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Don Johns, owner/creator of Haunted Schoolhouse & Laboratory, dies

8:08 PM, May 26, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Photos: Haunted Schoolhouse and Lab 2012
Donald Johns, owner of Akron's Haunted Schoolhouse and Haunted Laboratory.
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  • AKRON -- Halloween was his passion.

    For the last 40 years, Donald Johns dished out heaps of horror to millions of people who were hungry for a spooky treat that no sugary sweet inside a plastic pumpkin pail could satisfy.

    Johns -- who owned and operated the Haunted Schoolhouse and Haunted Laboratory on Triplett Boulevard -- passed away Friday morning after a short illness.

    He was surrounded by friends and family. His 63rd birthday came earlier this month.

    Johns forever changed the local Halloween landscape in 1974 when he transformed the Thomastown Elementary School into the Haunted Schoolhouse -- a three-story haunted attraction.

    Photos: Inside Akron's Haunted Schoolhouse and Haunted Laboratory

    In 1981, Johns purchased the neighboring four-story Guggenheim Airship Institute and created the Haunted Laboratory.

    Screams have been filling the autumn air every haunting season since.

    2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Haunted Schoolhouse -- only the third Halloween attraction in the country to reach that milestone. 

    His family says they will continue the haunting legacy by keeping the attractions in operation this fall and beyond.

    Together, the Haunted Schoolhouse and Haunted Laboratory comprise seven floors of combined terror.

    Johns' motivation to start his own haunted house ignited after visiting Scream in the Dark -- a haunted attraction that operated for just six seasons following its debut on E. Market Street in 1969.

    Johns not only owned the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory, but was the brains behind the scares lurking inside. He crafted ideas and created the frights -- many of which were trendsetters in haunted house industry.

    His attention to detail was flawless with every cobweb, creature and skeleton placed precisely throughout his macabre maze. Critics frequently compared Johns' haunted house scenes to movie sets.

    In recent years, the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory gained national recognition.

    - In 2009, AOL Digital City ranked both haunted houses as the third-scariest in the United States.

    - "Hauntworld" magazine selected the Schoolhouse and Lab as two of the nation's top 13 haunted houses, while also declaring the attractions as two of the most influential in the industry. 

    - Fangoria.com has also listed the terrifying twosome within America's top 20 hometown haunts.

    - Last year, the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory were given the "National Treasure Award" from the OniHaunts 2012 tour.

    - Within the last week, HauntedHouseRatings.com ranked the Haunted Schoolhouse among the nation's best.

    Several years ago, "Lost" actor Daniel Roebuck was touring the country filming a documentary about the Halloween industry in which he labeled the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory as "two of the best haunted houses in the country."

    For many, the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory were the first haunted houses they ever experienced. Over time, it has certainly become as traditional as trick-or-treating for many local families who make a yearly fall trek to the ominous, eerie buildings.

    Throughout the years, Johns employed thousands upon thousands of people who helped bring the seasonal scares to lurid life. It was the place many young jobseekers earned their very first paycheck.

    His impact on the haunted house industry and local Halloween flavor are undeniable.

    By those who knew him well, Johns was often quoted for his notorious lines: "Oh, geez" and "That'll be good." He was known for counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds before the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory creaked open for yet another fright-filled season.

    Johns, who also served in the National Guard for six years, is survived by many loved ones including his wife of 42 years, Cindy, and his daughter, Aimee and her husband, Dave. Johns was also the proud "Papa" of two granddaughters.

    Calling hours are being held Tuesday, May 28 at the Redmon Funeral Home located at 3633 Darrow Road in Stow from 4-8 p.m. Rev. Johns will be laid to rest at Northlawn Memorial Gardens following an 11 a.m. funeral service Wednesday.

    ---

    Online: Haunted Schoolhouse & Haunted Laboratory official site

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