Written by Rebecca Budde • Photography by Jason Johnson • Design by Jordan Hammer Published in Aspects, Autumn 2016 (Vol. 39 No. 4)
Ear-piercing screams emanate from the woods just off County Road 2675 N., east of Rochester.
John Shoudel smiles. “I know business is good when I hear screams,” says the 6 foot 3 inch figure in black blending into the crisp October night.
More screams echo in the nearby machine shed. “That’s what we like to hear,” he says.
John Shoudel, DPM, ABDAS, ACFAS, is a podiatrist and assistant professor of surgery at SIU School of Medicine. Soft spoken yet exuding confidence in his work, Dr. Shoudel normally opts for a long white coat and cheerful conversation from his patients.
But October dusk brings a different story.
Image Caption: John and David Shoudel
Known as the "Hauntmaster" in some circles, Dr. Shoudel laid the foundation for what has become a tradition of terror for thousands of fright fanatics in Springfield and the surrounding communities.
The Boo Crew Haunted House, now owned and operated by the Rochester Lions Club, began with the nightmare of this young man in 1999. Dr. Shoudel set up the little shop of horrors in his garage and enlisted the help of some friends for electronics, sound, special effects and spooks. The fright fest took off, growing more elaborate and drawing in more volunteers each year. To date, Dr. Shoudel can count on more than 100 ghouls, goblins, clowns, zombies, cooks, make-up artists, set builders and more to creep out the community each Halloween season.
Being a part of The Boo Crew is a family affair. Dr. Shoudel’s younger brother, David; father, Larry; wife, Maggie and two daughters have all contributed to its success in some way. In fact, most nights you’re likely to see Larry greeting scare seekers, selling snacks or manning the ticket booth; David helping with set building or prepping the ghouls and goblins and Maggie making food for the volunteers.
As The Boo Crew grew, scare scenes were housed in various community locations until 2014 when it shuddered into life in its current location in Buckhart.
"Having a permanent location makes things much easier, and we can do more with our sets and scenery now too," Shoudel says. The 7,200 square foot building on the 6 acre property gives the crew more room to embellish their asylum and crypt. The crew continues to build and refine to reimagine their scare space throughout the off-season, something they couldn’t do when the housed haunts were in public spaces. They use to immediately tear down after the last customers shrieked through.
Additionally, the Buckhart acreage allows for a spooky trail through the woods for more sinister scares. The experienced podiatrist warns: "You must wear your shoes." One evening an unfortunate turn of events inside the haunt took down an actor who was thankful to have a doctor in the house. "She had an open fracture on her foot, but I got her fixed up," Dr. Shoudel says.
At its inception, Dr. Shoudel took on some of the acting roles as needed — his tall physique coupled with a bloody, wrinkled mask and chainsaw in hand guaranteed to scare the daylight out of people. But with friends like Knuckles Da Clown roaming the property, Dr. Shoudel is able to tend to the areas he enjoys more, such as programming the sounds and generally seeing that the operations run smoothly. But he hasn’t given up scaring completely; beware the dark corners.
Dr. Shoudel is proud of his creation. And with good reason: The Boo Crew boasts an award-winning haunted house with nearly 700 scare-seekers a night. "We have a children’s matinee, and I’ve even seen people go through with walkers," Dr. Shoudel says. Clearly people of all ages are happy to pay for a good night’s fright.
All proceeds from the scare shows go back to the local community. Shoudel is humble and quiet about his role in helping. "I just grew up with the examples of my dad and grandpa that you just do that right thing. Giving back to the community like this is the right thing to do." In fact, more than 22 local and national organizations have been supported by the Lions Club’s generosity: the Mary Bryant Home, American Diabetes Association, Rochester fine arts program and the Lincoln Land D.A.R.E program.
Dr. Shoudel has a soft spot for giving back to the youth. "The Lions Club gives to a lot of great causes, but the student awards are really important to me." His favorite is when the Lions Club honors local high school students with its outstanding student award. "We need to foster and mentor these youth as they grow because they are going to do things that will benefit our community.
"I’m looking forward to the future of The Boo Crew and being the old guy in the ticket booth."