The Niles Haunted House Scream Park: Behind the Screams

Alex Vonhof

I entered the main house of the Niles Haunted House Scream Park. After being led through a completely dark maze, I followed a path across moving bridges that go through foggy forests and over dark ponds. After that, I come out of a short maze and into an ancient Egyptian themed path where I had to walk under spikes and over shifting floors to get to the other side. Once through, there are over 100 different paths that the visitors can take, which would require seven or more trips to go through all of them.
Loy Norrix junior Josie Smalls recounted her experience at the Scream Park and said, “Yeah, it was fun. Really scary. I actually think I started crying.”
The Niles Haunted House Scream Park began in the mid 1970s when, according to legend, the Greater Niles Jaycees, a group of leaders in the Niles community, started a haunted house. This first house was located in the Carnegie Library in downtown Niles and was run as a community event and a fundraiser for local charities. Eventually, the Niles Chamber of Commerce requested that the Carnegie Library building be given up, so the Niles Haunted House was forced to move. In 1980, the house was located in two semi truck trailers parked on the St. Joseph River, but they needed to find a bigger location.
This movement and search continued for 17 years until in 1997, when a 44 acre piece of land was purchased by Scare, Inc., a for-profit company that is owned by Pete Karlowicz and Joe Leach. The freedom that came along with the Niles Haunted House’s ability to have a permanent location was tremendous. The owners were able to plan their own attractions, change them as they wanted and create new attractions.

In addition to the main house, there are 4 other current attractions that visitors can go to see. In the attraction “Possessed,” visitors use an Ouija board to communicate with the spirits that inhabit the area. In “Incarcerated,” guests go through a prison scene, enhanced with victims’ dead bodies and chain fences with sparks flying off of them.
The “Field of Screams” is a gigantic maze in the Niles Scream Park and is very easy to get lost in. The workers who are out in the “Field of Screams” prey upon visitors who have been lost for a long time, which makes them much easier to scare.
“The people in costumes looked really real and they kept running around and chasing people,” said Smalls.
In order to get out of the “Field of Screams,” guests must go through the Voodoo Bayou, the Castle torture area and the floating Cannibal Island. Once the visitors reach this point, however, they must figure out how to escape the attraction.
“They kept calling my name, it was really creepy,” said Smalls about the workers in the Niles Haunted House.
If someone isn’t feeling up to running through a haunted house or a maze, the Niles Haunted House Scream Park also offers the “Dark Terror-tory Haunted Hayride.” In this attraction, visitors ride a trailer that goes along a mile long trail, complete with over 30 different scary sets that culminate in the chase of the Route 66 killer. There are also 3 small escape rooms located at the Niles Scream Park, similar to Escapology in Portage. In an escape room, the participants must solve a puzzle in a set amount of time in order to successfully escape from the room. The difference, however, is that these escape rooms are “speed escape rooms,” meaning that visitors must solve the puzzles and escape the room in just 5 minutes instead of 45-60 minutes as per usual.
The Niles Haunted House Scream Park is also adding a new attraction this year: “Hooded.” In this attraction, the participant goes in alone with a hood over their head and must follow a path with multiple scares and workers on the inside. It is described as an “intense sensory experience,” because of the noises and sound being played in the background, as well as the fact that the workers are able to touch and grab the visitors. This greatly increases the scare level of this attraction. The prerequisite, however, is that the visitor must be an adult to participate and must sign a waiver beforehand allowing them to be touched and grabbed by the workers. Oh, and don’t worry, the hood is washed after every use.
The Board of Directors for the Niles Haunted House consists of President Don Kirkendall, who has been with the attraction since 1984; Vice President Jim Smith, started in 1988; Mike Kessler, with the event since 1987; Joe Leach, involved with the project since 1982; and Pete Karlowicz, a member of the project since 1980.
The Board of Directors got the idea for multiple attractions in their haunted house from a man named Leonard Pickel when Karlowicz and Leach were in Atlanta for an International Association for Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) meeting. In one year the Niles Haunted House had constructed another attraction, and then split that one into another one the year following. Each year, the sets of the haunted house are torn down and changed for the next year, in order to add excitement and encourage people to come back.
The workers that make the Niles Haunted House run, however, are not paid workers, but rather volunteers. Once the park opens, the Niles Haunted House has approximately 700 total volunteers, with 200-250 working each night. Instead of a salary, the volunteers are given money to donate to charities and organizations of their choice. In 2016, the Niles Scream Park donated almost $125 thousand dollars to 80 different charities. These charities included the Make A Wish Foundation, Pets Connect, and Boy Scout Troops.
One of the biggest aspects of the Niles Haunted House is their security. Before they open in the fall, the Niles Haunted House volunteers spray everything in the building with Inspecta-Shield™ Fire Retardant. From the fabric in the rooms to the dummies themselves, everything is sprayed. In addition to the fire retardant spray, the Niles Scream Park has made designated paths for both the visitors and workers so that they can exit quickly and efficiently. In 2016, the fire alarm went off twice, although there was no actual fire. In both instances, the entire building was evacuated and completely clear of people in approximately 45 seconds.
The Niles Haunted House Scream Park is now open for visitors, so make sure to check them out! The dates and times are available on their website, located at