The History of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Haunts
By Noah Wullkotte
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana have some of the best haunts in the country. But what’s the history of the haunt industry and how did haunts become so popular? This is the history of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Haunts. Be afraid, be very afraid!
Let’s first go all the way back to 1790. In 1790 magician Paul Filidort was known as the master of the Phantasmagoria Show. People payed to enter a pitch black room where animated and still images of ghosts, skeletons, witches, demons and monsters were projected onto thin gauze, the wall and other parts of the room. Sometimes patrons were shocked with electricity and they consumed drugs and alcohol to make the experience more frightening.
There were live actors, nauseating smells, disembodied voices, frightening sound effects, smoke, and unique instruments. A musician played the glass harmonica that gave off a strange sound that was both beautiful and haunting. People today recognize this instrument from the classic “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. Many times the room was illuminated with candlelight to create a spooky atmosphere. It wasn’t uncommon for the doors of the theater to be locked so no one could escape the terror.
Etienne-Gaspard Robert was a well known producer of Phantasmagoria Shows and created what was known as Fantascope. His unique version of Phantasmagoria used smoke and mirrors, adjustable lenses, a carriage system and more. The projector is mounted on rails so the image can be zoomed in and out as the cart is moved. People had to take off their shoes so they wouldn’t trip over the cords.
Etienne would move his show in 1797 to the Pavillon de l’Echiquier in Paris, France. He met his audience in a secluded area where he led them through a spooky graveyard until they reached a building that was once a medieval convent. They would enter the building and watch reenactments of bizarre experiments, optical illusions, live actors performing and the dead being reanimated. The walls were lined with human skulls, bones and magical symbols.
After the pre-show ended they entered a tunnel that led to a room where they sat down to watch the Phantasmagoria Show. To heighten the experience, they were served punch that was spiked with a variety of drugs. Many people truly believed that the ghosts were real and Etienne’s Paris show was shut down by authorities because of the public’s hysteria. He moved his show several times and it was seen all over the world including the United States. In 1799, his two assistants quit and started their own Phantasmagoria Show. He would sue the assistants and his secrets were revealed to the public who watched the court proceedings. Soon Phantasmagoria Shows started to pop up all over Europe.
(Spectators stared in wonder as the Magic Lantern brought evil spirits to life.)
The scary images were created using Magic Lanterns which were an early form of slide projectors. They used glass slides which had painted images or photos on them. The projector was powered by candles or oil lamps. It wouldn’t be until 1790 when they started using argon lamps which made the images much brighter. The Magic Lantern sometimes had special levers, switches or slides that helped animate the scary characters. Christiaan Huygens is widely credited for creating the Magic Lantern (AKA Lantern of Fright) in 1659 and its prototype sketches feature playful skeletons. Phantasmagoria Shows unfortunately fell out of style in the 1830’s. Without Phantasmagoria Shows we might not have the modern day horror movie or haunts for that matter.
In 1841 P.T. Barnum purchased Schudder’s American Museum and renamed it Barnum’s American Museum. On January 1st, 1842 the museum opened to the public who was shocked and amazed by what they saw. The first oddity that caught people’s attention was the Feejee Mermaid. It was a mummified corpse of a monkey with animal fur and a fish skeleton attached.
Customers were entertained by the Gipsy Girl who predicted the future, the comic known as Drollerist, the vocalist Miss Rosalie, the Albino Lady, glass blowing, hot air balloon ascension, wax figures and 500,000 curiosities. No one had a hard time finding the museum since there was a lighthouse light on its roof and there were flags and posters that decorated the building.
In late 1842, P.T. Barnum introduced the world to a 4 year old boy who was 25 inches tall and weighed 15 pounds. He was known as General Tom Thumb. Over the years customers could see the bearded lady Madame Colfullia, the conjoined twins Chang and Eng, the tattooed man and more. Tickets were just 25 cents which included the museum and Castle Garden. The Castle Garden is where people could enjoy nature and entertainment. The museum was open from 1842 to 1865.
Barnum’s American Museum and 9 other buildings would burn to the ground on July 13th, 1865. The cost of damages was $1,000,000 which is $15,000,000 in today’s economy. The incredible aquarium, beautiful exotic animals, large lecture hall and creepy oddities would burn to a crisp. In 23 years, nearly 40,000,000 people paid to see the museum. P.T. Barnum would eventually create Barnum’s Traveling Museum in 1870.
His museum would join forces with James Bailey and James Hutchinson in 1881. In 1888 it would become Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This three ring circus was a huge success and it featured animals, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, freaks and more. It wasn’t much different from the circus people experience today. On May 21st, 2017, The Greatest Show on Earth closed forever due to a decline in ticket sales and high operating costs. Its final performance took place at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY and it ended with the singing of Auld Lang Syn. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus started as a traveling museum and will never be forgotten.
In 1895, the Cages of Wild Wolves ride opened for business at Coney Island’s Sea Lion Park in Brooklyn, New York. This type of ride is known as an “Old Mill Ride”. Patrons would float on water as they sat in a boat that traveled through dark tunnels. Sometimes there were animatronics, scary figures and props. Some believe that the Cages of Wild Wolves was one of the first dark rides ever produced. Dark Rides are known as Ghost Trains in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Austrailia. Sea Lion Park reopened as Lunar Park in 1903 and experienced 2 fires in 1944. 1944 would be their final year. It’s hard to tell how many years Cages of Wild Wolves was open since many rides were given new names throughout the years. Currently the longest running Old Mill Ride can be seen at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. It’s been operating since 1901 and it’s been remodeled as Garfield’s Nightmares.
The 1890’s was a significant time in the history of film and horror. Movie cameras were invented and the majority of films were under a minute in length and they were all without sound. In 1896, the first horror film was released. It was called Le Manoir du diable (AKA The House of The Devil) or what’s commonly known as The Haunted Castle in America and The Devil’s Castle in Britain. This 3 minute and 16 second movie was ground breaking for its time and featured a large bat changing into the devil, a mischievous skeleton and white sheet ghosts.
At the turn of the 20th century a new form of entertainment was brought to life. I’m of course speaking of the funhouse. Many believe that without the invention of the funhouse, there wouldn’t be the modern day haunted attraction. I would have to agree. The funhouse is a building that features unique attractions inside. Some have the hall of mirrors, steps that tilt back and forth, a massive slide, a spinning disk and more.
The first funhouses were quite dangerous. A spinning disk would throw people against a padded wall and there were few safety regulations if any. Men loved funhouses because some had what was known as a sack race. As women slid down an incline while in a sack, men would look through blow holes. When the woman made it down the hill, the operator of the funhouse would turn on blowing air causing the woman’s skirt to fly up.
Most funhouses had unique facades. Some featured clowns, murals, flashing lights, while others resembled haunted houses. There are very few funhouses that still exist since many of them were torn down to make room for new attractions at theme parks, carnivals and fairs. Currently the oldest standing funhouse can be seen at Bushkill Amusement Park in Forks Township, Pennsylvania. It’s called the Bar’l of Fun and it opened in 1902. Unfortunately the park has been flooded multiple times since 2004 and hasn’t been open since 2006. There are current plans to renovate Bushkill Amusement Park.
Another notable funhouse is Orton & Spooner’s Haunted Cottage (AKA Ghost House or Haunted House) which opened at the Edwardian Fairground in Hampshire, England. It opened in 1915 and was an attraction that resembled a traditional dark maze with elements of a funhouse. It used old school effects such as floor boards that moved up and down, scary sound effects, wooden slides and air that would blow a woman’s skirt up. The façade featured paintings of spooky characters. Orton & Spooner’s Haunted Cottage is one of the oldest standing funhouses in the world and is part of Hollycombe’s Steam at the Fair which is a steam powered amusement park and museum.
Near the end of the 19th century, Halloween Hayrides started to pop up across the united states. They were very simple in nature. You would board a hay wagon that was attached to a tractor or a horse that transported you to a location that was usually on a farm. From there, you would sit by a camp fire with others as you heard ghost stories, roasted marshmallows and hotdogs, drank cider, bobbed for apples or played games like musical chairs. Some hayrides were used to transport customers to barns, haunted locations with paranormal activity, cemeteries or travel through the woods and cornfields.
The 1930’s and 40’s
In the 1930’s magicians performed amazing acts at theaters usually around 11:30pm or midnight after a movie was over. Customers payed 50 cents or less to witness a live seance where the dead was brought back to life. People were entertained by bloody magic tricks, never before seen effects and more. One of the first spook shows was held at the Appleton Theater in Appleton, Wisconsin. This theater also had a fortune teller known as “Koran” who read palms and predicted the future.
In 1929 Elwin-Charles Peck created the concept of the Spook Show. At the time he was one of the most famous magicians in America and was well known for his Spook Parties or what some call Spook Shows. At a certain point in his show, the lights would go out and spirits from another dimension appeared before your eyes. It was an amazing effect known as “The Black Out”.
(Old El-Wyn Spook Show poster from 1933)
Today, the Midnight Spook Show wouldn’t be impressive, but you have to remember that before the Spook Show, there were just simple funhouses, dark rides, freak shows and wax museums. The Midnight Spook Show was cutting edge at a time when horror movies were just starting to become popular. By the late 50’s, there were fewer and fewer Spook Shows popping up and the majority had closed down.
Some of the popular Spook Show hosts would go on to host horror movie marathons. Philip Morris was known as Dr. Evil in the Spook Show Circuit. He would open the costume company Morris Costumes in 1960 and design the infamous Big Foot Costume for Roger Patterson in 1967. He was one of the last Spook Show hosts. Philip Morris passed away on Sunday, September 24th, 2017 at the age of 83.
During the mid 30’s, Trick or Treating became a tradition in the United States. Children dressed up in costume and went door to door yelling “Trick or Treat” in hopes of getting candy or some tasty treat. Children back in the 30’s would vandalize property and cause lots of destruction if they didn’t recieve a treat.
On May 5th, 1942 the great sugar rationing of World War 2 started. The US could no longer Import products from Japan and Hawaii because of their war with Japan. Consumers were only allowed 2 pounds of sugar per household and there was a 50 percent cut of sugar in restaurants. People were issued a War Rations Book with stamps that could be used to purchase sugar. Restrictions were put on the amount of sugar used in canned fruit, vegetables and other food products as well. Trick or Treating was essentially canceled until 1947 when sugar supplies went back to normal.
The 1950’s and 60’s
In 1952 Disney released an 8 minute cartoon called “Trick or Treat”. This popular cartoon featured Donald Duck, a magical jack-o-lantern, a witch named Hazel and many colorful characters on Halloween night. This was one of the first times the words Trick or Treat were used in a film and it proved that Halloween in the United States was here to stay.
During the late 1950’s California became a hot bed for Halloween haunts where businesses, charities and various groups used spooky looking buildings to open up their Halloween attractions. Many would consider these home haunts. In 1957, the San Mateo Haunted House opened its doors to eager fright seekers. It was sponsored by the Children’s Health Home Junior Auxiliary. Little is known about its first year except that it featured a hunch back character named Mortimer. It would last 20 years and become so popular that they had to transport people using a bus. It was nicknamed the Ghost Bus.
The San Bernardino Assistance League Haunted House opened for business in 1958. For its time, this was a jaw dropping attraction featuring Frankenstein’s lab, a creepy graveyard, Dracula and more. In 1959 the theme was “International Scares” where it showcased bone chilling characters and Halloween customs from around the world. Brave visitors saw blood sucking bats, skeletons, monsters, a woman with a sword pierced through her neck and more. Entrance through the haunt was gained by entering a spooky graveyard with hidden ghouls and sights never dreamed of. The cost was a donation of 50 cents.
(The San Bernardino Haunted House first opened in 1958.)
Over the years celebrities would visit the San Bernardino Haunted House including Little Luther. The haunt was sponsored by the Junior Women’s Club in 1960 and got a new director to help with the three day event. 1960 would be the year that more haunts would invade California including the Greenville Elementary PTA Haunted House. In 1961 the San Bernardino Haunted House hired a public relations firm who worked with the company Horror Inc that developed horror shows and commercials.
In 1962 Word of Life Fellowship Inc of Minneapolis created an event called “Operation Nightmare”. Teenagers would gather together at a parking lot before being transported to an undisclosed location. The bus was escorted by police and would follow an old hearse with a corpse in the back. The hearse would suddenly stop and arrive at a location which was usually in the woods. The students were then escorted in small groups to take a tour of the haunted trail “Nightmare Alley” which included various spooky scenes. They would eventually come face to face with the corpse that was inside the hearse’s casket. After they exited the haunted trail, they joined others to hear the gospel.
Word of Life bible clubs and sponsored churches around the country started to organize their own Operation Nightmare events. They usually started at 6 pm or 7 pm and lasted until 10 pm. Participants had to be between the ages of 13 and 18 since Word of Life was a nondenominational Christian club with teenage members. Tickets were 75 cents its first year.
Operation Nightmare was a unique event to say the least. In 1976, they organized a Nightmare Alley haunted trail in Baker Woods, but forgot to remove some of the props. A boy’s father was shocked as they found severed cow parts scattered throughout the park early that the morning. A cow head was mounted on a pole and the park was a real blood bath. The park rangers called the sponsors of Operation Nightmare and the bloody cow parts were removed that day.
(The first Haunted Trail was Operation Nightmare’s Nightmare Alley in 1962.)
Operation Nightmare’s Nightmare Alley could possibly be the first haunted trail in the United States or what was known as a Spook Trail back in the day. Unfortunately the last Operation Nightmare event took place in 1980. Without Operation Nightmare, the modern day haunted trail might not exist.
1962 and 1963 were the years when more home haunts popped up across the country. You had them in Oregon, California, Connecticut, Illinois and other states. In 1964 the San Manteo Haunted House got so popular that they had to move to the Hillsdale Shopping Center Mall. On October 17th, 1964 they became the first walk through haunted house that wasn’t a Home Haunt. The city’s mayor Hugh Wayne stood with San Mateo Haunted House chairman Mrs. George Pulman next to a large paper proclamation. It proclaimed that Saturday, October 17tth through October 31st would be known as Haunted House Times. San Mateo, California embraced Halloween and Haunts with open arms.
In previous years, the haunt usually took place inside a historic home and the location wasn’t revealed until the week of its opening. In its final year as a home haunt, the San Manteo Haunted House had nearly 30,000 people walk its haunted halls. There was no question that they needed to go pro. The San Manteo Haunted House would see its final season in 1977 which made it 20 years old.
Many home haunts opened in 1964 including the Children’s Home Society Haunted House, the San Rafael Haunted House and others. These home haunts usually took place in old run down buildings and would change locations every year. 1964 was a strange year. There were many stories about Halloween Candy being tampered with. In Detroit, a boy suffered a mouth burn after chewing a piece of gum that had a drain cleaner pellet inside. A fish hook and a fly were found inside of a gum drop in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Many of these stories were proven to be false, but it still scared the hell out of people.
On October 22nd, 1964 the Indianapolis Museum Guild used their Swiss chalet style building for a haunted house. This warehouse was previously used for Children’s Museum storage and there were apartment spaces. Despina Partenheumer from San Mateo, California joined the Children’s Museum Guild in 1962. She was asked for fund raising ideas and she thought it would be great if the museum organized a haunted house. Despina got her idea from the San Mateo Haunted House which was a huge success in California and helped bring in lots of money for charities. In March of 1964, she went in front of guild members to pitch her idea. They would decide if it was good idea or not. Thankfully they voted yes.
The Children’s Museum Haunted House in Indianapolis became Indiana’s first haunt and is currently the longest running haunt in the nation. It’s been open every year since 1964 and it’s very family friendly. In its first year, it featured 10 scenes like Dracula’s bedroom, ghosts wearing white sheets, a haunted attic with a mummy and more. There was even a live band called “The Spiders”. They were a monster version of The Beatles. Price of admission was 50 cents and tickets were available at local Kroger Super Markets and available at the haunt. In its first year, it was open from Oct 22nd through Halloween and proceeds went to the museum. The Children’s Museum Haunted House had a total of 26,000 customers and made $13,200. This was a lot of money considering that their fashion show only made $2,900 and the dance made $2,300.
(These various pics are from the opening season of The Children’s Museum Haunted House in 1964.)
Over the years celebrities would visit The Children’s Museum Haunted House including Edith Marie Blossom Macdonald who played Grandma Adams on the Adams Family. Each season the haunted house introduced a new theme. In 1966 it was “Hoosier Horrors” where each room reenacted a famous Indiana ghost story and in 1967 the theme was “Haunted Outer Space”. This haunt was themed after a Mystery Mansion in 1979, Wicked Wild West in 1993 and a Creepy Carnival in 2014.
The haunt has expanded over time and has had different locations near the museum. The Dreyer Building was used for the first 10 years and everyone thought 1974 would be its final season since the building was going to be demolished. Thankfully they found another building. The Harison Building was on the northside of the museum and was its home for 13 years. The haunt would move to the Johnson Waver Pavilion in 1988 and this has been its location ever since. In 1996, they would introduce a Haunted Carnival which included games, concessions and more. The final year for the carnival was 2007.
There are some interesting stories involving the haunt. In 1971 there was a power outage causing the building to be pitch black. There were 1,000 people in line waiting to enter and customers had to be escorted out by staff using flashlights. One year a pregnant actress played a vampire and never emerged from her coffin because she had fallen asleep. Since 1964, the Children’s Museum Haunted House has had nearly 3 million customers and has made almost 10 million dollars. They’ve had many sponsors including Marsh Supermarkets and Pizza Hut.
In 1967 the Huntington Jaycees Haunted House in Huntington, Indiana opened making it the 2nd longest running haunt in Indiana. The original location was at East State Street across from the county jail and tickets were just 35 cents. Its current location is 511 N Jefferson Street. It would eventually be renamed Haunted Hotel 13th Floor and after 2011, it was no longer associated with the Huntington Jaycees.
Ohio wouldn’t see its first haunted house until 1967. That year, the Alliance Jaycees and Jay-C-Ettes Haunted House opened its doors. It was located at 890 W. Main Street in Alliance, Ohio. It featured a mirror maze, Dracula, queue line characters and more . A Hitchcock type character could be seen on the roof as people watched in horror. Tickets were just 30 cents its first season. The haunt would move over the years. Its final location was at the abandoned Carnegie Library in Alliance, Ohio. It was there from 1972 to 1973 and the sign outside read “House of Terror”. The Carnegie Library and Alliance High School would be demolished in the summer of 1974.The Alliance Jaycees and Jay-C-Ettes Haunted House was only open for 6 years, but it was Ohio’s first professional haunted house.
1967 through 1969 were pivotal years for Indiana. This is when sororities started to sponsor haunted houses at various locations throughout the state. One of the first was Tri Kappa’s Haunted Spook House in Anderson, Indiana. It was located in the former building that housed the Madison County Lumber Company at Jackson and 14th Street. The Delta Theta Tau Haunted House in Elwood, Indiana was also one of the first. This hand full of Sorority sponsored haunted houses would pave the way for Jaycees haunts that invaded Indiana in the years to come.
In 1968 a campaign known as Scream in the Dark was created by Campus Life Clubs, a division of Youth for Christ. Campus Life was headquartered in Wheaton, Illinois. Members of Campus Life turned vacant buildings into haunts and the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1972, Campus Life Clubs was responsible for building 89 haunts around the United States. There were some in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana as well. One of Akron Ohio’s first haunts was Campus Life’s Scream in the Dark in 1969. Its final season was in 1974. The YFC board felt that haunted houses weren’t in the spirit of Christianity.
The program was created to give young kids something positive to do and to help them stay out of trouble. The vacant buildings were given to Campus Life and its members were the actors. It usually took Campus Life a few months to turn a vacant building into a house of horrors. Admission was $1 to $1.50 and in 1971, over 500,000 people toured the 89 haunts created by Campus Life Clubs. 750,000 customers were expected in 1972.
During the early 80’s less and less Scream in the Dark haunts were built. It’s hard to say when Scream in the Dark ended since many haunts kept the Scream in the Dark name and some used it without ever being part of the program. But it’s believed that its final year was in 1987. Campus Life was responsible for building hundreds of haunts and was instrumental in helping the haunt industry flourish.
Indiana’s Children’s Museum Haunted House was very influential and in 1969, the first haunted house in Kentucky would open because of it. The Bellarmine-Ursuline Women’s Council Haunted House took place in an old barn across from the Louisville Zoo behind the former Collins estate. The haunted house featured 20 rooms and this frightful attraction was appropriate for all ages. It opened on October 23rd and it ran through Halloween. Tickets were just 30 cents per person.
The Bellarmine-Ursuline Haunted House featured guides dressed as gorillas and a hand would reach out from a hearse to take your money. Proceeds went to aid the community college and over 25,000 people toured the haunt. They raised $11,150 for its first year and a check was presented to college president Alfred F. Horrigan at the annual Holiday Reception organized by the Women’s Council.
In 1970, it opened for its second season and had a subterranean theme. Walter Pitts, a Louisville industrial design engineer was enlisted to sketch 6 monster designs. This included Puff the Magic Dragon, The Hand, The Green Scaly Monster, The Tongue, Hooked Hands and The Spider. Mrs. George Dumstorf would bring these characters to life by creating elaborate costumes. The waiting public wasn’t bored because they were entertained by the headless horseman before they entered the haunt through a cave like entrance. This was a haunt that was ahead of its time, but also featured typical scenes such as a graveyard and a live execution. The council borrowed the idea of a walk through haunted house from the Women’s Guild of The Indianapolis Children’s Museum.
(This is the first newspaper promo ad for Disney’s Haunted Mansion.)
On August 12th, 1969, a unique dark ride known as the Haunted Mansion opened in Disneyland above the Riverfront at the edge of New Orleans Square. Nearly 3,000 people an hour experienced this attraction as they traveled in a two passenger carriage known as a Doom Buggy. Passengers traveled through the seance room, the graveyard, a dusty attic, the clock hall, a crypt and more. There were a total of 999 spooks which included a group of 3 hitchhiking ghosts. The prisoner is named Gus, the Skeleton is Ezra and the traveler is called Phineas. Many believe that the hitchhikers are named after cast members that worked at the park.
The Haunted Mansion was famous for its use of the classic Pepper’s Ghost effect that was best showcased in the haunted ballroom. Safety glass that’s 30 feet tall and 90 feet long is used to help create this ghostly ballroom scene. The projection effects that are featured in the graveyard and on the ghostly busts were first developed at the New York World’s Fair. The projector was created by the master illusioneer Yale Gracey.
The Haunted Mansion was also known for its audio animatronics system that allowed furniture, portraits and ghosts to move by itself. It took nearly 10 years for the Haunted Mansion to be completed and $7 million dollars was spent in creating it. Disney animator Mare Davis helped create many of the ghostly characters and effects.
In 1964, 5 Years before the Haunted Mansion opened, Walt Disney Studios released the album “Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House”. It featured spooky narration and many sound effects that had nothing to do with Halloween or haunted houses. It became gold record certified by RIAA and there would be a follow up album called New Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House in 1979. The Haunted Mansion was originally known as “The Haunted House” before it opened.
The Haunted Mansion was going to be a traditional haunted house with a ghost host or hostess. 30 people were going to be allowed to enter the haunt at once. But that idea was scrapped when they realized that they wouldn’t be able to handle the crowd since people would be walking at their own pace. It was also harder to scare a large group instead of a small group. Walt Disney would have been proud to see what became of his vision. But he unfortunately passed away from Lung Cancer on December 15th, 1966.
Since 2001, the Haunted Mansion has been turned into Haunted Mansion Holiday during the Christmas season. It combines elements of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Haunted Mansion. In 2003, Haunted Mansion the movie starring Eddie Murphy was released and critically panned. The infamous Hatbox Ghost returned to the Haunted Mansion on May 9th, 2015.
Many people credit the Haunted Mansion for kick starting the haunt industry and for taking dark rides to new heights in terms of technology and execution. This attraction is still at Disneyland and it’s quite popular. It’s so popular that other Disney parks have their own version. A dark ride that was heavily inspired by Disney’s Haunted Mansion was Kings Island’s Phantom Theater. We’ll talk about this later in the article.
In 1970 the WSAI Jaycees Haunted House opened in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was located on 108 W. Sinclaire Street in Clifton and had over 11,000 customers for its first five nights of operation. They would raise $12,000 for a show wagon and $4,000 for a Longview Hospital School Bus. The haunt featured 3 floors, nine rooms and took 8 weeks to build. This wasn’t Ohio’s first professional haunt like some believe, but it was a haunt that helped start the Jaycees haunted house craze of the 1970’s. WSAI Haunted House grossed $29,000 in 1970 and $64,407 in 1971. This is pretty impressive considering that the ticket price was $1 and they were only open for 10 days in ’71.
Scenes and effects included coffins with flying corpses, a bloody hospital with realistic operations, crazy flashing lights and more. Customers had to enter a dark room full of fog before crossing a bridge. When they looked down, they could see the pits of hell. This was an intense haunt where people would faint on a nightly basis. Profits for the second year went towards building a community center in Deer Park, an 18 passenger mini bus for Longview State Hospital and for Reading’s Youth Recreation. In 1974 the Dolly Cohen Mansion was used for WSAI Haunted House. The interior was designed by Roy Hotchkins and his family and they were happy to help out. They didn’t charge a single penny for their work.
Over the years WSAI disk jockeys like Jon Summers, Roy Cooper, Buddy Baron, Jim Scott and others would do remote broadcasts from the haunt on a nightly basis. The haunt changed locations about every year and WSAI would reveal the location on air the day it opened. It had unique locations like Swifton Shopping Center, Union Terminal and even the Cincinnati Gardens. 1978 would be the last year WSAI sponsored the haunt.
By 1981, they raised over $500,000 for charity. The theme that year was “House of the Living Dead”. The rooms were modeled after horror movies like Friday the 13th, Phantom of the Opera and Psycho. The haunt had over 200 actors, makeup artists, costume designers and special effects experts. Customers were entertained by mazes, spinning tunnels and chainsaw maniacs. Unfortunately the last year for WSAI Haunted House was in1982, but it would be remembered as one of Cincinnati’s most cherished haunts.
Cincinnati has a rich history of Jaycees Haunted Houses that helped shape the haunt industry we know today. One of the most legendary is the Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees Haunted House. The Jaycees and Jaycettes began construction on September 15th, 1971 and the haunt would be open to the public on October 22nd. Fifty percent of the proceeds were turned over to the Butler County Society For Crippled Children and Adults. Money was used to buy wheelchairs and other equipment. The budget for set construction was $1,885.75 and the Jaycees was issued a temporary permit to use the former naval building which was purchased by the county for $10,000 years ago.
The building was falling apart and unoccupied before the Jaycees took over. A small portion was used as a charity clothing center. 40 men worked on the project and a total of $2,400 was spent. Admission was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Many said that it was like walking onto a Hollywood movie set. Chairman Mark Cohen was over the moon. The haunt made $16,888.20 its first year which is three times the amount they predicted it would make. 27,400 people walked through its haunted halls its opening season.
(An actor is seen dressed as a ghoul at the Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees Haunted House.)
The haunt featured caves filled with monsters, a spooky graveyard, the Mummy, Frankenstein and the Wolfman. In 1972, the haunt doubled in size. There were two haunts built inside the old Naval Reserve which had a total of 30 horrifying scenes. The event was called Horror-A-Rama and it had a net profit of $27,000. One haunt had 14 scenes and the other 16. Tickets were just $1. Over 32,000 customers entered the haunt that year. They were also voted the best Jaycees project in 1973 and 1974. They competed against 50,000 other entrees. Scenes for 1973 included The Boston Strangler, Dracula, Torture Chamber, The Mummy’s Tomb, Phantom of the Opera, Graveyard, Bigfoot’s Cave and more.
On Monday October 22nd, 1974 a 26 year old actor by the name of John Scott was viciously attacked with a club while inside the haunted house. It was believed that he had a brain concussion. He was attacked while working on his costume and continued to work that night scaring people before he was taken to the hospital. The same year, WMOH Radio’s DJ Gary Paul agreed to be buried alive for 24 hours inside the basement. He was resurrected around 6:30 PM Friday. The following year, DJ Bob Berry was buried alive for 24 hours and he thankfully came out in one piece. They were able to raise $84, 775 for the community in their first four seasons.
The Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees Haunted House was so popular that the public demanded that they were open 2 more nights in 1975. The haunt was staffed with 28 monsters that year. In 5 seasons the haunt had raised $150,000. Helter Skelter, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a Ghost Ship were just a few of the scenes that were experienced in 1976. In 1977, the haunt featured the best scenes of the last 7 seasons. The highlight was a Star Wars room that people wouldn’t soon forget.
1978 was the year when the haunt moved to 1700 Princeton Pike and was located inside the 1830’s Hamilton Poor House atop a hill. It was once the Butler County Infirmary. It was known as the Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees House on the Hill and was sponsored by the radio stations WMOH and WSKS. The Butler County home was intimidating to say the least and it was massive. There were more than 70 scenes at one point and the entire tour lasted nearly 45 minutes. Scary sound effects played in the queue line and actor Vincent Price provided a voice over.
Their final season was in 1982 and the building was ordered to be demolished in July. It was beyond repair. Preservationists worked hard to have it declared a historical landmark, but ultimately failed. Steve Rauch Inc. was awarded a demolition contact in December and they began to tear the haunt apart within hours. A restraining order was eventually given by Richard N. Koehler of the 12th District Court of Appeals in Middletown, OH and the demolition had to stop.
At 4am on February 17th, 1983 a large scale fire broke out and it heavily damaged the haunt. Only the North Wing was left. Fairfield Township Fire Chief William Hieb would call for the demolition of the fire damaged haunt. Thankfully the 12th Ohio District of Appeals had forbidden Butler County Commissioners from razing the building because of pending civil litigation. A group wanted to preserve the building, but they failed in doing so. The rest of the haunt was demolished and everything the staff worked so hard for over the years was gone.
The creators of the Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees Haunted House would try their luck with other haunts including ones at Fantasy Farm, Americana and eventually a Haunted Theater at the Starlite Drive-In in Amelia, OH. These attractions were short lived and the Hamilton-Fairfield Jaycees will always be remembered most for their over the top House on the Hill.
The 1970’s was a time where haunts were popping up everywhere. Most were run by The United States Junior Chamber or what’s commonly known as the Jaycees. Barns, school houses, warehouses, churches and just about any type of abandoned building was used for a haunted house. The average ticket price was one dollar. Yes, I said one dollar. 1971 is the year Waky Haunted House opened in Louisville, KY making it one of the first and most popular haunts in Kentucky. It was located at 1812 South 4th Street and tickets were only $1. It featured a torture chamber, a pendulum room, a butcher’s kitchen, the tomb, a spider’s web and more.
(This is the first ever newspaper ad for Waky Haunted House.)
Its first year it was able to raise nearly $10,000 for charity. A check for $4,000 was given to the Big Brothers Club and $5,765 was given to the Kentucky Easter Seal Society. In 1974 it had over 65,000 customers. 1980 was when Waky Haunted House became infested with roaches, well kind of. The last room featured a Roach Motel. Behind the check-in desk and cocktail lounge were three walls covered in plexiglass. Behind the glass, there were thousands of roaches that were fed dog food and maple syrup on a nightly basis. So if you had a fear of cockroaches then you were in for a real treat.
By 1981 Waky Haunted House had over 80 staff members including actors, technicians, makeup artists and more. The final scene featured an intense insane asylum and characters included the Wolfman and Phantom of the Opera. The Wolfman was played by Lucian Tomes Jr. Lucian who would become best known for his role as the funeral director Warren Vanderdark at the haunted attraction Baxter Avenue Morgue in Louisville, KY.
Lucian has many fond memories of Waky Haunted House from working there in the 70’s and 80’s and being a customer. He remembers during the 70’s Frankenstein’s lab having a real Jacob’s Ladder and the actor playing the monster wore heavy rubber Don Post monster gloves. He would occasionally light a cigarette on them. There was a Hunchback of Notre Dame scene, The Yeti and even a Quicksand Pit. For the Yeti and Frankenstein scenes, the monsters reached at people from a barrier in front on a slightly raised platform, which made them look taller.
The infamous graveyard from the 70’s was more or less a black wall scene. A couple raised platforms were attached to a black wall and actors dressed as ghosts stood on the platforms making them look like they were floating in the air. The Quicksand Pit was a popular scene for Waky Haunted House/Louisville Jaycees in the 1980’s. It was essentially a waterbed in a shallow pit that was concealed by a camo tarp that patrons walked across. One year Waky DJ Coyote Calhoun and the president of the Jaycees were buried alive. They spent the night in a customized van that was lowered into a pit. They then had sheets of plywood laid across the top and a lair of dirt was thrown on them. It was a publicity stunt for the ages.
Waky Haunted House was 10 minutes long, open for 2 weeks and was $2 a ticket in 1981. The Louisville Jaycees would cut ties with Waky radio station in 1982 and the haunt was renamed Louisville Jaycees Haunted House. That year they were sponsored by the radio station KJ100 which was called “ The New Magic 100FM” and they played adult contemporary music. The Louisville Jaycees would frequently change locations. In 1989 they moved to 636 E. Breckinidge Street and this would be its final address. The Louisville Jaycees Haunted House raised $45,000 for charity in 1992.
The Louisville Jaycees Haunted House would be open until 1997 before the building was sold in 1998. Real estate investors Peggy Ann and Joe Fairleigh of Rolling Hills bought Louisville Jaycees Haunted House. They planned to remodel the building in order to rent it out or sell it. The group running the haunt wasn’t able to get many volunteers and couldn’t compete with other haunts in the area. In 2008 the Waky Haunted House returned after an 11 year hiatus. It was located at 2801 S. Floyd Street and they only had 3 weeks to build. That year it was themed after a haunted hospital. Unfortunately it would be its final season.
The 70’s was the decade of the Jaycees Haunts. In 1972 the Hudson Haunted House in Hudson, Ohio opened for business. It took 40 people and 15 phones to run the haunt. 48,000 customers toured Hudson Haunted House in its second year. It’s a haunt that’s known for experimenting with themes and in 1977 they decided to make it gorier than ever. Scenes were more shocking and included characters like Doctor Doom, Frankenstein, the chainsaw murderer, Count Dracula and the Snake Men.
(Here is Hudson Haunted House’s first newspaper ad from 1972.)
Hudson Haunted House celebrated its 13th season in 1984. Customers experienced nearly 30 scenes including the executioner’s stand, the swamp, the bloody bathroom, Dracula’s Graveyard, the skeleton room, the witch’s kitchen and much more. A fan favorite was the Bloody Deli which featured two butchers with bloody meat cleavers. The meat case was full of severed hands, feet and more. Hudson Haunted House is currently the longest running haunt in Ohio.
During the 1970’s haunted attractions were a relatively new form of entertainment that was just starting to become popular. Many churches didn’t approve of these horror houses and decided to create their own version. They were known as “Hell Houses”. A Hell House is similar to a traditional haunted house except that the scenes are meant to teach a lesson. Many of the rooms are graphic in nature. Scenes include abortion, suicide, drugs, sex and just about anything that can be considered sinful.
After you exit The Hell House, you enter a tent or part of the church where you pray with others. The oldest Hell House is Scaremare at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was started by American Pastor, Jerry Falwell and it’s been open since 1972. The New Christian Destiny Center in Thornton, Colorado sold a kit for those interested in starting their own Hell House. Originally the kit cost $299, but people could buy separate packages for each room they’re interested in. There’s a package for the domestic abuse scene, the date rape scene and other classics that are sure to entertain the family.
Theme parks would soon have their own haunts. In 1973, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California opened their Halloween Haunt event that ran from October 26th through Halloween. Larry Vincent Seymour, the star of Monster Rally on KTLA Channel 5 showed monster movies in the John Wayne Theater every evening and the Hello People, rock music Pantomime group performed in the Wagon Camp. Knott’s Berry Farm was decorated for Halloween and the Ghost Town featured ghosts and monsters. Costumed characters like the Wolfman, Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula and the apes from Planet of the Apes roamed the park.
It took nearly 2 hours for makeup artist Gene Whitman and his team to apply prosthetics and makeup for 37 characters. There was even a fireworks display choreographed to rock music. Tickets were $4 if purchased early and $5.25 at the gate. The event was so popular its first year that they had to shut down the ticket booth because they couldn’t handle the crowd. Sci-Fi Movie Host Moona Lisa would join Larry Vincent Seymour in 1974 to help with his stage show. She was similar to Elvira Mistress of the Dark and was Larry’s assistant when he performed magic tricks. Unfortunately Larry passed away from cancer in 1975. World famous DJ Wolfman Jack replaced him in 1976 and hosted Halloween Haunt until 1980. His show consisted of Halloween parodies of Bee Gees songs, jokes, dancing monsters and more.
In 1974, the majority of the actors could be seen in Ghost Town scaring customers as they walked past the various buildings. The monsters were known as Peekins. It wouldn’t be until 1977 that they were allowed to scare people outside of Ghost Town. Ghost Town was Halloween Haunt’s first scare zone. In 1997 Cedar Fair purchased Knott’s Berry Farm. Over the years they’ve added multiple haunts, stage shows, rides and more. Halloween Haunt was the first attraction to utilize sliders. Actors wearing gloves would slide across the ground using metal plates attached to their knees. They would do this to scare customers. Knott’s Halloween Haunt (AKA Knott’s Scary Farm) was the first haunted theme park in the United States and paved the way for multi haunt attractions.
Akron, Ohio was a haunter’s paradise. In 1974, The Haunted Schoolhouse on 1300 Triplett Blvd in Akron, Ohio opened its doors. The Haunted Schoolhouse set a high standard for haunted houses with its incredible set design, unique makeup, masks and one of a kind props. This classic haunt has an interesting history.
When Don Johns toured Scream in the Dark on Main Street in Downtown Akron, he fell in love with the haunt industry. Don was in the National Guard and Cindy Johns was trying to open up a beauty salon. He came back home from Scream in the Dark and told Cindy that they needed to open a haunted house. So the next night Don and Cindy toured Scream in the Dark together and that’s when she knew that haunted houses would be their way of life. When Don saw that Thomastown Elementary was for lease, he approached the Akron School board. They said that they would never allow a haunted house in the building. Don eventually convinced them otherwise and the rest is history. They would rent the building for two months with the option to buy at the end of the lease.
(This vintage ad of The Haunted Schoolhouse is from 1979.)
The very first year Don didn’t own the property and was unable to tear down walls or change much of the building. Don and Cindy had only 30 days to setup the haunt and it was a big success. They sold so many tickets causing the ticket booth to be full of dollar bills. Tickets were $1.50 its first year. Dracula’s Castle on the second floor of the schoolhouse was Don’s favorite scene. Currently Frankenstein’s Laboratory is the oldest scene at The Haunted Schoolhouse.
Don unfortunately passed away in 2013. The final scene he worked on was the shifting country cabin. There are flowers from Don’s casket that are placed in some of his favorite scenes throughout The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory. Nearly 3 million people have toured The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory since 1974 and both haunts have tens of thousands of people visit every season. The Haunted Schoolhouse is currently the second longest running haunted house in Ohio.
In 1974 the Akron area had 16 haunts and profits were down for the Jaycees. Many people thought that the haunt industry in Akron was doomed. The Cuyahoga Jaycees reported a $12,000 loss in profits and it would be the final year for the Akron Jaycees’ Haunted Opera House. It was soon replaced by a haunted musical the following year. Haunts all over Akron were in the red, but thankfully the haunt industry bounced back.
Louisville was a city that played a big part in the history of the haunted house and they were the innovators of the Ghost Run. A Ghost Run is a haunted scavenger hunt in a sense. You are given clues to find different haunts as quickly as possible while driving. If you’re closest to the “official run mileage” or complete the course in the fastest time then you win a trophy or prize. The Beuchel/Fern Creek Jaycees organized the nation’s first Ghost Run in 1975. Tickets were $2.50 in advance and $3.00 the day of the race. There were 3 haunts you had to find and the winner walked away with a trophy. Louisville would have multiple Ghost Runs throughout the years. They are also called Spirit Chases. Currently Danger Run is the only Ghost Run left in Louisville.
Haunts were known for having very creative staff members. Well known makeup artist Tim Herron could be seen entertaining kids outside of Hanna Barbara Land at Kings Island in 1975. Tim Heron was the makeup artist for WSAI Haunted House in Cincinnati, Ohio for three years and taught makeup classes at Indiana University and high schools. He entertained people at Kings Island by sketching their portrait and performing tricks. His character didn’t have a name, but it did have an English accent. It took Tim an hour each morning to apply his clown makeup and prosthetics. Tim was very talented. He designed all the makeup for King’s Island’s Halloween Weekend and performed as Dracula in the monster parade.
1975 is the year that a unique haunted house opened in Kansas City, Missouri and changed the haunt industry forever. It was called The Edge of Hell and it was unlike any haunt at the time. The Edge of Hell became known for its 5 story spiral slide. Enter Heaven before being forced to ride a massive slide that leads to the pits of Hell. This intense slide started out as 2 slides, one 120 feet and the other much smaller. For its first year tickets were just $3 and $2 for groups of 20 or more. It was sponsored by the radio stations KY/102 and KUJA. It was only open the week of Halloween. The Edge of Hell finished its 12th season at 622 Wynadotte Street before moving. Their original building was converted into luxury apartments. They moved to 1300 West 12th Street under the 12th Street Bridge in 1988.
Over the years The Edge of Hell would incorporate characters such as the Rat Man who entertains the queue line as he places rats in his mouth. The Edge of Hell is a cutting edge haunt that featured a swinging bridge, real skeletons, ghostly apparitions (AKA Pepper’s Ghost), bleeding walls, startling animatronics, a laser show and it’s home to the largest reticulated python in captivity. Her name is Medusa and she’s 25.2 foot long and weighs a whopping 350 pounds. She was measured on October 12th, 2011 by Guinness World Records and is the current record holder for being the largest snake.
Full Moon Productions would open multiple haunts over the years in the West Bottoms area including The Beast in 1991. It’s a haunt that pioneered the open room format where customers feel lost as they enter scenes and there’s no set path. The Beast was built inside an old John Deere Warehouse across from the 12th Street Bridge on 1401 W. 13th Street. It’s one of the largest haunts in the country. The Werewolf Forest alone is 10,000 square feet. Both The Beast and The Edge of Hell feature live animals. One year The Edge of Hell even had a real Mountain Lion. The Beast is best known for its live alligator that can be found in the Louisiana Swamp scene.
In its first year The Beast included scenes such as a graveyard with Beetlejuice, the cobblestone streets of London with Jack the Ripper, a torture chamber with a swinging pendulum and more. They also have two multistory slides and are known for their amazing thunder and lightning effects. At one time Kansas City had 14 haunts in the 1980’s and was known as the Haunted House Capital of the World. Full Moon Productions would open other haunts such as Macabre Cinema and Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe in 2007. Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe was once two haunts, The Catacombs and Fear which merged in 2003 to become The Catacombs Extreme Scream. Unfortunately the owner Dennis Kingsolver died in a freak elevator shaft accident while working on the haunt and passed away in the summer of 2005 from his injuries. Full Moon Productions would acquire the buildings in 2006.
Macabre Cinema features sets from the movies Hellraiser, Killer Klowns From Outer space and The Mummy/Scorpion King. The sets were purchased from Rocky Point Haunted House when they closed in 2006. Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe was actually the name of Full Moon Productions’ first haunt that was open for two weeks on Independence Square in 1974. But Full Moon Productions will always be best known for The Edge of Hell, one of the most over the top haunts in the country and one of the longest running.
The 70’s was an important decade for the haunt industry. Haunts were as popular as ever. People were even getting married inside of their favorite attractions. In 1976, John Becker wed Sharry Zellner at the Rossford Jaycees Haunted House in Rossford, Ohio. Mayor Louis Bauer was dressed as The Phantom of the Opera as he performed the ceremony. The groom was dressed as Dracula and guests included Frankenstein, Wolfman, Cyclops and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The event took 2 months to organize and it was unique to say the least.
In 1975 there were 7,000 Jaycees chapters and 700 Jaycees Haunted Houses. This would mark the year that The Haunted House Coloring Book was released and The Haunted House Company was formed. Tom Hilligoss who worked at the local Jaycees learned that a firm was going to market a bicentennial coloring book through the Jaycee Chapters. Tom was a fan of the idea, but he wanted it to be special. With help from business partner Jim Gould, he made the coloring book which was 17x 22 inches. It was massive! It cost a haunt $2 to buy one and they were sold for $3. Tom was able to sell a quarter of a million of these coloring books to the Jaycees. He got help from artist Ralston Scott Jones and the Pantagraph Printing and Stationary Company.
(Tom Hilligoss helped promote the haunt industry with his Haunted House Coloring Book.)
Tom Hilligoss was instrumental in the success of the haunt industry with his Haunted House Company. He endlessly promoted Jaycees Haunted Houses at conventions, conducted haunted house seminars and made contacts with companies to sell masks, makeup and props to haunted houses. Tom, his business partner Jerry Coleman and a camera man traveled across the united states filming haunts to learn more about what scares people.
They toured over 35 haunts across the country in cities like Cleveland, Kansas City, Denver, Detroit, Louisville, Indianapolis and all points in between. They looked for haunts that were unique. The video was 10 minutes long and it was made to educate Jaycee Chapters who might be interested in starting their own attractions. Warehouses, schools, churches, shopping malls and any type of building you could think of was filmed.
This was a man on a mission and he was just getting started. Tom would create a 36 by 48 foot haunted house using semi trailers. It featured scenes like Frankenstein and his monster, a giant shark that leaps out of the water, the Phantom of the Opera and more. It was a traveling haunted house that could be seen at fairs, carnivals and various conventions. Tom said that his haunted house made customers hide in fear and that it took 25 people to operate.
Tom would eventually create a Jaycees Haunted House Success Kit in 1976. This 13 page How To Guide featured tips and tricks on set lighting, props, makeup, room ideas and more. It also discussed Tom’s experience touring haunts across the country. This colorful book had its own comic strip and even mentioned how people could create a Christmas event. It was a big hit with haunt enthusiasts and those who wanted to start their own Jaycees Haunted House. You could say that Tom was the first haunted house expert of its kind. In the end Tom Hilligoss would be remembered as one of the best promoters of the haunt industry and instrumental in its success.
More and more haunts emerged from the darkness as it got closer to 1980. In 1976 the Springdale Jaycees and March of Dimes sponsored a haunt that was simply called “The Haunted House”. It was located in Cassinelli Square Mall in Cincinnati, Ohio. Customers said that the monsters were so lifelike that it caused them to faint. Thankfully army cots were available for the customers to lay down in case the haunt was too intense.
(This photo of St. Rita’s Haunted House staff was taken on October 20th, 1988.)
“The Haunted House” would move to the old boy’s dormitory on 1720 Glendale Milford Rd in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1978. This spooky haunted house was on the grounds of St. Rita’s School for the Deaf and would later be called St. Rita’s Haunted House. In its first year it was sponsored by St. Rita’s Moms and Dads Club, Q102 and the Springdale Jaycees. Tickets were only $1.50.
The building was originally condemned and many things had to be done for the haunt to open. The roof had to be replaced, floors strengthened, walls built and a sprinkler system installed. The repairs and special effects cost $13,000. This was a lot of money considering the haunt only made $8,000 its first year. In 1990 they had over 30,000 people tour the haunt and by 1992, they made a total of $375,000 in profits.
St. Rita’s had numerous celebrities visit including the Cool Ghoul in 1981. That night tickets were only $1.02 because Q102 was doing a live broadcast for Channel 19’s Monster Mash. By 2007, the haunted house had raised nearly $900,000 for St. Rita’s School for the Deaf and helped nearly 9,200 hearing impaired children get an education. That year the haunt was controlled by 7 computers, 8 fog machines, 24 CD Players, one commercial air compressor, 9 computerized room controllers, 23 pneumatic cylinders and 9 electric air solenoids. At one time, St. Rita’s Haunted House was extremely popular and people waited hours in line. But times change. They just couldn’t compete with other haunts in the Cincinnati area and it was too expensive to run the place. The building also became a liability and wasn’t safe anymore.
In 2015, St. Rita’s tried to open a new location at Tri-County Commons. It was going to be renamed “The Haunted House”, because they didn’t want to have the haunt use the name St. Rita’s and someone sue the school. A percentage of profits would benefit St. Rita’s School for the Deaf. They were $23,000 short of donating one million dollars to the school and 2014 was their final season. St. Rita’s Haunted House was 39 years old making them the oldest haunt in Cincinnati and the 3rd longest running haunt in Ohio at the time. Currently Mt. Healthy Haunted Hall on 7700 Seward Ave in Cincinnati, Ohio is the longest running haunt in Cincinnati. It opened in 1990 and has been open every year since.
On June 20th, 2018 St. Rita’s Haunted House was demolished. The 171 year old farmhouse was deemed unsafe and it would cost too much to maintain. It took only an hour to tear down because the bricks and mortar was so brittle. Some of the bricks were kept and sold to benefit the school. St. Rita’s Haunted House will forever be remembered as a cherished Cincinnati landmark and an icon in the haunt industry.
It wouldn’t be until the late 1970’s that Haunted Hayrides were advertised in newspapers. Prior to that they were referred to as Halloween Hayrides. Haunted Hayrides are different than Halloween Hayrides. They feature scenes, sets, actors and props. One of the first times the words “Haunted Hayride” appear in a newspaper was for Akron Ohio’s Haunted Hayride in 1979. 1981 would be the year that Haunted Hayrides started to pop up all over the United States. Allen’s Haunted Hayrides on 2430 Pittsburgh Road in Smock, Pennsylvania is currently the longest running Haunted Hayride in the nation. It’s been open since 1979.
Richard and Ronald Allen started the hayrides in October of 1979 when it was sponsored by the Uniontown Greater Jaycees. They would operate the hayrides together for years, but eventually operated them on their own. Their father Ralph Allen hauled hayrides for churches and the Boy Scouts in the 1960’s as a way to financially support the farm. For years their large barn was used as a dairy store, but it was converted into a tavern in the 1980’s. First it was Happy Heifer Lounge and then Pizon’s Place. In 2015, it was turned into a Haunted House called the Tavern of Terror. The Dairy Farm has 250 registered dairy cows and the Allen’s family operates the farm and hayrides. It’s truly a family business that has become a fall tradition for many people.
In 1981 Don and Cindy Johns turned the building next to The Haunted Schoolhouse into a house of horrors. It would be called The Haunted Laboratory. This building was the Daniel Guggenheim Airship Institute from 1929 to 1949.
They would send animals such as monkeys and mice to outer space and bring them back to the laboratory to see how they reacted to different situations. The first parachute in the United States was made in the Haunted Laboratory. The Haunted Laboratory also had the first ever vortex tunnel and one of the first vertical wind tunnels. The vertical wind tunnel was hollow when they purchased the building. Two full time employees had to be attached to harnesses as they built each of the floors. They then went down to the bottom and chopped the floors up with axes.
The world famous Tesla Coils were added to the haunt in 2001. Each is 1.5 million volts. There’s one inside the haunt and one on top of the roof. The one on the roof can’t be used if the humidity is too high. Both Tesla Coils are shipped to California if they need repairs and this can be pretty costly. The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory at one time had hidden passageways behind every room so staff can easily travel from one area to the next.
The Haunted Laboratory has a history of paranormal activity and there have been many strange events including an armed robbery, well kind of. In 1987 Akron police found a safe in a field behind The Haunted Laboratory. Detective Jim Stephens spotted the safe which had been stolen from the Rax Restaurant on Wednesday afternoon. One of the officers was creeped out as he walked through The Haunted Laboratory. He didn’t know what was real or fake and didn’t like that some of the mannequins had claws. Lieutenant Lyn Callahan said that each floor was a maze and that it was quite unnerving. Staff helped the officers try to locate the two suspects, but the suspects had unfortunately left the building before cops surrounded it.
(Akron police search for Burglary suspects at The Haunted Laboratory.)
Both The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory have become legendary in the haunt industry and scare thousands upon thousands of visitors every fall season. Tickets were only $2 for The Haunted Laboratory and $3 for The Haunted Schoolhouse in 1981. The four story haunt became famous for its massive Tesla Coils, its vertical wind tunnel and its hand crafted scenery and props. Almost everything in The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory was built from the ground up. John Elich, owner of The Factory of Terror in Canton, Ohio purchased both The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory in 2016 and he officially took over in January 2017. In the summer of 2018, The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory would debut their 60 minute Escape Rooms which was simply known as Escape Akron.
The majority of people had a positive view of haunts in 1982. Most felt that it was good clean fun. But a Portsmouth, Ohio psychologist thought differently. On September 16th, 1982 an article titled “The Dangers of Haunted Houses” was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Dr. John K. McHenry visited a local Jaycees Haunted House 2 years ago and was shocked by what he saw. He said that the scenes of chainsaw butchery and mayhem were so realistic that it shook him to his core.
He suggested that any haunt that simulates death and mayhem should be shut down and that charitable haunts ran by the Jaycees shouldn’t exist. This caused a big uproar in the local haunt community since the psychologist only visited one haunt and concluded that all haunts were the same. He noticed that teenagers had a great time while a few young children were upset as they left. His opinion was that haunted houses were as bad as x rated movies and that they warped the minds of innocent children. I tend to disagree.
Quite a few haunts have had issues with people who didn’t approve of what they created. Fright Manor in Indianapolis, Indiana is one of them. The history of this haunt goes back to 1982. It was originally called The Haunted Gym and it was located inside a Lutheran High School at 4100 South Post Road in Wanamaker, Indiana. Tickets were just $2. It was a creepy school with a scary basement. One of its highlights was Dracula swinging from a rope as he flew through the air. In 1984, a Lutheran woman complained that the haunt’s staff were devil worshipers. Unfortunately the haunt was forced to move because of this one complaint.
So, in 1985, Tom Angrick and Matt Barrick went before the Southport Town Council. The council agreed to let them move to a new location and the haunt was renamed Fright Manor. It was located at the City Southport Park in Southport, Indiana. The Sci-Fi Channel would name Fright Manor the best haunt in Indiana in 1998. 2 neighbors would complain to the City of Southport about the haunt and Fright Manor would be given a new contract. They had to be shutdown at 11pm, but this wasn’t possible.
In 1998 Fright Manor had 11,000 customers and tickets were $7 a piece. The money went to the Lutheran Men’s Basketball League, Calvary Lutheran Church, the Lutheran High School and the City of Southport to help buy playground equipment for the local park. In 1999 $10,000 was spent on animatronics and various props. The storage shed was also enlarged. $4,000 was spent on advertising which consisted of radio ads, ads on White Castle food bags and to be included in the Target Haunted House Guide. It took six weeks to build the haunt and a committee of 20 people met throughout the year to plan and work on props. From 1984 to 2004, Fright Manor was able to raise over $300,000 for the city of Southport Children’s Fund.
In 2004, Fear in the Dark replaced Scream at South Hollow and it was located at the Southport Little League. From 2005-2008, Fright Manor was located at the Southport Little League. In 2009 they moved to 2909 S. Meridian Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. Today Fright Manor is a multi haunt attraction with a variety of themes and effects. Fright Manor’s old building was sold and they moved back to Southport Little League in 2018.
On Friday May 11th, 1984 the haunt industry would change forever. This is the tragic day that the Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey caught on fire. 8 teenagers were killed in the fiery inferno and 8 others were injured. The deceased victims were all on a school trip to the park , five from New York and three from New Jersey. It only took 15 minutes before the roof caved in. This massive fire started at 6:35 pm and was under control by 7:41 pm. Some say that it was caused by a 13 year old boy who accidentally caught a 3 by 7 foot polyurethane foam crash pad on fire. He was using a cigarette lighter to find his way out. This has not been proven.
(Here are images of The Haunted Castle in its glory days.)
Apparently one of the strobe lights had malfunctioned causing the haunt to be darker than usual. A 14 year old boy named Joey Iraca walked through the haunt with the boy who caused the fire and told his mom what had happened as they watched the news on TV. Law enforcement promised that the 13 year old wouldn’t be charged because he didn’t commit a crime. But unfortunately the boy never came forward.
There were nearly 20,000 people at the park that day. Visitors said that they could smell burning flesh and hear screams as the Haunted Castle went up in flames. The temperature reached 2,000 degrees and bodies were burned beyond recognition. Authorities at first thought they were scorched mannequins, but that wasn’t the case. The fire spread so quickly because of wind from the outside air conditioners and there was no chance for survival. Two of the exits were closed off including the strobe light emergency door. None of the victims were near the exit and most were huddled together. Prior to the Haunted Castle fire, there were 3 reported deaths at the park since it opened 10 years ago.
Six Flags was warned several times by employees that wiring had frequently malfunctioned, emergency lights didn’t work properly and there weren’t enough fire extinguishers. Most importantly there needed to be a sprinkler system to help with large amounts of inflammable wood, latex and paper mache. Six Flags argued that they didn’t need a sprinkler system since it was a temporary structure consisting of 17 linked metal highway trailers. People later found out that the façade was sprayed with inflammable polyurethane foam which burns rapidly and gives off poisonous cyanide fumes. The employees had very little safety training and many didn’t have batteries for their flashlights. This was a very dangerous haunt to say the least.
Six Flags never applied for the required permits and there was no certificate of occupancy. It was recommended that The Haunted Castle have 17 costumed employees to act and help in case of an emergency. There were only 13 and on slow nights half the building was used and they had only 5 employees. 90% of the interior was made of quarter inch plywood and the mannequins were made of wax. None of the haunt used fire retardant. The Haunted Castle should have been able to withstand a fire for up to an hour if it followed the required safety precautions.
Several lawsuits were filed against Six Flags. The 18 page lawsuit by the relatives of the victims seeked a total of 550 million dollars. In addition, the suit seeked 200 million for the victims’ pain and suffering and another 200 million for willful misconduct by the defendants. Bally Manufacturing Inc who owned Six Flags was also named in the lawsuit. They were scheduled to go on trial on May 13th, but they went on trial May 29th, 1985. It was determined that Six Flags had committed many safety violations and that the structure could have been saved if a sprinkler system was installed. Sadly, the victims would have still died since they suffocated from the smoke.
Six Flags, Great Adventure and the general managers of The Haunted Castle were found not guilty of manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter. The general managers were allowed to participate in a pre-trial intervention program and only had to do public service. It was the first time in New Jersey for a company to be tried on charges of criminal behavior that resulted in deaths. Seven of the eight families were awarded $2.5 million each after the case was over. The 8th family was awarded $750,000 and they were the only family to go to trial.
(Prosecutor points out Strobe Room on Haunted Castle map on May 29th, 1985.)
The victims were Joseph Beyroutey, Nicola Caiazza, Jose Carrion Jr., Tina Genovese, Christopher Harrison, Eric Rodriguez, Lenny Ruiz and Samuel Valentin Jr. They were all between the ages of 17 and 18 and had so much life to live. They were only steps away from where a proposed exit was supposed to be built. Toxicologist Dr. Reng-Lang Lin found high levels of benzene in the victims. Lin also found acetone in blood samples of one of the victims which would be consistent with someone who died in a gasoline fire.
We may never know what really caused the fire. Fire inspector John F. Connell believes that the fire was deliberately set. He said that polyurethane needs a temperature of 750 and 850 degrees in order to ignite. Wood needs at least 450 degrees to ignite. A flame from a cigarette lighter wouldn’t be able to achieve this.
In 1985, Great adventure unveiled a 5.2 million dollar fire-safety system to reassure customers who may be scared off by the Haunted Castle fire. The computerized safety system featured 17 miles of wire and water mains throughout the park. The Honeywell Delta1000 computerized system had all the heat detectors, sprinkler systems and alarms linked to a computer. It included 5,300 sprinkler heads and 400 smoke and heat detectors. There are now 8 additional fire hydrants making the total 34. Park attendance had dropped 18 percent after the May 11th fire and profits were way down.
The Haunted Castle fire caused new provisions to be added to the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. Special amusement buildings had to be protected with an approved automatic sprinkler system. If the building was portable or movable then the sprinkler water supply may be approved by temporary means. A building with low lighting levels requires a smoke detection system and haunts with paths that are closed off require exit signs. These changes were very costly and many haunts closed because they couldn’t afford it.
You might think that The Haunted Castle was the first haunt at Six Flags, but you would be wrong. In the late summer of 1978, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, NJ added a new attraction called “The Haunted House” which opened in late September. It was an instant hit with park goers who would wait hours in line. The Haunted House was two stories tall and resembled a boarded up dilapidated house surrounded by iron fencing. Spooky music and sound effects played on the speakers in the queue line. It was a small attraction that consisted of 4 connected highway trailers with a haunted house façade in front. Three to four actors scared customers who walked through pre-remanufactured scenes. Scenes included a haunted library, butcher shop, Dracula’s Castle and more. Many of the actors were previously street performers at the park.
Six Flags Great Adventure wasn’t impressed with The Haunted House and wanted something bigger and better. They would lease The Haunted Castle in 1978 from George Mahana, owner of The Haunted House Company in East Orange, NJ. The Haunted House would move in 1979 to Six Flags Over Mid America in St. Louis, Missouri and was replaced by The Haunted Castle. The Haunted Castle opened in Spring of 1979. It was a much larger attraction. It was made up of 17 highway trailers. It took seven to nine minutes to tour and could accommodate up to 1,600 patrons an hour. The Haunted Castle has a tragic history, but it played a major role in the advancement of haunted houses.
By the mid 1980’s people from across the country were hearing stories about a mysterious haunted hospital. This haunted attraction supposedly had multiple floors with live animals, trap doors and booby traps. If you survived the tour of terror then you were given your money back. This urban legend is different depending on who tells it, but every year you’re bound to hear someone tell the tale of the infamous money back haunt.
Haunts would capitalize on the urban legend by having their own Money Back event where customers had to eat insects, drink disgusting smoothies, complete tasks and more. It was like Fear Factor, but on a much smaller scale. Hustonville’s Haunted Castle in Hustonville, KY had their own version called the Panic Room. A company would trademark the words Money Back Haunt in 2012 and advertise at various conventions. This company is no longer in business.
The 1980’s was a unique time in history with horror movies being at the forefront. Many haunts were using characters like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Pinhead and Michael Myers. The acting troupe Legion of Terror was formed by the group Knights of Fright in 1985 and they were quite different. They let their actors have freedom in creating their own original characters on a nightly basis and there was no set script. Bloodview Haunted House on 1010 Towpath Road in Broadview Heights, Ohio is where Legion of Terror resides. This haunt has been around since 1981. Over the years Bloodview has been able to raise millions of dollars for charities including the Broadview Heights Lions Club.
In 1988, Bloodview held auditions at the Superman Convention for those interested in joining the Legion of Terror. They also applied makeup to those who were part of the masquerade contest that night. One eager teenager auditioned by lip singing to the song La Bomba as he played the music on his boombox.
Bloodview is known for the Legion of Terror who torments and entertains customers in their unique queue lines. It’s a frightening show before you enter the haunt. It’s said that Netherworld Haunted House was so impressed with Bloodview that they modeled their queue line after them. To this day, the Legion of Terror still haunts Bloodview Haunted House making them the oldest haunt acting troupe in the world.
Home Haunts were quite popular in the 1980’s and in 1988 video game guru, commercial space pioneer, and entrepreneur Richard Gariott turned his 4,500 square foot Austin, Texas mansion into the most elaborate home haunt America has ever seen. It was called Britannia Manor which is the name of a castle in the video game Ultima. It took months and over $100,000 to create the elaborate scenes and special effects. Garriot’s pool was turned into a lagoon and featured a man in a row boat being torn apart by a monster. A ton of dry ice was used to make the lagoon foggy.
Britannia Manor was modeled after a medieval castle with Frankenstein’s laboratory, a haunted study, trap doors and everything you would expect in a haunted castle. It was a very interactive experience where you were forced to crawl, solve mysteries and more. Nearly 40 volunteers donated their time to be apart of the project and to receive a Britannia Manor T-Shirt as payment. Greg Dykes and Keith Ewing, from Custom Creations were the only ones paid.
The haunt was open on Halloween night every other year from 1988 to 1994. Tickets were free and people would line up 2 days in advance for a chance to experience the interactive haunt. At one time it was simply known as America’s most elaborate haunted house. In 2009 Richard Garriot organized Scare for a Cure at his home that was a mile from the original Britannia Manor. Scare for a Cure is an Austin, Texas based non profit organization that raises money for local cancer charities by building haunts.
You could say that Haunted Hayrides became quite popular in the 1980’s. They were a relatively new type of haunt that appealed to families, teenagers and people of all ages. Many hayrides used farm equipment to scare customers. It wasn’t unusual to be chased by a combine, hearse, pickup trucks or even the Headless Horseman. Springboro Haunted Hayride at 6070 Springboro Road in Lebanon, Ohio was Ohio’s longest running Haunted Hayride at the time.
In 1989, Jack Proff decided to open a Haunted Hayride since profits for the Fall Harvest were way down. He was barely making ends meat and had to do something to survive. Jack’s daughter Gina was the police chief for Farmersville, Ohio and the police department organized a haunted house at the meat packing plant every year. Jack remembers visiting the haunted house and getting scared out of his mind, but he knew that he was safe. He had an idea to start his own haunted hayride in his 20 acre woods and he did.
The Haunted Hayride officially opened in 1989. In its first year, they had 5,000 customers. The next season, Jack sold off all his farm equipment. The Dungeon was added in 1993. It was a haunted house underneath the concession barn. In 1993, tickets were $5 for the Haunted Hayride and $3 for the Dungeon. Children 6 and under got in for free. By 1996, they had nearly 15,000 customers a season and most of the actors came from the local high school. In 2002, Bill and Jennifer Danishek bought Bull Run Farm and lived on the farm. They would take over Springboro Haunted Hayride that season. The Dungeon was removed because of changes in the fire code. In 2004 they would introduce The Black Bog.
(A chainsaw maniac attacks the wagon at Springboro Haunted Hayride in 1996.)
The Black Bog expanded and improved every year by adding elaborate structures like a realistic ghost town, large graveyard with mausoleums, a spooky cave and more. Customers could meet characters like the menacing scarecrow with his scythe, Mr. Moss, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and more. The Black Bog was one of the best haunted trails around.
In the fall of 2016, owner Bill Danishek got the opportunity to buy back the company DK Bicycles that him and his family started over 30 years ago. The decision was made that Bull Run Farm would be sold and it would be the final season for Springboro Haunted Hayride and Black Bog. It was also the final season for Summer Camp which had been operating for 13 years. Those who got the chance to tour these great haunts and experience Summer Camp will have cherished memories that will last a lifetime.
The final night of operation for Springboro Haunted Hayride and Black Bog was on Saturday, October 29th 2016. In early 2017, The producers of the Ohio Renaissance Festival and Celtic Fest Ohio along with the core management team from the old Springboro Haunted Hayride came together to bring Spingboro Haunted Hayride back from the dead. The new haunt would be called Brimstone Haunt. It includes Brimstone Haunted Hayride and Forgotten Forest. Its new location is at 472 Brimstone Rd Wilmington, Ohio in Renaissance Park. Its first season was in 2017 and it was a big success. Both the haunted trail and hayride were similar to the old haunts, but somewhat different.
It was the dawn of a new decade and things were changing in the haunt industry. The era of the Extreme Haunt was upon us. 1990 was the year of The Haunted Hoochie. Let’s look back at its history. When Tim May was a kid, his grandfather’s hayride business was thriving. The hayride had been around since the 1950’s and it was quite successful. When Tim was in 7th grade, him and his friends started making illusions. One of his favorites was a guillotine with a head tied on a string that would fly over the crowd as the hay wagon drove by.
At the time, Tim was creating specialty art and doing construction. He was making big money. Tim was encouraged to become a surgeon, but he had a love for the haunt industry and wanted to make haunts as real as possible. When his grandfather passed away, he was given the opportunity to buy Fran Bar Park from his grandmother and he did. Tim decided to make his haunted dreams come true by creating the one and only Haunted Hoochie.
In 1990, Haunted Hoochie was born, but it wasn’t always called Haunted Hoochie. Before it opened, it was called Haunted Heights. Tim was worried that he wouldn’t get enough workers, so he hired athletic and band boosters from Licking Heights to help out. It was a disaster. They had no vision, bickered back and fourth and acted very childish. Enough was enough. Tim fired the workers and hired his friends instead. Haunted Hoochie was officially born and it was a hit from the very start. In its first year, Haunted Hoochie had nearly 30,000 people visit. They had to keep expanding the parking lot because of the crowd. By the time they were done, it was 50 acres worth of parking. Haunted Hoochie advertised on rock stations and had a kick ass commercial. Rock bands from around the country would come and perform and people from all walks of life would visit.
Haunted Hoochie started with two steel shacks and a small trail, but over the years more shacks were added and it became more elaborate. People were shocked by the intense scenes of gore and were amazed by the over the top special effects. Haunted Hoochie became known for its gory scenes and crazy actors. One of its first scenes featured an actor playing In Living Color’s Fire Marshall Bill letting a man grab a piece of dynamite out of a box and then lighting it. People walked outside to see the poor man blown to pieces as his detached head cried out for help while Fire Marshall Bill cracked jokes. Over the years customers witnessed a live shotgun suicide, a man being cut in half with a chainsaw, a fire breathing dragon and a massive puppet monster named Hack that emerged from the darkness. Haunted Hoochie became legendary and had massive lines.
(Actor Nate Bolen is seen here slicing a victim in half at Haunted Hoochie.)
In 2004 Haunted Hoochie at Dead Acres was created. The majority of the haunt moved indoors and cutting edge animatronics were added. The haunt was much more detailed and the actors were more hands on. In 2009, Bad Trip in 3D was created. Just imagine a funhouse on steroids with 3D effects and mind bending props. In 2015, Haunted Hoochie celebrated their 25th anniversary and became City Blood’s 2015 Haunt of the Year. They will ultimately go down as one of the innovators of the Extreme Haunt and one of the best haunts in the nation.
There will always be controversy surrounding the haunt industry no matter what decade it is. It’s the nature of the beast. In 1990, parents were outraged when they learned that an East Chicago, Indiana haunt was trying to get children to sign their souls over to the devil. Several priests called the park’s department and mayor’s office to protest. They feared that the haunted house was a cult and that it was full of devil worshipers. The city didn’t want to deal with the bad press, so they decided to shut down the haunt.
In 1990 the Haunted Hayride industry was flourishing and a Syracuse based company called Haunted Hayrides opened. They were an entertainment firm that helped people start their own Haunted Hayride franchise. Rick Conner and Bob Gladding started the company in hopes that the Haunted Hayride industry would grow bigger than ever. The hayrides were built by Rick and Bob who traveled to each location to set them up. Each franchise owner had to have a minimum of 12 hayrides. The owner or general manager was required to participate in a 3 day training session in Syracuse, New York where they were trained on how to run and operate a Haunted Hayride. The firm would then visit the Haunted Hayride when it was set up.
The tractors to haul wagons were leased from a local company and there were several companies in Syracuse that provided costumes and props for the franchise owners. It cost $40,000 to start a franchise. Each hayride was open an average of 23 days and customers were required to call 1-800-5 haunts to make reservations. It’s hard to say how long the Haunted Hayrides firm lasted or if any of the Haunted Hayrides they helped build still exist. It was an interesting company none the less.
People loved to get the living daylights scared out of them and Kentucky was ready for a new kind of haunt. In 1991 Greg DeFatta, a former talent agent from Los Angeles, and Robert Bruce a lighting technician opened The Haunted Hotel on 3000 South Street in Louisville, Kentucky. Greg left LA out of a desire to start his own business. He wanted to work seasonally and didn’t want to go to the same job everyday. He visited a friend in Louisville and decided that it might be a good place to live. Land was also very reasonable in Louisville compared to LA. So, Greg and his wife Cindy Riegel DeFatta who was a former actress packed up their bags and moved to Louisville.
Tickets were $5 its first season. 3 years later Greg and Robert opened a second Haunted Hotel in San Diego and another haunt called Frightmare on Market Street. Several of the effects seen inside Louisville’s Haunted Hotel were based off of movies like Jurassic Park, Hook and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The people behind these blockbusters helped with the making of the haunt. The first scene at The Haunted Hotel featured a talking ghost that was projected onto a mask. There was even a Pepper’s Ghost effect which was similar to Disney’s Haunted Mansion, but on a much smaller scale.
(Louisville’s Haunted Hotel debuted in 1991. These shots were taken in 1994 and 1996.)
The first year, The Haunted Hotel had about 16,000 customers and 5 years later it would be well over 20,000. In 1996 Greg and Robert created a partnership with Universal Studios to produce 11 themed haunts called The Chamber of Chills. Some of the characters and scenes in the first 5 years of The Haunted Hotel included Satan, chainsaw maniacs and a woman changing into a werewolf. Greg had never seen a haunted trail until he toured Nightmare Forest in Brandenburg, KY. This is where he got the idea for The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park in San Diego which as been open since 2000. It’s Greg’s most successful haunt to date.
Over the years The Haunted Hotel had scenes such as the nude shower scare, the infamous chainsaw maze, the killer Santa room and of course the one and only Hellevator. This is a haunt that is well known for its actors who get up close and personal. The Haunted Hotel has changed ownership over the years, but has been scary ever since opening in 1991. Kevin Stich who used to own and operate Wolf Creek Haunted Forest in Brandenburg, KY has been the owner of The Haunted Hotel since 2012. The Haunted Hotel is currently the longest running haunt in Kentucky.
1991 was the year Universal Studios introduced Fright Nights which was renamed Halloween Horror Nights in ‘92. It featured haunted houses, illusionists, street dance parties and cinema monsters. Advance tickets were $12.95 and tickets at the park were $15.95. Halloween Horror Nights took multi haunt attractions to new heights and it got bigger and more elaborate every year. In 1993, the park had over 2,000 customers an hour. Guests could get up close and personal to Robosaurus, a massive fire breathing dinosaur made out of steel. He could bite cars in half with his razor sharp teeth and blow fire out his mouth.
For many years, Halloween Horror Nights featured your typical haunts. In 1994 you could walk through Hell’s Kitchen Haunted Butcher Shop where you met the infamous Roach Man. He laughs insanely as dozens of cockroaches scurry across his body. The Rat Lady and Snake Master could be seen in the Dungeon of Terror.
(Halloween Horror Nights debuted as Universal Studios Fright Nights in 1991.)
Halloween Horror Nights is different from your usual haunted screampark since many of its haunts have been themed after popular horror movies. Universal Studios owns many of these horror movie properties and spends endless amounts of money for the right to use them. Over the years they’ve featured Halloween, Freddy vs Jason, Friday the 13th, An American Werewolf of London and Alien VS Predator to name a few. Universal Studios would eventually open more locations in Hollywood, Singapore and Japan. This once small event was now worldwide. Unfortunately, 2020 wouldn’t be a great year for Universal Studios. They would cancel Halloween Horror Nights in Florida and California due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak. They would focus solely on their daytime operations instead.
The 90’s was full of groundbreaking haunts that will live on forever. Terror on Church Street was one of them. It opened on November 8th, 1991 in Downtown Orlando, Florida on 135 South Orange Ave which is on the corner of Church Street and Orange Avenue. It took place in the historic woolworth’s five and dime store which was built in 1942 and closed in 1989. Customers entered a two story house of horrors consisting of amazing special effects, over the top animatronics, microchip technology, live actors and 23 different rooms. Groups of 8 people or less entered the haunt at once and were told to form a single file line as they held onto the person in front of them. In its first year, tickets were $10 a piece for adults and $8 for those under 18 years of age. No one under the age of 10 was allowed to enter unless they were accompanied by an adult. If you didn’t get scared then you got your money back.
The attraction was open everyday except for Monday. Total tour time was around 20 minutes. The company Monsters & Monsters of Bilbao Spain created what they called Pasaje Del Terror or what’s translated to Passage of Terror. These walk through attractions were located all over the country in Spain and even Europe. Terror on Church Street was the only American attraction based on Pasaje Del Terror. Terror on Church Street had your typical rooms featuring horror and science fiction movies. There was an Exorcist room, Alien scene, Psycho room featuring Norman’s mother in a wheelchair, Freddy Krueger’s Boiler Room, Frankenstein and more. There wasn’t anything truly innovative about the scenes, but they set the standards in terms of detail, lighting, makeup and sound design. It was a big budget haunt that seemed to do everything right in terms of execution.
Fernando Quenard oversees the design of Terror on Church Street. He created similar attractions in Spain. Artistic director Ignacio Brieva said that it’s harder to scare Americans since they’ve seen much more. Europeans want to be entertained, but don’t want to participate as much. They’re more passive. In 1992 the first scene had customers enter an English Street scene as an English Bobby welcomed customers as he stated the rules. From there they would enter rooms such as the graveyard, torture chamber and the body bag morgue which was a fan favorite. There were various costumed characters outside who would interact with customers. This included Edward Scissorhands, the penguin from Batman Returns and others. Haunt owners around the country would visit Terror on Church Street for inspiration. It was way ahead of its time.
Anthony Perkins who played Norman Bates in the movie Psycho was a celebrity spokesperson for Terror on Church Street and on the brochures he could be seen quoted as saying that “He’s dying to meet you”. He was soon removed from the ads since he died in 1992 and the producers thought it would be inappropriate considering his untimely passing. On October 31st, 1995 the Today Show and Good Morning America aired actor greetings from Terror on Church Street. This would be the first time the haunt received the national spotlight.
David Clevinge was the mastermind behind Terror on Church Street. He was the creative director. He honed his craft by working 30 years in theater from Germany to Mount Dora, Japan. He also designed storefronts for Main Street USA in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. There were simple effects David created. Torn strips of gauze hanging from the ceiling simulated bony fingers lightly touching you. He even researched how high the desible level should be.
David previously worked as the artistic director of the Icehouse Theater in Mount Dora, Japan and the number of season pass holders tripled during his tenure. In 1994 David would create two original Terror on Church Street stage shows that he brought to Japan for a five week engagement. They were a massive success and proof that Japan loved to be scared. From 1993 to 1999, Terror on Church Street hosted a large Halloween street party called “Halloween Street Party to Die For” which featured games, a costume contest, street performers, food and more. It was very popular to say the least. Terror on Church Street was great when it came to publicity. They featured a character known as Michael the Grim Reaper who visited schools to teach students about the dangers of alcohol and drunk driving. It was a very popular campaign.
The public loved Terror on Church Street, but the higher ups in charge of the entertainment district weren’t big fans. Church Street Station and Terror on Church Street would have issues with each other over the years and there were several lawsuits ranging from copyright infringement to harassment. Terror on Church Street had to change its logo and Church Street Station would have to stop harassing actors as they passed out ads for the haunt. There was even a temporary restraining order enforced at one point.
(Creative director David Clevinge creates a memorial for Terror on Church Street.)
Terror on Church Street filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy and closed its doors in May of 1999 after 8 years of scaring Orlando, Florida. Decrease in attendance, operation costs and rising rent costs put a nail in its coffin. Rent alone was close to $32,000 a month. They agreed to the rent costs when they signed a 5 year contract with Jaymont Reality in 1998. General manager Maria de la roza thought that new development was coming to downtown and that a proposed movie theater would boost visitor traffic. The props and sets were auctioned off on June 17th, 1999 and Church Street Station of Orland Inc. bought the entire lot for a measly $43,700. The entire block around Church Street and Orange Avenue was like a ghost town since the majority of buildings were empty. The only thing left was paid parking spots.
Terror on Church Street was supposed to reopen in November on the third floor of downtown’s Church Street Exchange Shopping Emporium, but it was delayed. The haunt would eventually reopen in 1999, but close a year later. It was never able to recapture the magic it created in its early days. The original Terror on Church Street was demolished in May of 2003 to make room for the Cobb Plaza Cinema Cafe. There are still Pasaje Del Terror attractions all over the country with the one located in Blackpool England being its longest running. It’s been open since 1998. Terror on Church Street was short lived, but it will be remembered as one of the best haunts the industry has even seen.
Haunt technology in Ohio was getting better and better and Kings Island was one of the leaders when it came to dark rides. 1992 was the year that Phantom Theater opened. Let’s look back at the history of this haunted opera house.
Kings Island in Mason, Ohio opened the Enchanted Voyage in 1972. It was heavily inspired by Disneyland’s It’s a Small World. The Enchanted Voyage was a water ride where you were transported to various scenes with characters created by Hanna Barbara. It was a bizarre ride with bears playing instruments, mushrooms with human like faces, goofy skeletons and a creepy carnival. You would exit the ride through a clown’s mouth which is frightening for people who have a fear of clowns. The ride lasted about 5 minutes and it was one of the few places in the park with air conditioning. It cost 2 million dollars to build The Enchanted Voyage making it Kings Island’s most expensive ride at the time
It became the Smurfs Enchanted Voyage in 1984 and in 1992 it was Phantom Theater. Phantom Theater was a cart style dark ride that resembled Disney’s Haunted Mansion, but on a smaller scale. Passengers were greeted by a Phantom of the Opera type character known as the Maestro as they entered a haunted vaudevillian theater from the 1920’s. He would appear several times throughout the attraction.
Phantom Theater featured cutting edge animatronics and effects. It also incorporated the classic Pepper’s Ghost effect. Passengers encountered characters such as the opera singer Hilda Bovine, William Shakespeare, the strongman Mighty Bosco, The Great Houdelini, a glowing mummy, a ghostly user, stage hands, boiler room workers and more. Most of the characters were spirits who haunted the theater/opera house. The ride lasted about 6 minutes and became The Museum of Horrors in 2001. The Museum of Horrors was part of Fearfest.
That year actors were used throughout the attraction to make it more intense and less family friendly. July 14th, 2002 was its final day of operation. It was replaced by Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle in 2003 and Boo Blasters on Boo Hill in 2010. Currently the building is being is used for Halloween Haunt’s CarnEvil. Over the years, the various characters have been displayed outside during the Halloween season.
During the 1990’s, there were so many haunts with one of a kind locations. Many even had their own history of paranormal activity. Everything from Mansfield’s Haunted Reformatory to the Knox County Poorhouse in Mt. Vernon, Ohio was used for a haunt. But USS Nightmare’s haunted steam boat was without a doubt one of the most bone chilling locations.
The boat originally used for USS Nightmare was built in 1926 and named The Wakerobin. It would later be replaced by the William S. Mitchell in 1998. Ben Bernstein and BB Riverboats purchased the boat in 1980. It was going to be turned into the Mike Fink 2 and become a floating restaurant for the Jeffersonville, Indiana waterfront, but those plans were scrapped due to the boat crashing. This event would be known as the Mitchell Massacre. A storm’s high waters tore the boat from its moorings sending it down the Missouri River. It eventually scraped the Broadway Bridge and then crashed into a railroad bridge. The damage was massive, but the boat kept on moving. It would crash into the Sail Bridge and thankfully it came to a stop.
For years USS Nightmare’s general manager Allen Rizzo had the idea of transforming it into a haunted boat. The boat could no longer be used because of the horrible wreck and it would be a shame to put it out of its misery. Q102’s general Manager would convince Alan Bernstein to turn the boat into a haunted attraction. It was eventually docked down river in 1993 and anchored at the Covington Landing. USS Nightmare would officially open for business on October 15th, 1993 and be open for 17 days. A total of 37,000 people toured USS Nightmare that season and the haunt was around 12 minutes long. One of its trademarks was a 35 foot slide that descended into madness. Tickets were $5 its first year.
In 1998, Gateway Clipper Fleet leased USS Nightmare. The original boat took a 5 and a half hour trip up the Ohio River and it was docked at Station Square in Downtown Pittsburgh. It was rented from the Cincinnati based C & C Riverboat Company. The haunt featured 50 characters like Captain Josiah, a zombie pirate, the crazy coroner and the Rat Lady. There were 30 scenes and various mazes. It was sponsored by X 105.9 and tickets were $12 and $10 for large groups.
Covington, Kentucky’s USS Nightmare would get a much larger boat in 1998. It was known as the William S. Mitchell. It was 20,000 square foot which is 3 times larger than the original USS Nightmare. It was called USS Nightmare 2 and was christened that year with help from the Cool Ghoul, Allen Rizzo and Ben Bernstein. USS Nightmare had haunts in 2 different states, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Kentucky. USS Nightmare would get its Vortex Tunnel in 1998. In 2001 USS Nightmare 2 moved from Covington, Kentucky to Newport, Kentucky. 2002 would be the final year for USS Nightmare in Pittsburgh. It would move to the Louisville Waterfront in 2003 and be called USS Frightliner. Tickets were $13 its first year.
(This is an ad for USS Nightmare from 1998.)
USS Frightliner featured a captain named Captain Carnivore, insane crew members, a video projection of the ghostly captain, a large slide and much more. Tour time was around 20 minutes. USS Frightliner had its final season in 2005. The original boat would sink. There were plans to use the boat for a haunted maze that would be next to the current USS Nightmare, but this unfortunately won’t happen.
Over the years USS Nightmare became known for the Rat Lady, the Impaler Monster, a colorful ball pit, the dizzying vortex tunnel and the way it used the boats original features to create scenes. USS Nightmare was also one of the first haunts to feature a professional photo op station. USS Nightmare is truly a ground breaking haunt for Kentucky since it’s the state’s only haunt that uses a steamboat.
In 2017, USS Nightmare introduced the RIP Experience which is a special event that combines elements of an Escape Room and a live action horror movie. Tickets the first year were $40 and customers were given a necklace with different lighting effects to alert actors that they were coming. It’s a more hands on experience where you get to explore previously unseen areas of the boat. USS Nightmare would unfortunately not be open in 2020 because of COVID-19. Another notable haunted boat/ship is Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor in Los Angeles, California.
Before 1995, most haunts advertised through the newspaper, radio, billboards, flyers and other means. Many of the images used for newspaper ads were hand drawn and works of art. 1995 was the year that the internet went main stream. More and more haunts stopped advertising in newspapers the closer it got to the millennium. Quite a few had their own website which featured animated gifs, clip art, scary midi horror tracks and sound effects. There was no broadband internet in 1995 and you didn’t have many web design companies offering their services like they do today. The dot com boom was upon us and haunts were taking full advantage of marketing through the World Wide Web.
Many companies in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana were formed in the 90’s. This includes The Scarefactory (Columbus, OH), Unit 70 Studios (Columbus, OH), Midnight Syndicate (Cleveland, OH), Nox Arcana (Cleveland, OH) Rogues Hollow (Grove City, OH) Gore Galore (Cynthiana, IN) and more. The 1990’s was also the decade that Distortions Unlimited released the original animatronic electric chair in 1994. Transworld’s Costume and Party Show show opened for business the same year.
One of the most influential companies formed in the 1990’s was of course Midnight Syndicate. In 1991 Edward Douglas came up with the idea for Midnight Syndicate. The basic idea was a band that created “soundtracks to imaginary films” by blending pop music, movie scores, and sound effects (a la radio dramas of the 30s). In 1997 Midnight Syndicate’s self-titled debut album was released. It was more of a solo project and a bit different from the releases that followed. Not all of the tracks were orchestral instrumental. Some were rock and even new age. Most of the tracks were horror-themed and certain ones weren’t. Although Edward laid the groundwork for what was to follow, the album was too eclectic.
(Midnight Syndicate “Dark Legacy” music video shoot featuring Gavin Goszka)
After that first album, Edward decided to focus on what he did best and what he loved most which was dark, horror-themed, orchestral instrumental music blended with sound effects. It was at that time that he enlisted the help of the other musical half of Midnight Syndicate. Gavin Goszka joined the team and was a very talented Gothic artist. They soon released the horror-themed album, “Born of the Night.” There had never been anything quite like it and it really made an impact in the Halloween and Haunted Attraction industry. Gavin and Edward continued producing CDs including the scores to several horror movies. They would release nearly 20 albums and have their music widely used in haunted attractions all over the world.
In 2014, Midnight Syndicate opened their live stage show at Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends in Sandusky, Ohio. It was called Midnight Syndicate Live! Legacy of Shadows. It featured live music, singing, fog, video effects and more. Some of the video used in the show was shot at The Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory in Akron, OH. This was the first time people could see the legendary band live and it was a big hit. Special Effects artist Robert Kurtzman and others helped bring this project to life.
Today, there are dozens of haunt review websites all over the internet, but there weren’t haunt critics before the dot com boom except for those in your local newspaper. One man changed that. Randy Schadel of Cincinnati, Ohio would create the first ever Haunt Review Website in 1995. It was called Randall’s Big Page of Doom which was later renamed Randall’s House of Doom. Randy had been reviewing haunts since 1970. He can remember touring WSAI Haunted House, Cincinnati’s first haunt.
The House of Doom started out as an Angelfire website that was created on Randy’s older brother’s computer. The site was a satire of some of the more over-the-top and insanely enthusiastic fan websites dealing with horror. At the time, the Cincinnati Enquirer had been running so-called ‘haunted house reviews’ of various local attractions. They began by having area theater professionals write them, but it quickly descended into a mockery of the local haunt scene as they ended up using local high school girls to do the reviews. The reviews were outdated, inaccurate, and driven largely by advertising dollars. Randy offered his services to the Cincinnati Enquierer, but they didn’t want a writer who had experience working in the haunt industry.
Randy decided to change the tone of his website by writing about all aspects of the haunt industry from behind the scenes to what he thought was good or bad in a haunt. His detailed articles took 8-12 hours to write and he wrote for many publications including City Beat’s Scary Beat issue, Fright Times Magazine and more. Charity haunts loved the exposure Randy was giving them, but some attractions like Night of Fright in Mason, Ohio thought Randy was hired by the competition to steal ideas. They ended up kicking him off the grounds as he attempted to take pictures to include in his article.
Haunts eventually welcomed Randy with open arms after Nightmare on Glenway accepted Randy by allowing him full access to help with his articles. Randy created the first Haunt Review Message Board and was one of the first Haunt Review websites to be featured on a Podcast. The House of Doom is no longer updated regularly, but it’s a website that has influenced many Haunt Reviewers including myself. It’s also the internet’s first Haunt Review Website and reviewers all over the country owe Randy a debt of gratitude for paving the way.
There were many interesting things that happened in the 1990’s. In 1997 a man billed himself as Indiana’s horror host Sammy Terry by passing out flyers and signing a $1,200 contract to appear at the Jefferson High School Haunted House in Indiana. Friends of Sammy Terry saw pictures of the imposter in the newspaper and let Sammy know. School officials were informed and canceled the event immediately. Sammy Terry let the imposter know that if he didn’t publicly apologize then he could be taken to court. Jefferson High School was out $600 and the imposter never saw his day in court.
Indiana would get its own haunt festival/convention in 1999. In 1999 haunters jointed together at the Wells Cultural Center in Lafayette, Indiana. They then decided to pack up their bags and head out to an art gallery decorated with giant jack-o -lanterns. That day they spent 8 hours sharing haunt stories, showing off pictures and just hanging out with others who live and breathe the haunt industry. On the way home, the idea of the Midwest Gathering was born. This unique event took place in the local Masonic Lodge. The first year there were 35 attendees from five states and in its second year it was officially known as Ironstock.
Ironstock would move to the county fairgrounds in Tell City, Indiana and it was bigger than ever. Over the years attendees enjoyed the Vendors Alley that featured haunt props and products from companies big and small. The Weasel Ball became a big hit among those who wanted to party the night away and the Hearse Rally was a great way to see some unique death vehicles. Other events included the Pine Box Derby, seminars, workshops and the T-Shirt Scramble. In its fifth year, Ironstock organized a horrifying fashion show called the Parade of Fatal Fashions. People of all ages could show off homemade costumes and their unique characters. It was a big hit.
By 2005, Ironstock had 500 attendees and it became a very special event for home haunters and haunt enthusiasts. There would be another Ironstock in 2006, but it wouldn’t be until 3 years later that the event returned. In 2009 it rose from the dead. This unfortunately was the final year for Ironstock.
2000 and Beyond
On Friday, November 17th 2000, Night of Fright in Mason, OH caught on fire. It was located at 9849 Bardes Road in Mason, Ohio. This year round haunted house was extremely popular and many were saddened when they heard the news. Crews noticed heavy gasoline vapors early Friday morning and found multiple points of fire ignition when they investigated. The door had been forced open and there were two separate fires about 60 feet apart.
In 1998 Officials ordered Night of Fright to install a sprinkler system and they were granted a four year extension. They were issued the order after requesting to increase their capacity from 50 to 150. It took about an hour for firefighters to put out the fire which had to be fought from the outside because of the haunt’s layout. Firefighters from Mason, Loveland and Sycamore Township assisted Deerfield Township in putting out the fire. Two firefighters were injured and there were no suspects.
This wouldn’t be the last fire of the 2000’s. Psychomania: Theater of Terror, Shattered Nightmares Haunted House, Talon Falls Haunted Screampark, Carnival of Horrors, 13 Rooms of Doom and even the Knox County Poorhouse that was The House of Nightmares at one time would burn. Talon Falls reopened in the same location while Shattered Nightmares Haunted House moved to 819 Spang Street in Terre Haute, Indiana in 2015. Thankfully the Knox County Poorhouse had been vacant for years when it caught on fire on June 26th, 2015. Arson was suspected in all the fires except for Talon Falls, 13 Rooms of Doom and Psychomiana.
2001 was a year we would never forget. On Tuesday, September 11th the twin towers of the world trade center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington were attacked by terrorists resulting in almost 3,000 deaths, numerous injuries and much heart ache. The haunt season would be much different compared to previous years. Many owners were toning down their attractions and some decided to not even open. Washington planned on having a haunted house featuring an escape from the pentagon scene, but they decided against it. Castle Park in Riverside California removed their House on Fire attraction. In it, people were to be led from a burning crematorium by two firefighters who transformed into demons who took them into hell. Skull Kingdom in Orlando, Florida removed scenes that related to the military.
Some haunts went the opposite route and decided to incorporate current events into their attraction. Haunted Spook Coop in Waynesville, OH featured Osama Bin Laden in their electric chair scene and it was a big hit. Attendance was way down at haunts around the country and few attractions got much publicity because the main focus was on the September 11th attacks. The haunt industry would thankfully recover.
Columbus would be a great city to host a haunt convention and they would get one. Back in the summer of 2004 a relatively unknown event emerged from the darkness. It was known as the Midwest Haunters Convention (formerly Ohio Haunters Conference). This rather small gathering of ghouls took place inside Cooper Stadium, Columbus’ Minor League Baseball stadium and former home of the Columbus Clippers and Terror Park Haunted Attraction. This small assembly of fear featured a handful of haunt and horror related vendors as well as educational seminars and fun, yet frightful events.
The first MHC introduced events such as the Monster Makeup Wars which many haunt conventions across the country have adapted since then. Bobbie Weiner of Bloody Mary Makeup became the event’s title sponsor and has been ever since. She’s a world famous makeup artist that’s done makeup for films like Titanic and Pumpkin Head 2. She also supplies Camo Face Paint for soldiers and makeup for funeral homes.
The Wolfe Brothers became the first ever Monster Makeup Wars champions. Other events haunters could enjoy was a behind the scenes tour of the over the top Dead Acres haunted house and the first annual Masquerade Ball sponsored by Hauntworld.com. The Midwest Haunters Convention would cement itself as a gathering that would grow and expand over the years and eventually become the second largest haunt convention behind Transworld.
2005 marked the year that Midwest Haunters Convention started to gain ground as it moved its location to the Radisson North Hotel. In 2006, MHC returned to Dead Acres, but this time there were actors and everything was up and running. 2007 introduced the now popular, pre-convention bus tours. Haunt owners and actors had the chance to see some incredible haunts instead of having to bust their butts during the haunt season. Ghostly Manor, Haunted Hydro and Horror Hotel (a horror museum) were part of the first ever pre-convention bus tour.
MHC 2008 made the most dramatic changes since their move in 2005. This rapidly growing convention had finally moved to a real convention center, The Greater Columbus Convention Center. The number of vendors had also grown in size from 60+ to well over 80. 2009 through 2012, MHC toured more haunts across the country and there were more and more frightful events. Over 2,500 people attended the convention in 2012 making it the most attended MHC to date. In 2013 Transworld Exhibits purchased MHC and the convention is still successful to this day. MHC would move to the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel in Schaumburg, IL in 2019 and officially leave Columbus, OH.
Throughout the 2000’s haunts would break records. Factory of Terror in Canton, Ohio was the most award winning haunt for Guinness World Records. They would beat the record for World’s Longest Horror House in 2010, 2011 and 2014. They were first measured in 2010 on Friday August 13th. The haunt measured at 3,564 feet and was the World’s Longest Horror House for the first time. Dragon’s House of Horrors in Albuquerque, New Mexico is currently the longest indoor walk through horror house according to Guinness World Records. It was first measured at 7,138 feet on November 3rd, 2015.
People from all walks of life have started their own haunted attractions. Even celebrities like Elvira, Alice Cooper and Eli Roth have gotten in on the action. Alice Cooper’s Nightmare in Phoenix, Arizona was one of the first celebrity endorsed haunts while Eli Roth’s Goretorium in Las Vegas was the most unsuccessful. It cost millions to build and only lasted one season. Currently there are over 2,000 haunts around the world with Ohio having the most haunts in one state.
Many haunts now have an extreme night where the actors are more intense, scenes might be controversial and you will get touched. It’s also become common to have Lights Out events where a customer has to tour the haunt in complete darkness. Their only source of light is usually a flashlight or glow stick. Some haunts have the flashlights malfunction at certain points. Other haunts might have the customer wear a hood over their head as they walk through the haunt with the lights off or it’s very dimly lit. Hanna Haunted Acres in Indianapolis has had a version called “Hooded” and people are required to sign a waiver before hand. Mayhem Mansion in Morning View, Kentucky requires people to wear a poncho because of all the fake blood that is going to get on them during their extreme event in November.
Los Angeles, New York and other cities have what’s called the “Blackout Experience”. This is an extreme event where you must walk alone in complete darkness. There’s nudity, physical challenges and you can’t touch the walls, talk to the actors and there is extreme gore. You’re given a flashlight and have to wear protective face gear. Haunts across the country now have special events during Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and even Spring Break. It’s often referred to as Scream Break.
Many successful haunts started out as a Home Haunts and gradually got bigger and better. The Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio is one of them. Let’s look back at the unique history of The Dent Schoolhouse.
In 1982, Jeff Wells and Phill Gibson turned Jeff’s front yard on Memorial Parkway in Fort Thomas, Kentucky into The Haunted Graveyard. It featured 9 dummies, 2 coffins, tombstones and a possessed bed. It would get bigger and bigger and even include actors. It eventually moved to Earnscliff Court and be there for three years. In 1989 it moved to 208 Rosemont Ave in Fort Thomas, Kentucky and was renamed Nightmare on Rosemont which eventually became Nightmare Manor. The 1031 Club was formed that year. It was an organization that operates home haunts in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. It would later be renamed 1031 Productions.
In 1998 Jeff Wells handed over the reigns to his 14 year old son Josh Wells who had a passion for Halloween and haunting. Over the years Nightmare Manor featured an animated electric chair, vomiting ghouls, a cemetery, a butcher shop and much more. It would expand and fill 3 yards. Majestic Nightmare on 32 Majestic Drive in Fort Thomas, Kentucky started as a home haunt in 1994. Every year Bud Stross and father Chuck Stross decorated their yard with homemade props and Halloween decorations. It got bigger and bigger until it took over 2 yards.
In 2001, Bud and Josh joined forces to help each other promote and improve the haunts. Majestic Nightmare’s theme was “A Ghastly Circus” in 2004. It included a laboratory, pirate’s cove, labyrinth of darkness, a graveyard and more. In 2004 1031 Productions purchased“ The Haunted House” from the Boy Scouts of America. “The Haunted House” had been around in some shape or form for 27 years. They moved over the years and were even located at Forest Fair Mall and Swallen’s Department Store. They moved into the old Dent Schoolhouse at 5963 Harrison Ave in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1997 and would be there until 2005. This was a haunt that focused mostly on horror movie scenes and your typical haunt rooms. 2005 would be the final year for both home haunts.
(Damien Reaper and Bludzo T. Clown at The Dent Schoolhouse in 2007)
2006 was the year The Dent Schoolhouse opened. It was still called “The Haunted House”, but many changes were made. Most of the haunt was remodeled to resemble an old 1894 dilapidated schoolhouse during the1940’s and 50’s. The backstory is centered around the janitor Charlie McFree who murdered the school’s students and buried their bodies in the basement.
It was renamed The Dent Schoolhouse in 2007 and it became well known for its incredible set design, acting, sound and lighting. The haunt is full of old antiques, frightening props and great characters. In 2011 a maze called Detention Hall was added and in 2013 it was redesigned as Queen City Slaughter Yard. The Dent Schoolhouse has truly become world famous over the years with the way it captures people’s imagination through set design and characters.
No matter what decade you look at, horror movie characters will play a big role at certain haunts. During the 70’s Universal Monsters were seen at just about every haunt. While in the 80’s, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Pinhead and other horror icons were extremely popular. Many of these characters can still be seen at attractions around the country. Sandyland Acres Haunted Hayride in Petersburg, KY has some of the best horror movie scenes that you’ll experience at any hayride. While Fear Fair in Seymour, Indiana has incredible sets and characters that are straight out of your favorite horror flicks. Fear Fair has evolved over time and has experimented with different themes.
Fear Fair started out as Psycho Circus in 2001 and it was located at the Seymour Junior High School Gym (Shields Gym) at 100 North Walnut Street in Seymour, Indiana. It was sponsored by the Seymour Jaycees and proceeds went towards the Seymour Jaycees Coats for Kids campaign. Tickets were just $5. It was presented in PsychoVision 3D and featured a maniac maze, a toxic waste dump, a vortex tunnel and much more. In 2002, the haunt was renamed the Old Jackson Asylum and Psycho Circus. The asylum theme was based around the legend of Dr. Melvin Reno who performed bizarre medical experiments.
(Rebecca Hays helps clean up Psycho Circus which would eventually become Fear Fair.)
In 2003, the haunt was renamed Fear Fair and it moved to Freeman Field at 800 A Avenue in Seymour, Indiana. Tickets were $8. In 2004 scenes included a crypt, cemetery, gas chamber, toxic waste dump, funeral home and more. Fear Fair was 30 percent larger and people could enjoy live music as they waited in line. 2005, the theme was based on the infamous Reno Family. The first third was western themed while the second half had a mixture of rooms. In 2006, Fear Fair started to implement more horror movie scenes while still keeping the western theme for some of the haunt. The haunt was named “Fear Fair-Reno’s Revenge” from 2005-2008.
Fear Fair made its biggest changes in 2009. The Fear Fair Filmfest was introduced. People could become part of their favorite horror movies like Frankenstein, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Scream, Jeepers Creepers and more. The sets were meticulously detailed and the actors were very intense. It took more than 70 people to run and operate Fear Fair. In 2011, the theme centered around the story of German scientist Herman Goebbles who performed sick experiments including reanimating the dead. Seymour’s military history was also used. In 2012, Fear Fair would introduce customers to Downtown Atlanta from The Walking Dead and in 2015, most of the haunt was remodeled to resemble Haunted New Orleans . In 2017, much of the haunt was themed after 14th century witches and year after year they’re making major changes.
Fear Fair will without a doubt go down as one of the best haunts in Indiana. It was City Blood’s 2011, 2012 and 2016 Haunt of the Year. Brett Hays is the director of Fear Fair and this haunt has been associated with the Seymour Jaycees since 2001. Brett has been inolved with haunts associated with the Seymour Jaycees since 1988. Over the years, Fear Fair has been able to purchase defibrillators for Brownstown and Seymour. They’ve also been able to buy playground equipment for Emerson Elementary and St. Ambrose Catholic School. This is a haunt that has helped improve communities.
The Seymour Jaycees is best known for Fear Fair, but they’ve been involved in haunts since the early 70’s. They first operated a haunt in 1972 and it was called Seymour Jaycees Haunted House. It was located at 417 Indianapolis Ave behind Central Christian Church. It was open until 1990. Its final season was its best yet since they were using the entire building this time. Rooms included a slanted floor maze, Haunted Forest, Hanging Dummy Room, a Doctor’s Room and more. That year two big blowers were installed and they were so powerful that they could peel your hair back.Tickets were $2 and customers received 50 cents off when bringing a labeled canned good.
Throughout the years the haunt would experiment with advertising and they were experts when it came to publicity stunts. In 1983 actors dressed up in costume went on strike because the Seymour Jaycees Haunted House wasn’t included in the two-volume Jackson County History books. They could be seen picketing the haunt with signs. The haunt was $1 per person that season. It wouldn’t be until 1996 that they operated another haunt which was called “Haunted Schoolhouse” and it was only open for one year. It was located at the Clara D. Carter School on US 31 South of Seymour. Rooms included ghoulish versions of a school cafeteria, science lab, principal’s office and a detention area. Five years later they would open Psycho Circus which would eventually become Fear Fair.
Today the haunt industry is a multi billion dollar business. There’s more coverage because of TV and the Internet, but haunts have been popular for decades. It wasn’t unusual for a Jaycees Haunted House in the 70’s to get upwards of 65,000 people in a season. There are more haunts, but I’m not sure if they have bigger crowds.
Haunts now utilize water, pyro effects, CGI, advanced lighting, scent dispensers, interactive animatronics, projection mapping and scare techniques that were never used years ago or thought of for that matter. Land of Illusion in Middletown, Ohio started out as a haunted trail in owner Brett Oakley’s backyard many years ago and is now a large Haunted Screampark and Waterpark. It’s now known as Land of Illusion Adventure Park. Facebook has practically replaced the online message boards and haunts are creating impressive commercials and viral videos through Youtube.
It’s become an internet society where podcasts focusing on the haunt industry have become quite popular and there are many haunt review sites and directories. Magazines like Haunted Attraction Magazine, Fright Times Magazine and others are no longer creating new issues. Hauntworld Magazine is still around and there are very few new haunt magazine companies that have emerged over the years.
There are many forms of haunting entertainment available these days that isn’t a haunt. You’ve got Haunted Laser Tag, Zombie Paintball, Zombie Walks, Zombie Runs, Haunted Mini Golf, Escape Rooms and more. Haunt owners have even started their own Christmas Light events to make money during the off season. Haunts all over the country are capitalizing on Christmas with drive through light displays, Holiday Hayrides, laser light shows and more. From 1997 to 2005, The Haunted House on Harrison Ave in Cincinnati, OH featured the Shillito Elves for their “Everything Christmas” event. Since then these animated elves have shown up at Newport on the Levee in Newport, KY and eventually Mariemont, OH. The future of the Shilito Elves is up in the air In 2018, The Dent Schoolhouse would have their first ever Christmas themed haunt called A Christmas Nightmare. It was a massive success and it has become an annual event that people have made a holiday tradition.
In recent years, the mythical creature known as Krampus has been featured in haunts. Krampus more or less is a servant of Saint Nicholas. He’s a massive hairy demonic goat like creature that punishes children who misbehave during Christmas time. He beats the naughty children with birch sticks and takes them back to the underworld by placing them in the basket attached to his back. The legend of Krampus has roots in Germany and cities all over the world have their own Krampus festivals, parades (AKA Krampuslauf), and races. Krampus has become commercialized over the years much like Santa Claus. There are Krampus Greeting Cards, movies, merchandise and more. It’s a Krampus world and we’re living in it.
The media has embraced the haunt industry with open arms. There are movies, TV shows and news programs that highlight haunts and the haunt industry. Many haunts have had their sets used in major motion pictures including The Land of Illusion in Middletown, OH. In 2015 Funhouse Massacre was filmed at the screampark and it stars Robert Englund who is best known for his role as Freddy Krueger.
Characters like Haunted Hydro’s Crazy Bob Turner, USS Nightmare’s Captain Mitchell and The Dent Schoolhouse’s janitor Charlie McFree have become local haunt celebrities and there are many haunt icons all over the United States. Are Escape Rooms the next big thing or will virtual reality replace the modern day haunt? I doubt it, but there’s no way of knowing where the haunt industry is headed. One year something can be a big hit and the next year, it’s old news.
2020 would be the year that the haunt industry changed forever. In January, the first case of the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) in the United States was confirmed in Washington State. By March of that year Covid-19 had spread quickly throughout the world and got worse and worse. It was uncertain whether Transworld’s Halloween & Attractions Show would take place in March and it was eventually cancelled. This was a shocking turn of events. Transworld is the world’s largest haunt and Halloween show of its kind and this would ultimately affect vendors who relied on the show for much of their income. Transworld would take place in March of 2021, but the damage was already done. Transworld Exhibits provided an online virtual trade show called Transworld Live which featured listings for all the vendors, live videos, demonstrations and more. It was a great idea, but couldn’t replace the actual Trade Show.
Transworld wasn’t the only haunt gathering that would be altered. The Midwest Haunters Convention was supposed to be rescheduled to July 24-26th, 2020 and take place at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. This was the location of Transworld for many years until 2009 when it moved to America’s Center in St. Louis, MO. Unfortunately it was rescheduled to 2021. The Ohio Haunters and Halloween Convention at the Ohio State Reformatory was cancelled as well. This would have been their second year. The world was a different place in 2020 because of the Coronavirus. States were practically shut down and unemployment reached an all time high. The death rate kept increasing day by day because of how infectious this disease is. Haunts across the country decided to not open with many others planning on operating in 2020, but following Covid-19 safety rules.
I can remember the first haunt I went to. It was called “The Haunted Street”. Many would consider it a simple Halloween display since it was just a yard decorated with homemade ghosts hanging from the trees and there was a garage you had to enter to get candy. The garage had a few actors dressed as horror movie characters like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. It scared the crap out of me, but it got me interested in haunted houses even if it wasn’t technically a pro haunt. The first professional haunted house I toured was St. Rita’s Haunted House. Sadly, they’re no longer in business.
There have been many advances in technology, but one thing has remained the same. People want to be entertained and get the living daylights scared out of them. If the customer feels like they’ve gotten their money’s worth then a haunt has succeeded. This concludes the history of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Haunts. I would like to sincerely thank you for reading this in-depth article. I hope that you learned something new and that it gives you a better understanding of how far haunts have come.