Air Force retiree fulfilling dream with new haunted attraction now open

Credit: Dayton.com

Credit: Dayton.com

Retirement for Fred Hearn is going to look nothing like retirement at all. It will be terrifying and full of demented clowns, but he couldn’t be more excited.

Hearn, a retired Fairborn resident who served 20 years in the Air Force, has opened his passion project, Hell’s Dungeon, situated in the rear of Eastown Shopping Center at 3866 Linden Ave. in Dayton. The new venue has been open since early October.

Hearn was supposed to receive keys to the space in January, however, COVID-19 and a couple logistic hurdles pushed that handoff back to April. Since then, Hearn and his “haunt family” have been “working 24 hours a day to get it up and going.”

“The haunt community is unlike any other community,” Hearn said. “I’ve got a group of 10 people that come in daily on their own time. Halloween is a passion. They (volunteers) keep saying they’re helping me build my dream. Well, it’s not my dream, not my haunt — it’s our haunt. We’re building a Haunt Family is what we’re calling it.”

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Inside the Hell's Dungeon at 3866 Linden Ave. in Dayton. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Between the security team, front-end staff and actors, 63 employees have been hired and Hearn expects to bring on even more. Ten of those employees are full-time, the rest are seasonal.

Though only receiving the keys this year, Hearn has been building his dream “haunt", as he calls it, for a decade. He fell in love with Halloween as he neared his 2014 retirement and began doing research, even traveling to TransWorld’s Halloween & Attraction show in St. Louis, MO.

“It’s the Mecca of all haunted attractions,” Hearn said. “They have 40-foot ghosts, animatronics that chase you. It was like, I was in Heaven and I got hooked and started doing research."

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Those years of research, traveling to auctions and conventions is about to take shape this weekend.

“Where else can you go for an evening and go through a portal into a different realm to where you see a walking, talking scarecrow, a 6-foot pumpkin head, (then) walk through a swamp, have voodoo curse put on you, go to an asylum, go through a sewer, and then you get into the 3D area (and) you’ve got a 7-foot clown head chasing you on a tricycle — where else can you go and get all that in 30 to 45 minutes? It’s called Hell’s Dungeon," Hearn said.

According to Hearn, Hell’s Dungeon is the only 100% indoors-only haunted attraction within 500 miles, meaning, no waiting in line outside in the cold unless the attraction is over its 750 person capacity. The facility will have in-building, non-porta-potty restrooms and a concession stand with food and drinks.

In total, Hell’s Dungeon includes 18,000 square feet of haunts with plans to grow to over 30,000 square feet next year. There are also plans to add laser tag.

“It’s our vision; it’s not just about this year,” Hearn said. “It’s about years to come. ... In five years, I hope to see us double in size. If the shopping center has an open space above us, I want it.”

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In preparation for the opening, Hearn has focused just as much on the employees and getting them excited as he has on the attraction itself. The youngest Hell’s Dungeon actor is 11, the oldest is 55.

Fred Hearn, Hell's Dungeon owner, visits a haunted attraction in Louisville, Kentucky with new employees of Hell's Dungeon as they prepare for opening weekend.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

“I tell my actors, you go out there, you put on the best show and (then) be happy,” Hearn said. “I coach sports and you got to leave everything on the field. My actors, I tell them, 'You got to leave everything in that haunt. When you walk out you should be dog-tired. You should be ready to sleep.”

Actors in the haunt are not allowed to touch or grab guests. Groups will wait in a 10-foot-by-10-foot cue until it’s their turn, then navigate through the attraction only with their group.

Properly worn masks will be required of all guests before entering and throughout the visit.

Tickets to Hell’s Dungeon are $23 each, and Hearn said the attraction is best suited for guests ages 12 and up. On Fridays if guests bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Hell’s Dungeon toy drive to benefit local non-profit, Touching Moments, they will receive $2 off the price of admission.

Inside the Hell's Dungeon at 3866 Linden Ave. in Dayton. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

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