AKRON, Ohio -- It’s a merger of monstrous proportions.
For more than four decades, Akron’s autumn air has been swarmed with screams gushing from millions of people brave enough to trek through its seven floors of fright.
It all started in 1974 when the three-story Haunted Schoolhouse first creaked open its doors atop Triplett Blvd. housed inside the former Thomastown Elementary School, which was built in 1921.
Seven years later, the lurid landscape changed again when the neighboring four-story Guggenheim Airship Institute was transformed into what is known as the Haunted Laboratory.
Now, after 43 years of scaring the pants off nearly 3 million guests, the Haunted Schoolhouse & Laboratory will carry on its terrifying tradition under new ownership next year.
John Eslich, who owns and operates the Factory of Terror in Canton, has purchased both attractions and will take possession in 2017.
“We have a lot of ideas, but I don’t think we’re ready to share those quite yet with anybody,” Eslich said. “Talking with existing staff at the Schoolhouse, the Haunted Lab and also at the Factory of Terror, the staff do have ideas and wish lists. We all love Halloween. We all love haunting and scaring, so everybody has an opinion and a wish list.”
Although he won’t unearth any dastardly details for his putrid plans in 2017, Eslich did reveal one taunting tease.
“More screaming. More jumping. More fun.”
Eslich vows to honor the legacy and history of both the Schoolhouse and Laboratory for decades to come.
“I can’t talk to any single individual that does not have an experience with that property, with that haunt,” Eslich said. “It’s fabulous, and I am honored to carry on that tradition.”
The motivation for both haunted houses sparked in the brain of Donald Johns and his wife, Cindy, after they first visited Scream in the Dark -- a haunted house in downtown Akron, which operated for six seasons after opening in 1969.
The Schoolhouse debuted during Scream in the Dark's farewell season.
Since Don passed away in May 2013, Cindy has taken the reigns.
“He was passionate about Halloween, and he was brilliant at what he did,” Johns said of her late husband. “It was a different time when we first started the haunts. There weren’t all the conventions where you could go and buy your show. We created things from literally nothing, and he was very good at that. He really was just like a big kid that had never grown up when it comes to Halloween.”
Because of Don and Cindy's imaginative innovations in the haunted house industry, national media has ranked the Haunted Schoolhouse and Haunted Laboratory among the scariest in the nation.
“We’re there to entertain,” she continued. “There’s a lot of different ways you can entertain somebody. Some people may go through with laughter, others will go through with screams while others go through on their hands and knees.”
While the Haunted Schoolhouse is one of America’s longest consecutive-running Halloween attractions, Eslich’s Factory of Terror is a three-time Guinness World Record holder for having the lengthiest walk-through horror experience.
“I think that the two merging and combined, watch out Ohio,” Johns declared.
(© 2016 WKYC)