With over 40 years of themed attraction design and operations experience, I have been creating over 300 original and innovative Haunted Houses, for major venues worldwide including Madison Square Garden, Universal Studios Florida, Six Flags theme parks, Kentucky Kingdom, the Playboy Mansion Halloween Party, Ellen DeGeneres’s Game of Games and SCREAMS Terror Park. My creative accomplishments include design and sales of the industry's first turn-key Haunted House kits, and the first Haunted Attraction adaptation of the "Field Theory" (the triangular grid system).
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As a sophomore in college, Leonard produced his first commercial haunted house in 1976 in the form of a fundraiser for his dormitory at Texas A & M University where he was studying Architecture. Leonard 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 which opened Leonard's eyes to the possibility of "scaring people for a living" someday. Leonard experienced similar success with two more dorm-sponsored horror productions in 1978 and 1979, before graduating in 1980 with a bachelor degree in environmental design.
In 1982, during his architectural apprenticeship in Dallas, Leonard volunteered his horror production expertise to the local March of Dimes Haunted House and chairing the charity Halloween Event from 1983 – 1986, Leonard was in charge of design and construction of the Haunted Attraction. 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, scare-forward approach to dark amusements. This innovative and non-offensive style of Haunted Attraction lead Leonard down a different design path than most of the industry, which generally relied on heavy blood and gore to “gross out” rather than to surprise and startle patrons. These Haunting concepts are outlined in three room design idea booklets, written by Leonard from 1987 through 1989 and are still used by commercial haunted house owners today. His creative accomplishments include the industry’s first turn-key Haunted House “˜kits,” and the first adaptation of the “Field Theory” for Haunted Attractions (The Triangular Grid System). Leonard was an early pioneer of the multi-element approach to the Halloween Event, and the expansion of Haunted Attraction operational dates into November and September.
In 1987, Leonard coined the name “Hauntrepreneurs® ” when he formed his first haunted house company, and was granted a Registered Trademark for the name in 1992. During his long career, Leonard has designed creative Haunted Attraction, 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, Paramount’s Carrowinds, Paramount’s Kings Island, Kentucky Kingdom, the Playboy Mansion Halloween Party and Ellen Degeneres’ Game of Games television show. Leonard has designed Haunted Attractions in foreign countries including Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia and India.
Believing that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, Leonard has done extensive research in the field of dark amusements, both past and present. Each year, he travels around the country, experiencing as many as 200 Haunted Houses in a season to keep abreast of trends and changes in the industry. This research provides invaluable insight into the state of haunting, and its future.
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 Leonard a hands-on testing facility for new fright concepts, which were then implemented into new designs for his clients. Learning a great deal about the differences between a Halloween Haunted House and one that needs to operate for the full summer season or year-round, Leonard implemented the key lessons Leonard into all his themed designs. Including decreasing operational overhead and maximizing the experience within a small foot print.
In 1994, Leonard co-founded Haunted Attraction Magazine, the premier publication for the dark amusement industry. Striving to provide information vital to the success of the industry, the publication offered in-depth articles on the country’s major attractions, “How To” instructions for the latest special effects, historical spotlights and commentary on timely industry news. What started as a church bulletin sized newsletter, soon grew into a 50-page full color magazine. As Editor in Chief, Leonard was the driving force behind this innovative publication for 50 issues before selling the business in 2009.
In 1997, Leonard took on the task of forming the Haunted Industry’s first trade 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. In less than one year after IAHA’s non-profit corporation, the association had 150 voting members and in the 5 years that followed, membership reached 500.
The world’s largest supplier of props for the haunted attraction industry, Philips Morris of Morris Costumes in Charlotte, North Carolina, contracted Leonard in 2000 to facilitate the development of a multiple-element October seasonal Haunted Attraction, 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, costuming, actor training, operations and marketing. Opening on time and under budget, this event had more props per square foot than any Haunt in the world, and over 17,000 people attended the event in its opening season.
In 2004, Leonard launched the first national convention devoted solely to the Haunted Attraction Industry. The Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Convention (HAuNTcon®). Designed for Haunters, by Haunters, this annual exposition moved to a new location each year to offer staffed and lights on tours of area Haunted Attractions. Specializing in Haunt education, HAuNTcon became a must attend event for Haunted Attraction owners from across the country and around the world. Leonard sold his interests in HAuNTcon in 2017 to focus on his design firm.
An accomplished speaker, Leonard has given seminars on numerous aspects of the Haunted Attraction industry ranging from high capacity 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 (MHC), HAuNTcon, Chicago Frights, ScareLA, Mid-Summer Screams, HauntX, Ohio Haunt Fest, East Coast Haunter's Gathering, Ironstock, the Pennsylvania Spring Amusement Ride Safety Seminar, both the Chicago and Las Vegas National Halloween, Costume and Party Show, North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association Convention (NAFDMA) , 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. Leonard’s “Getting Started in the Haunted Attraction Industry” seminar has grown from a one hour annual favorite presented to standing room only crowds, to a full day workshop covering in depth the ins and outs of opening you first Haunted Attraction.
Called the “Godfather” of Haunting by supporters and detractors in the Haunted Attraction Industry, in 2009 Leonard was awarded a life time achievement award from the International Association of Haunted Attractions and was honored with a question using his name in the Millennium Edition of Trivial Pursuit. He was also appeared as an industry expert in several television programs including the Travel Channel special about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida, and America’s Best Haunted Houses, where Pickel offered insight into what makes a great Haunted Attraction and the theory behind scaring people.
Constantly searching for new challenges and striving for new heights in his Haunting career, Leonard has a vast 40 plus years of experience designing all types of commercial Attractions. His unique vision for the future of Haunting, has kept Leonard two steps ahead of his closest competitors. His industry accomplishments, leadership 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 in Orlando, Florida.