When it comes to seasonal decorating, Christmas continues to be
tops among families eager to festoon their homes with festive
frills and colorful décor. But creeping up as a close second is
Consider that in 2011, nearly 50 percent of Americans decorated
their yards for Halloween. The National Retail Federation estimated
that just under $2 billion was spent on Halloween decorations last
year. In fact, Halloween spending as a whole (including costumes,
candy and décor) increased from an estimated $3.3 billion in 2005
to $6.9 billion in 2011, it reported.
The evidence is clear: All Hallow's Eve is serious business-and
serious fun for parents who want to indulge their inner Great
Meet Mr. Halloween
I'm one of those parents, a kid-at-heart whose favorite memories
center on Oct. 31. Raised in a cramped Rogers Park apartment by a
family that didn't have a lot of disposable income, my
opportunities for Halloween decorating were limited to what I could
tape on the walls and windows. Yet, I always wished for a more
grandiose way to express my unmitigated love for Halloween.
My dream wasn't realized until I became a parent and a suburban
homeowner many full moons later. Inspired by several impressive
outdoor displays in and around my town, I decided to create my own
front yard home haunt in 2004, which I dubbed, after the street we
live on, Spirits on Sproat (visit welovehalloween.blogspot.com
What began with a few carefully staked and dressed-up dummies
across the lawn has turned into a full-blown neighborhood
phenomenon, with hundreds of visitors returning every year to see
who's new in our ever-growing gallery of ghouls. Our collection now
is comprised of 33 different characters, consisting of classic
monster icons from movies and books (such as Frankenstein and the
Headless Horseman) as well as several originals (the Green Ghoul
and Broom Helga).
I don't claim to have the greatest or most popular home haunt in
the area. We lack animation (figures that move via compressed air
and motors) and a fancy light show. But it makes up for these
deficiencies with attention to detail, humor and heart.
Young kids and seniors alike can visit without being frightened.
Adults relish our museum-like approach, with amusing signage posted
in front of most characters. And fans of all ages appreciate
occasional live musical performances on keyboard by our teenage
son, "The Blue Phantom."
Be the "ghoulest" house on the block
Hosting a home haunt of your own can be a great way to bond with
your kids, make new friends and conjure up some frightfully good
fun. And surprisingly, it's not as hard as you'd think to pull off
a crowd-pleasing Halloween display, provided you plan ahead
Try these tips:
- Get proper buy-in and protection. Be sure your spouse, children
and immediate neighbors approve of your festive ambitions.
Additionally, check with your homeowners insurance provider to
ensure that your property has adequate liability protection should
someone file a claim for an injury caused by your display. To
reduce such risks and minimize threats to your home's security,
it's probably best to limit your haunt to the front yard. Also,
consider installing security cameras and signs indicating that your
property is under video surveillance.
- Create the "boo-print." Consider building your haunt around a
particular theme: for example, a field of zombies on the loose, a
pirate ship with a "skeleton crew" or a pumpkin patch populated by
poltergeists that hide behind headstones with funny engravings. Aim
to add a few items each year so as not to overtax your finances or
your schedule the first season. Think carefully about what
characters and props you want. Research the costs of materials
(including costumes and masks, your largest expenses) and set a
realistic budget. Determine what you will build from scratch and
what you will buy pre-assembled. Draw a map of your yard and plot
out where you want each piece positioned.
- Make the monsters. For homemade figures, create a simple frame
using two-by-four lumber you cut to size, with a horizontal board
(the shoulders) screwed to a vertical board (the spine) that is
fastened to a horizontal board beneath it (the hips). Vertical
boards (the legs) are then fastened on either side of the hip
board, and a 1-inch by 2-inch 1 ½-foot-long wooden stake (the neck)
is attached vertically to the shoulder board. Plastic PVC pipe (3/4
inch or 1 inch), screwed onto the shoulders, can be used to make
the arms, which can be made poseable and jointed with the help of
PVC elbows. "Fatten" dummies with old clothes stapled and
duct-taped onto the frame, then adorn them with costumes. Place
your figure's mask onto a Styrofoam head (available at Party City
stores) that is mounted onto the neck stake; add lifelike hard
plastic hands (also available at Party City) to complete your
dummy. Secure your figure with wire to a 6-foot metal heavy duty
u-channel fence post staked deep into your lawn, which prevents tip
overs and damage from heavy winds.
- Add lights, sound effects and barriers. Illuminate each prop
using either a light stake fitted with an outdoor flood lamp or a
bright, colored LED light source. Invest in a pair of wireless
outdoor speakers with an included transmitter that, when connected
to your computer or receiver, stream spooky sound effects or
ghoulish music of your choosing. Connect all your outdoor rated
extension cords to a high-amp power outlet box with a timer that
will automatically turn your juice on and off. Lastly, prevent
visitors from interacting with your display by fencing off your
front lawn using the same u-channel fence posts and rope or
- Publicize your prized display. If you build it, they will
come-but only if they know you exist. Promote your home haunt by
submitting it to HauntedIllinois.com
(hauntedillinois.com/submitform2.php) and contacting your local
newspaper (they often publish lists of area holiday displays).
Erik J. Martin is a work-at-home father of two boys, husband and freelance writer.