For 16 years, the owner of Canton’s Factory of Terror has been devoted to bump-in-the-night entertainment like a zombie on the hunt. Located in 75,000-square-feet of abandoned aluminum foundry, Eslich’s monstrous creation has five attractions pieced together over more than a mile, earning it the Guinness World Record for longest indoor haunted attraction on three separate occasions.
“Everybody says they are big and scary,” says Eslich. “[The record] kind of validates the big part. Scary is relative.”
So when Cindy Johns, owner of Akron’s Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory, considered selling her iconic attraction, she turned to Eslich. “Cindy wanted somebody who was going to continue with the haunt,” says Eslich. “That was the No. 1 priority.”
Opened by Cindy and her late husband, Don, in 1974, the schoolhouse is one of the longest running haunted houses in the United States. After promising that both the schoolhouse and nearby laboratory would remain haunted attractions, the deal was struck last October making Eslich the spirit behind three of the most popular haunted attractions in Northeast Ohio.
“My goal is to make her proud and continue their work,” he says. In that vein, the 1921-built Thomastown Elementary School building has been undergoing enhancements since January. Some walls have been removed to expose more of the original brick, and the red lightbulbs that once illuminated the stairwell have been replaced by the eerie glow of more period correct Edison bulbs.
But Eslich has been careful about upending the haunted scenes. “Certain scenes are very nostalgic and have their heart and soul in here,” he says.
Some, such as the schoolhouse bathroom with its bloody, gray-haired janitor and a skeleton occupying one of the open stalls, have been around for more than a quarter century.
“It is just a classic,” Eslich says. “We’re not going to touch the scenes that are important to the heritage.”
Yet don’t think Eslich is going to rest on his haunted laurels. In addition to this year’s upgrades, he has plans in 2018 to amp up the fear factor by doubling the size of the original scene with a second row of creepy stalls. “We are going to take it and twist it,” he says.
Likewise Eslich plans to incorporate historic storylines from the former Guggenheim Air Institute, originally built in 1932, in the laboratory. “They had done research on lighter-than-air flight,” Eslich says. “They researched the effects of flight on humans and animals.”
So if you encounter monkeys there, they may be just a tad angry.
Eslich isn’t letting his new haunt upstage his old one either. He’s taking the traditional clowns, chainsaws and maniacs and turning them on their tails. “We are going to have an area infested with cats,” he says. “Having these zombie type of cats gnarling at you ... it’s different and it will creep them out.”
In fact, that’s what keeps Eslich and fans coming back Halloween after Halloween. “When I see them come out laughing or screaming,” he says, “then I’m like, OK, I did something right.”
Three to Flee:
Keep an eye out for these new creepy features.Sasquatch — Rumored to travel the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot may be hiding at the Haunted Schoolhouse. “When you do find where he is,” Eslich says, “you’re going to look at him and go, How in the hell did you get him here?”
Midway — Eslich created a midway in the area between the schoolhouse and laboratory. “You’ll get your tickets, have a little fun zone and then go into the haunt, [and] maybe buy a shirt and leave.”
Schoolhouse Entrance — In the completely rebuilt entrance, visitors make their way up three floors. “When they get to the giant pumpkin on the third floor, they’ll know this is where they start their journey.”