PERU – You just got hired as a night security guard at a place called Grimhurst Asylum. But on your first shift at your new job, something goes terribly wrong.
The patients have broken out of their cells and locked you in the bathrooms. In one hour, they’re going to set the building on fire. Your only chance of survival is to find a way out of the bathroom before you burn in the flames.
Welcome to Streaper’s Escape Adventures, where parts of that story are fiction, but parts of it are very real – namely, the part where you escape from a bathroom.
“You have to dig in toilets, so this is an interesting one, to say the least,” said Justin Eikenberry.
Eikenberry is one of the brains behind North Central Indiana’s newest escape room – a new-fangled kind of game that requires players to solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to get out of a confined space.
The concept started in Japan and eventually migrated in 2012 to the U.S., where the idea caught on like wildfire. Today, there are over 8,000 escape rooms worldwide, including cities and towns all around Indiana.
Eikenberry, a Peru native with experience building haunted houses, said he first got turned on to escape adventures when he visited Gatlinburg, Tenn., where dozens of the rooms have popped up in the last few years.
After doing nearly all of them, he knew it was something he had to bring back to Peru.
And if anyone has the experience and space to build one, it’s Eikenberry, who for years has helped build the haunted house called Streaper’s Nightmare inside what used to be Peru High School.
Today, the building serves as the tribal complex for the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana, which lets Eikenberry and his crew use a wing of the building to construct his projects. The one requirement is that all the money he makes from those projects goes back into the facility.
“We realized we had this whole extra side of the building we never used, so we decided to go ahead and try to build one,” he said. “We had the room, so we went for it.”
And once Eikenberry was bitten by the escape-room bug, it was the only thing he and his friends talked about.
“My husband and I are the ringmasters, but I think we ended up infecting all our friends and they all got into it , too,” he said. “Anytime we hang out now, we’re talking about it. It’s actually all we talk about. It’s all we do.”
Eventually, they developed the concept for their first escape room called Cannibal Manor, a horror-themed room complete with fake body parts, a church organ, a secret passage and an intricate set of clues.
“We came up with everything,” Eikenberry said. “The storylines. The puzzles. We based some of the things on other escape rooms we had done, but none of it is verbatim, you could say. It’s all original.”
The biggest thing they aimed for was authenticity. He said they wanted the rooms to really feel like the stories that went with them.
“We wanted it to be realistic,” Eikenberry said. “I wanted to make ours less technical – less buttons and fewer mechanical things. I wanted everything to fit with the theme of the room.”
Cannibal Manor opened last summer. They quickly added the Grimhurst Manor room to go with the haunted house that opens during the Halloween season. That room is built inside the boy’s bathroom at the former school. A single, flickering lightbulb hanging over the sink provides the only visibility, adding an extra challenge to the adventure.
Since then, Eikenberry and his crew have constructed a third room called Peru Penitentiary. Now, they’re working on building two miniature escape adventures, which are located in smaller areas, like hallways, and have a 30-minute time limit.
He said some of the rooms are horror-themed, but they’re all suitable for kids and families. And it’s the kind of interaction escape rooms provide those families that makes the games so special, Eikenberry said.
“It’s a great time for families because we take their kids’ phones and lock them in a room with their parents,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve had a lot of parents say, ‘This is the only time my kid hasn’t had his phone in his life.’”
For Eikenberry, the whole undertaking is a labor of love. He doesn’t make any money off of it. Neither do the volunteers who helped build it and now run it. For all of them, it’s about providing Peru with a unique attraction and giving the city’s kids a chance to be part of something different.
“I see this as giving something back to the community,” Eikenberry said. “Peru doesn’t have a lot to do. Look at our bowling alley. It turned into a funeral home. … We just do this as a hobby because it’s fun. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”