PERRYSVILLE - Two years' work toward creating a Halloween haunt attraction in the former Perrysville School in southern Ashland County will pay off on the weekend of Sept. 16 when "Lessons in Fear" opens.
On that night, part of the school building will be transformed into a "haunted" place — roamed by zombies, a not-so-nice nurse, a contagion-contaminated cook, a scary bellhop and other characters.
The haunted schoolhouse will remain open every Friday and Saturday, 7 to 11 p.m., from Sept. 16 through Oct. 29. It also will operate for limited hours on Halloween, which takes place on a Monday. Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for children. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
The creators of the new attraction, Florence and Bill Gepperth, began collecting Halloween and horror props during the late 1980s, eventually opening up their 5-acre property in North Royalton to the public over Halloween season, as "Unrestful Acres."
Two years ago, after outgrowing their storage space, they shut down their yard display and began focusing on opening up their own haunted house attraction.
Economic development officials in Ashland and Perrysville helped as they shopped for a permanent place, Florence Gepperth said, adding the couple purchased the school property because other Halloween attractions have gotten thrown out of rented locations, in favor of year-round tenants.
They bought the former school building at auction from the Loudonville-Perrysville School District under the name Gepperth's Creative Concepts in 2014.
They hoped to open by fall 2015, but were delayed after building inspectors required adding a sprinkler system.
The sprinkler system was finished a couple of weeks ago — leaving the Gepperths, with help from son Jared, 28, a digital design major at Baldwin-Wallace, free to finish painting and decorating.
Props used in "Lessons in Fear" will include a real hearse the Gepperths bought from a Pennsylvania coroner/funeral director. "There were still flowers in it" from a service held the morning they picked it up, Florence said.
Their collection includes at least one real coffin, purchased at "scratch and dent" prices, and picked up with the hearse. The seller's address turned out to be a cemetery where a funeral service was in progress. "People were watching us pull up and stick the coffin in the hearse (and pull away) — not the normal means," John said. "You're trying to stay inconspicuous ..."
Volunteer actors will play roles at "Lessons in Fear" this fall. "We have people that are coming forward to help, saying 'I just love Halloween,'" Florence said.
Visitors will find places in the school building where they can stop to take social media pics.
Those include a torture rack where they can "stretch" a friend, and a flying saucer the Gepperths purchased from a woman who'd used it as a Halloween yard display for years. "It took quite a trip through Loudonville on the back of a trailer," Florence said. "My son told me 'That policeman was really eyeing us, but (finally) he decided 'I don't wanna know ."
On a recent Sunday, the couple gave a tour of their fog-filled facility.
Zombies are likely to confront visitors after they enter a "contagion" area. "They are infected. They are carnivorous. And they do prefer living flesh," Florence said.
In other areas of the old school, visitors will find a "Dead and Breakfast" in operation, and a honeymoon suite where they'll be confronted by the Jaded Bride. "She has been very unhappy with some of her men in the past. You will see what's left of them," Florence said.
Lighting will gradually dim as visitors go deeper through the attraction — but won't go entirely black, she said.
"Lessons in Fear" is meant to be fun-scary, not traumatic-scary, she said.
"This is not a 'contact' haunt. We are not actively touching anyone here. It's safer for the actors and everyone involved," Florence Gepperth said.
The Gepperths say they are grateful for what they've learned over the years, and contacts they made during the annual Midwest Haunters' Expo in Columbus and other venues. "Haunters tend to be a tight community that support each other," Florence said.