We’re chatting with The Dent Schoolhouse co-owner Bud Stross about the terrifying Cincinnati, Ohio haunt!
TrunkSpace: Can you start by giving us a little bit of history about your location? When did it begin? How has it grown over the years?
Stross: Well, The Dent Schoolhouse was actually a schoolhouse that opened up in 1894 and shut down in the 1950s. Legend has it that it is due to a murderous janitor named Charlie McFree. It later became a machine shop. After that, the Boy Scouts used it as a charity haunted house. Now comes our ownership… we took it over from the Boy Scouts 12 years ago and have never looked back. The schoolhouse used to be your typical black-walled haunt with movie monsters and basic detail. BUT – when we took it over, we wanted to make something unique and original. We brought the legend to life and made everything based around the story of Charlie the Janitor. We detailed the sets like you were in a movie and keep adding more and more technology to bring the “Ohh-Ahhs” to our customers.
TrunkSpace: The Halloween-related industry seems to grow year after year. Where have those changes impacted your business most? Is it it in consumer tastes? Advancements in technology?
Stross: The industry does have trends and always evolves. Each year more and more technology gets added into the mix of the attractions and things sold. Hollywood and pop culture effects our industry as well. Big example was “The Walking Dead.” For the longest time we had to have zombie haunts or infected in our haunts, but then the clown craze came along. This is the year of clowns since “It” did so well. To give the crowd what they want, we have to watch these trends and add them to our attractions.
TrunkSpace: What is it about your particular haunted attraction that you feel helps it stand out compared to other seasonal locations targeting the same audience? What makes it unique?
Stross: We are known as one of the most detailed and tightly-themed attractions in America. We have rules that we have to follow. We also change around 1/3 of the haunt every year, which helps keep the attraction fresh for our returning guests.
TrunkSpace: What is the inspiration behind your themes? Do you draw from pop culture?
Stross: Hollywood always helps. We always say The Dent Schoolhouse is like reliving a horror movie. We also tour haunts from all over the nation to help get ideas and to keep our show fresh.
TrunkSpace: Have you added any new elements this year?
Stross: TOO MANY! We added a preschool playroom from hell, full of oversized killer toys. A catacomb with over 4,000 handmade skulls. A sewer that is flooding. The school’s gym is taken over by local clowns for the PTA Fun Festival. And then guests get to go through a boiler that has melted down.
TrunkSpace: What do you feel is the best feature and the most talked about part of your attraction heading into 2017?
Stross: Hmmm… probably the clown room. People hate clowns. This room has a great buffet of clowns… 8-feet-tall alien clowns, clowns with their faces ripped off, cartoon clowns, and more. Something for everyone.
TrunkSpace: Why do guests come to your location? Are they looking to be scared? Are they looking to be entertained? What is the goal from your standpoint in terms of giving them a particular type of experience?
Stross: We are Cincinnati’s scariest, so they come to get scared and be entertained! We want our guests to have the best experience possible. We listen to EVERY single review that comes through about us and use those to make the show better.
TrunkSpace: How many guests are you anticipating scaring up throughout the 2017 season?
Stross: 30,000 to 40,000.
TrunkSpace: Looking back over the years, are there any memorable guest reactions that have become the story of legend for everyone who works there?
Stross: After just one year of haunting you can come up with some doozies. My favorite would have to have been when I woke someone up in their car, dressed as a clown. I still do some acting from time to time (one of the only owners in the nation to probably still act for his haunt), so a guest was too scared to walk through and she let her group go through as she decided to take a nap. Her group loved her so much that they wanted me to bring the haunt to her. I hovered over the open sunroof and decided to scare her awake as she screamed and crawled throughout the car in absolute fear. It was a good night.
TrunkSpace: How many actors/scarentainers will you have on hand throughout the 2017 season and what type of preparation goes into getting everyone ready for opening night?
Stross: We employee over 150 but on a given night we have around 65 to 75 actors. We go into heavy training and make sure that even our newest actors come out scaring like a pro!
TrunkSpace: For those horror junkies who travel far and wide to be scared each Halloween, why should they put miles on their car or jump on a plane to visit your location?
Stross: The beautiful sets and theming. We always get so much praise and love for our movie-like sets.