Halloween is a big deal in my family.And by big deal I don’t just mean we just dress up and listen to creepy music during trick-or-treating.It is a BIG deal.My family puts on an interactive Halloween display. It’s not a haunted house.No one jumps out at you, nothing is really meant to scare you.Some things are meant to be creepy, but for the most part it’s meant to make you smile and laugh.Everything is mechanical and electrical so Halloween usually lasts a good month while we prepare for this.I start watching my scary movies to put me in the mood and we all start brainstorming for new ideas.

It all started when my dad was about 19.  He created what he called the Electric Pumpkin.  It was a pumpkin that lit up and blinked, and had a moving cigar in it’s mouth.  And then he built Melvin, who was to become the star of the display.  This is what makes what we do a little unique.  Melvin sits in a box and is clearly a dummy.  But as you get close to the box you can see that he is breathing.  And then he sits up, his eyes light up and he starts asking you questions.  “Hey kid, you got any candy!?”  You can carry on a conversation with this dummy, with Melvin.  When we were kids our front lawn was full of kids all night because everyone wanted to talk to Melvin.  Melvin was funny, he told corny jokes, he poked fun at your costume, and he begged you for candy.  He told you stories of how he died and how the pharmacist didn’t have anything to stop his coffin, and how the butcher gave him a steak, right through the heart.  There were other characters as well.  He built a Frankenstein monster.  He stands in the back with his eyes lit while his arms move up and down.  Then he a built a witch holding a bleeding head, a devil that blows smoke, a giant spider (named Jack Web), and a ghoul whose head spins 360 degrees.  As the years went by and as my brother and I got older, we started contributing more and the display got bigger and bigger… and more high tech.


Melvin’s Face

The Witch’s Bleeding Head

This year we started preparing three weeks before Halloween.  We need ample time to make sure things work and operate correctly.  We worked all day every weekend for three weekends to be ready.  The front yard is full of wires.  Each character has its own microphone and speaker.  We have four infrared cameras to monitor the yard at night.  We have 3 music zones; background music, graveyard music with screams, and random sound effects.  All can be controlled independently with just a flick of a switch.  With all of this to prepare, Halloween day is actually a little stressful.  Trick-or-treating usually starts at 6:00pm so we are on a tight timeline.  At 3:30pm we are able to do a sound check and set all the levels.  Everything seems to work and sound good so we have a little time to grab some food before we go “live.”  We do all this work just for the few hours of trick-or-treating.

As the kids come through the yard and laugh and say “no way, that’s soo cool!” or to see the parents point and take pictures, I can’t help but think about how I felt as a kid.  My brother and I never wanted to trick-or-treat, we just wanted to be at home.  We’d maybe go around the block once, and then we’d come home.  I think we felt privileged knowing how everything worked, being able to go in the “control room.”  To be a part of the set-up made it even more special for us.  It was bonding time for my dad, brother and I.  And now with it going on almost 40 years since it’s beginning, the whole family is involved.  It’s normal to hear questions like “who’s going to make the blood,” or “who’s going to make the spider web?”  or to hear us discuss at length about how a zombie would really be coming out of the ground.  With Ellie around now, it’s going into its third generation.  She’s too young to know what’s going on, but it’s good to bring her into the madness early.

Yes, that’s me on the TV

Control Room

This sequences all the music and sound effects

The foot traffic finally slows down around 9:00pm and all the trick-or-treaters have left.  It’s a quiet cold Halloween night and now it’s time to pack up.  Even though it took us three weeks to set up, it comes down in two hours.  Tomorrow, on November 1st, it’s just another day.  The only reminder that Halloween existed are the dried spots of fake blood on the front lawn.  At least we have some leftover Halloween candy to fill the void for awhile.

My dad hard at work

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