Haunted house holds meaning for UA students

By: Margaret Duff

It’s almost Halloween, and for most of us, this means assembling costumes, carving pumpkins, candy, and wild parties. But for a select few, October is about more than dressing in a zombie-version of your favorite TV personality. For Dave Shonk, junior at the University of Akron, Halloween means one thing only: haunted houses.

Shonk first fell in love with haunted houses over a decade ago, when he visited his neighbor Thomas Cunningham’s Halloween yard display on Broad Blvd. Since then, he has been building in his yard, starting with yard displays and quickly moving to full-blown haunted houses. He inherited Cunningham’s supplies when he died three years ago, and has been graciously putting them to use.

Shonk’s backyard haunted houses are more complex than one would assume. He usually begins planning for the next one (designing sets, gathering lumber and decorations, organizing workers,) as early as November. This planning pays off—his last backyard house, in 2010, had over 18 rooms, and gathered a crowd of over 3,500 visitors.

Unfortunately, it also received a visit from the Fire Marshall. It turns out that backyard haunted houses need to follow fire codes too; which means less than 1,000 square feet, a certain number of fire exits and extinguishers, no ceilings, and three-walled “sets” instead of rooms.

Even though this was discouraging, Shonk knew he couldn’t give up his passion, especially with the fan base he had gathered. “It’s kind of rough when you have hundreds of people asking you if you will have it again.”  In October of 2011, he opened his first haunted house outside of his backyard, at Hilltop Farms. Despite problems with advertising, the house still drew in over 1,500 visitors and was rated 7th Best Haunted House in Ohio by Scene Magazine. This says a lot, since Northeast Ohio has an enormous amount of haunted houses, and an even greater amount of competition.

“People travel here because they are so many. It’s like a Halloween hot spot,” said Shonk.

This year, Shonk is once again opening up his backyard to visitors looking for a scare. Despite the changes made to address the fire codes, he believes that it will draw a big crowd.  The house is free with donations. Shonk is now working with the Humane Society to raise money for them. He hopes that with proper sponsorship next year, he will be able to raise over $1,500 for the charity. For him, haunted houses aren’t about making money, but about doing what he loves.