Owner, Mayhem Manor(R)
Director, Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Conference-HAuNTcon(R)
Designer, Innovator, Teacher, Haunter. Industry icon Leonard Pickel has amassed a lifetime of Haunted Attraction Design and operations, from October seasonal events to year round attractions and dark rides. He has designed over 100 attractions since 1976.
As a sophomore at Texas A & M University, Leonard produced his first commercial haunted house in 1976 as a fundraiser for the college dormitory he was living in. He organized, designed and marketed the two night event. With a budget of $300 and a $0.50 per person admission price, the operation grossed over $1,000. He experienced similar success with two more dorm-sponsored horror productions in 1978 and 1979, before graduating with an architectural design degree in 1980.
In 1982, during his architectural apprenticeship in Dallas, Leonard volunteered his horror production expertise to the local chapter of the March of Dimes. As chairman of the charity Haunted Attraction from 1983 to 1986, Leonard was in charge of design and construction of the volunteer Halloween Event. During this time, Leonard formed the basis for what later became known as the “Pickel Theory of Haunted Houses,” a high startle, low gore, high throughput, low theatrics approach to dark amusements. This innovative and non-offensive style of Haunted Attraction lead Leonard down a different design path from the industry at the time, which generally relied on heavy blood and gore to “gross out” rather than to frighten patrons. These Haunting concepts are outlined in three room design idea booklets, written by Leonard from 1987- 1989 for use by commercial haunted house designers.
Leonard is credited with numerous industry firsts. His creative accomplishments include the industry’s first turn-key Haunted House “kits,” and the first adaptation of “Field Theory” to Haunted Attraction design (Know as The Triangular Grid System). Leonard was the first to promote, timed ticketing, expanding operations into November and September, and the multi-element approach to Haunting. He was the first to develop attraction room designs and concepts that are now common in Haunted Attractions around the world.
In 1987, Leonard created the name “Hauntrepreneurs(R)” when he formed his first haunted house design firm, and was granted a Registered Trademark for the name in 1992. During his long career, Pickel has designed over 100 original and creative Haunted Attraction designs for major venues including Madison Square Garden, Universal Studios Florida, Six Flags St Louis, Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Over Georgia, Six Flags AstroWorld, Kentucky Kingdom, SCREAMS Terror Park and the Kandy Halloween Party at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, CA. Leonard has designed Haunted Attractions in foreign countries including Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia, China and India. Over 2 million people from Los Angeles to New York, Orlando to Seattle, have experienced the “Pickel Theory” first hand.
Leonard applied his October seasonal experience toward a summer seasonal haunted house in 1993, with Mayhem Manor® in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In the seven years that followed, Mayhem Manor provided Pickel a hands-on testing facility for new fright concepts, which were then implemented into new designs for his clients. Leonard learned a great deal about the differences between a Halloween attraction and one that needs to operate for the full summer season or year round. Decreasing overhead and maximizing the experience within a small foot print are key lessons that Leonard now implements into all of his designs.
Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, and Leonard has done extensive research in the field of dark amusements, both past and present. Each year in October, he travels around the country, experiencing as many Haunted Attractions as possible. In one year alone, he experienced over 100 Halloween events. This research provides invaluable insight into the state of the haunting industry, and keeps him up to date with the latest trends.
In 1994, Leonard co-founded Haunted Attraction Magazine, the premier publication for the dark amusement industry, and as Editor in Chief, he was the driving force behind publication through its first 50 issues before selling the publication in 2009. Today the magazine still strives to provide information vital to the success of the industry.
In 1997, Leonard took on the task of forming the Haunted Industry’s first association, the International Association of Haunted Attractions (IAHA). Against heated opposition from some factions of the industry, Leonard was instrumental in establishing and organizing the fledgling association. Less than one year after IAHA’s non-profit incorporation, the association had an impressive 150 voting members and in the 5 years that followed the membership represented 500 attraction owners.
Philip Morris, owner of Morris Costumes (the world’s largest supplier or props for the haunted attraction industry), contracted Leonard in 2000 to facilitate the creation of a muli-element October seasonal Haunted Attraction in of in Charlotte, North Carolina, that would double in the off season as a display case for the Morris Costumes line of Haunted Attraction Props and equipment. Leonard was in charge of all facets of the event, including design, theme, code compliance, construction, art direction, installation, first year operations and marketing. Opening on time and under budget for October of 2000, this event has more props per square foot than any Haunt in the world.
In 2004, Leonard launched the first national convention for the Haunted Attraction Industry. The Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Convention (HAuNTcon), designed for Haunters, by Haunters. This annual exposition moves to a new location each year and has become a must attend event for Haunted Attraction owners from across the country.
An accomplished speaker, Leonard has given seminars on numerous aspects of the Haunted Attraction industry ranging from design and code compliance, to how to get started and effective scare techniques. He has spoken at Haunted gatherings and industry conventions including the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Convention (HAuNTcon), Midwest Haunters Convention, HauntX, Pennsylvania Spring Amusement Ride Safety Seminar, Transworld Trade Show in St. Louis, both the Chicago and Las Vegas National Halloween, Costume and Party Show, North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association Convention, National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), Carolinas Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CARVC) the Global Halloween Convergence, Detroit’s Haunted Attraction Workshop, Design Lab, Horrorfind Weekend, Rue Morgue Festival of Fear, and the Texas Haunter’s Dinner. Pickel’s “Getting Started in the Haunted Attraction Industry” seminar has grown into a 3 hour annual favorite presented regularly to standing room only crowds.
Called the “godfather” of Haunting by others in the Haunted Attraction Industry, Leonard was honored with a question using his name in the Millennium Edition of the game Trivial Pursuit, as well as a question on the television game show Jeopardy. He has appeared as an industry expert in several television programs including the Travel Channel special about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida, America’s Best Haunted Houses, the Travel Channel’s Making Monsters, Chillers’ The American Scream and the Martha Stewart Halloween Special, where Pickel offered insight into what makes a great Haunted Attraction and his theories on fright. In 2009, Leonard was awarded a Life Time Achievement award by the International Association of Haunted Attractions, (IAHA).
With over 30 years of experience designing all types of commercial Haunted Attractions and a unique vision for the future of Haunting, Leonard is constantly searching for new challenges and striving for new heights in his Haunting career. His industry accomplishments, leadership ability and high moral character has garnered Leonard great respect from his peers and set a lofty standard for those who
would try to follow in his haunted footsteps.
Leonard now lives with his wife and partner Jeanne in Winter Garden, Florida.