know it's notorious for bringing out the crazies. But another thing it's known for is stirring up the spirits said to reside in truly "haunted" places... especially this time of the year. So it was kind of funny that I chose this particular weekend, with the Hunter's Moon glowing in the cold, clear night, to head towards northern Indiana and visit two new haunts - one of which allowed me to get a little urban exploration and "ghost hunting" in on the same visit. And that would be the Columbia City Haunted Jail, a haunted house holed up inside of a jail that is very real, very old... and thought to actually be haunted!
Columbia City Haunted Jail has held a spot on my haunt bucket list for several years. So you can imagine my excitement when I got parked downtown and heard the screams in the distance - excitement that only grew when I wandered over and finally saw that massive jail towering over me. It was the same feeling I've had when visiting other haunts that I've wanted to see for a while, but had to do some traveling to reach: that of 'Yes! I'm finally here!'.
The Columbia City team has chosen to do things a little differently regarding tickets and pricing this year. For 2022, their former General Admission tickets have become VIP ($25), so every paying customer receives both admission to the house and a $2 off coupon for the concession stand. However, if you walk up and find yourself facing a long wait- as I did the night I arrived- you can upgrade to Platinum ($45 when I went - price may increase on peak nights). Platinum ticketholders not only get the same coupon for concessions, they also get expedited entry to the haunt and a free t-shirt! If you go this route, remember to swing by the merch stand and show your ticket stub to get the goods. (My group and I received glow bracelets, too, but I didn't see if they were only for Platinum guests or if everybody got them.) Looking for somewhere to park? I noticed several free spots near the haunt's location, and even more were just a short walk away downtown.
The Haunted Jail is a traditional haunted house in every sense, meaning it does not follow a set theme. Actually, it didn't have a lot by way of sets at all... and honestly, it didn't need them. Roaming around this big, spooky old building at night is a hair-raising experience in itself. Groups will explore most of the property, and it's a highly physical walkthrough involving multiple staircases (one of them spiral and a tight squeeze), ascending to the upper floors, then heading down into the bowels of the facility, including the incredibly dark tunnels underneath (loved this part!). The floors creak underfoot, the ground is uneven in places, there are tight spots you'll have to pass through. I personally love haunts like this, that physically engage the customer in the environment, but this adventure may pose a challenge for some guests.
As I mentioned above, the house did have some scenes put together, all of which played on common fears. Clowns, aliens, a radioactive waste bunker, and zombies are among what you can expect to encounter when you visit. There was also a large, impressive sort of swamp (?) scene towards the end. But I enjoyed the natural surroundings of the jail most of all... aged, yet well preserved. The ceilings and walls were stained and peeling. Cells had rusted bars and paint chipping off. The haunt's team has added spooky lighting and music in various spots. All of this- along with the random maniacs popping up to get us in the dark- was more than chilling enough. (Yes, I said dark... it is very much so up there! My group was grateful for our glow bracelets, which we often used to light our way.)
Columbia City's haunt is a large attraction that takes you pretty much everywhere on your tour. I would imagine it's not easy to fully staff the place and we did walk through a lot of empty areas, though this could've been intentional, setting groups up for the next attack by a lurking monster. Something I really liked is that they had characters acting as stalkers to hunt you throughout the building, down in the basement, and just about everywhere else. Bubbles, one of their clowns, was particularly skilled at this and came after us early on, repeatedly scaring the snot out of the poor guys behind me, then he noticed me leading and went for me too! We were also trailed and attacked more than once by a character wearing a pig/boar mask, another clown with a beard and painted face, and a man in a top hat wielding blades. It kind of felt like they were doing what another Indiana haunt effectively did this season: used their roamers to spread out and cut down on dead space. With that said, every themed set had at least one actor working it - and usually one or two more. (The downstairs area was especially crazy... I screamed and just about threw myself towards the wall every time an actor came charging out of those pitch black tunnels! Scary!) Scares weren't constant, but they were set up in a way that when one came along, it got at least one person in our group every time.
Other than a lot of empty space (which can't always be helped and again, might've been intentional), I only have one nitpick and it's about scare tactics. Screaming at customers to spook them has its place, but it does get old after a while - not to mention it isn't easy on the ears! I also wasn't a fan of all the "do you want to stay and play with me/us?" lines I heard as we were going through; in many years of attending haunts, I don't think I've ever seen anyone frightened by that... it's right up there with hearing "get out!" and "boo" for me. Everything else was good.
Did you and your group manage to break out of the jail? If so, it's worth hanging out for a while on the property. Platinum customers can show their ticket stub at the merch stand for a free shirt, and don't forget to redeem your $2 off coupon at concessions! They've got an awesome selection of treats, including walking tacos, hot dogs, Dippin' Dots (!), and cold drinks.
Columbia City Haunted Jail was the fourth haunt I crossed off my bucket list this year, and I was so glad I made the trip! Just getting to explore the place at night was cool enough, but all of the maniacs hunting us down and scaring us made it even better. If you're anywhere near northern Indiana and not only want to visit a fun haunted house, but also check out a piece of local history, consider coming here and locking yourself up in this haunted jail for a night. (And who knows? You might even encounter some *real* spooks while you're there.)
ENVIRONMENT: 8/10 - Just exploring that big old jail at night is great in itself! Atmosphere outside was pretty cool, too, and I really liked that lengthy scene they added near the end.
ACTING: 6/10 - Energetic cast and I loved the roamers! I did hear some cliche dialogue ("stay and play" etc.) but other than that, not bad.
SCARE FACTOR: 7/10 - They didn't get us everywhere, but when they did, they usually got us *good*! I would cut down a little on the use of plain screaming as a scare tactic though.
OVERALL: 8/10 - Completely worth a visit for the location alone - the scares only make it better! I had a great time!