Icome to haunting from a completely different direction that most of my colleagues ... many of whom have some theatrical or set building background. I didn't start out as a home haunter and grow into the pro ranks like many others. I also come to the horror genre a lot later in life than most haunters, not getting into haunting until I was
an architecture student in college. My interests in fright-themed
attractions are as it pertains to an architectural design problem.
Almost by accident, I volunteered to create a haunted
house for the dorm I lived in at Texas A&M University. Only
open for two nights and at fifty cents per person, I borrowed
props and masks from fellow students. With a $300 total
budget, we grossed $1,000. I seemed to have a talent for
scaring people, and while I was still focused on my
architectural career, I thought haunting might be fun to do for
I apprenticed at architectural offices in Dallas, TX after
graduation, and became a volunteer for the March of Dimes
Haunted House fundraiser which was the biggest Halloween
event in the area at the time. As four-year chairmanship of the
event, I designed March of Dimes haunts for Dallas, Ft. Worth,
and Plano before resigning and opening up my own attraction.
My first haunted attraction was built on credit cards and
pocket change. At the end of the first season, I was $20,000 in
debt which I thought was a huge failure, not realizing what I
preach today: Haunting is a business like any other and takes
3-5 years to make a profit. (Looking back, I should have taken a
business class or two rather than those basket weaving type
Working in an architect's office, I discovered that all of the
fun design is done by the firm’s principals. The rest of us were
just intelligent copy machines, redrawing details for each new
configuration. However, I wanted to be a designer and I had so
many people approaching me to create haunted houses for
them, that I started the company Hauntrepreneurs in 1987
and went to work for myself.
What really drew me to haunting is the freedom of
creativity it brings. Each theme, each setting, each attraction I
have built has been very different. Haunted attraction
architecture has so much more impact on the people that
experience it than the hotels or strip malls I was designing in
architect offices. Plus, I get to see people's reactions.
The haunt experience is unlike any other kind of
entertainment. The patron is thrust into a fight or flight
situation and has no idea what will happen next. Their lives are
literally in the hands of the designer, making safety a huge
concern for building officials and owners alike.
It is not like I threw my degree away. I still deal with
building and fire codes and architectural design. I just take
what I learned about making people feel comfortable in a
place and do the opposite.
For this first special Halloween edition of Nuts
& Volts, we asked haunting legend, Leonard
Pickel "What drew you into haunting?"