Haunted Places of Akron & The Impact of the “Unclass” at The University of Akron

words and photos by Courtney Malita

Thomastown Elementary/Daniel Guggenheim Airship Institute

The Thomastown Elementary and the Daniel Guggenheim Airship Institute are known today as the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory. But long before they became a Halloween attraction, legend claims that they were haunted.

Thomastown Elementary was built in 1921 and was in use until the early 1970s. The Daniel Guggenheim Airship Institute was founded in 1929 and was operated by the University of Akron until it closed in 1949. The school was mostly used for storage until 1974, when Don Johns and his wife bought the building and made it into the haunted attraction it is today. In 1981, Don purchased the Guggenheim Airship Institute and made it into the Haunted Laboratory.

Although both buildings were made into haunted houses for entertainment, there are stories of actual haunted activity. Bart Butler, the managing director for the Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory, says that when he started working in the schoolhouse, he heard some creaks from the the wooden floor like there was someone in the room. He thought maybe his coworkers were there messing with him, but no one was in sight at the time.

The Daniel Guggenheim Airship Institute, now the Haunted Laboratory, has been examined by several paranormal investigation groups. According to Bart, in the 1930s and 1940s, it was used to research and test airships. It’s where the first parachute in Ohio was tested. It was also used for storing caskets for fallen World War II soldiers. It has a wind tunnel that is four stories deep. Bart even says that it was used to conduct experiments related to chimpanzees that NASA took into space.

The most eerie part of the lab, and the part that has been reported to have the most paranormal activity, is the third floor. Bart’s coworkers claim that objects sometimes move on their own, flaps from the wind tunnel open spontaneously, random words are whispered into the darkness and lighting varies without reason.

Both buildings are open — although they are designed to scare you — throughout October. The complex is at 1300 Triplett Blvd.

Rose Hill Burial Park

Rose Hill Burial Park was founded in the 1920s. It is named after the landscaping service located on the property. It contains four lakes, a variety of flowers among the gardens and is the final resting place for many a body. Although a very picturesque and tranquil area, it does have some reported haunted activity.  

The back of the cemetery faces several acres of forest. According to the Ohio Exploration Society and Haunted Akron, a 2011 book by Jeri Holland, people claim that a woman dressed in white has been spotted back near the forest.

Rose Hill Burial Park is located at 3653 West Market St.


Akron Civic Theatre

Located on South Main Street in Akron, the Akron Civic Theatre is a prized gem of the city’s entertainment scene. Before it became the Civic, it was called Loew’s Theatre, and was founded and designed by Marcus “Max” Loew. Two years into the design, in 1927, Max Loew passed away. Construction continued under John Eberson and the theater opened in 1929. In 1965, the Community Hall Foundation purchased the theater and renamed it the Akron Civic Theatre.

In Haunted Akron, Jeri Holland describes paranormal experiences that have haunted the Civic since the 1970s. One well-known tale is that of Fred, a janitor who worked and died in the building. Another is the ghost of a man named Paul, an engineer, who is often blamed for strange things that happen in the theater. The book also mentions a lady in white, crying, who has been seen in the dressing rooms, and a man in a top hat on the balcony and backstage.


The Impact of the “Unclass:” Breaking from the Traditional Classroom

I became interested in the paranormal after I took an “unclass” at the University of Akron called “Unearthing the Paranormal: Ghosts of Akron’s Past.” We did our research and fieldwork on the history behind the hauntings of Schneider Park. We gathered information through interviews, newspaper articles, books, death records and more. At the end, we presented our findings to the community. Now, after the project, UA Press will publish a book about the history of Schneider Park.

What is an unclass, exactly? Carolyn Behrman, co-director of the Experiential Learning Center for Entrepreneurship & Civic Engagement (EXL) at the University of Akron, describes it as a three-credit experiential class that allows students and professors of many majors and disciplines to address a question and come up with some kind of a solution or research through a class project.

There are seven new unclasses planned for the upcoming spring semester. The new topics include: Solving BIG (Business, Industrial, and Government) Mathematical Problems; Community Service Think Tank in partnership with the I Promise School; #metoo: Analysis, Action, and Power in Social (Media) Justice; and Restoration Ecology.

This class had a great impact on me because it pushed me to think critically and to be more creative, which really helped me in my other classes. It also helped me to get more involved in Akron. I also like the fact that it was not confined to a typical class structure. My unclass allowed me to practice interviews, work collaboratively in a group and do fieldwork and data analysis — experiences that brought me out of my comfort zone but helped me develop important skills.


Courtney Malita is a senior at the University of Akron studying psychology with a minor in philosophy. She enjoys longboarding and skateboarding, art and photography.