Halloween 1999 Retrospective



 Halloween 1999 turned out better than any other Halloween of the past. I got up, bleary-eyed, at 7:00 a.m. and started setting up props in the yard while my dad drove across town to buy dry ice for the mad scientist's lab. It was obvious that there was a long day ahead, since I had basically doubled the size of the cemetery since the previous year. Friends started showing up at 1:00 p.m. to help set up, and without their effort, none of this would have been possible. All in all, about 20 friends attended, although approximately 12 to15 were there at any given time.

Setup of the graveyard was going great, and the weather was perfect, except for the rain. As the shower started, I rushed to the Weather Channel and watched the RADAR image of the rain, wide-eyed. Of course, it showed no precipitation whatsoever for the entire Southeast, except for a small section of the screen where I happened to be located. Basically, it was just raining over my house. Good news, I thought, since the rain would be moving along in due time. About ten minutes later, the rain had stopped, and there was much rejoicing.

Sometime in the afternoon, a local news station, WIS, showed up to do a story, which was shown on the 6:00 p.m. and the 11:00 p.m. reports, concerning my yard display. They interviewed me and filmed my friends working on setup of the cemetery. The anchorman apparently thought the Body Slinger was amusing, since they crew kept filiming it, and the entire time they were there, I wasn't entirely sure whether they were interested and impressed or just thought I was a crackpot.

They asked me how I got involved with Halloween and why I do this. My reply was that it is fun, I like building the props used in the cemetery and lab, it brings my friends together, and no one else I know does anything to this extent.

I basically started in 1992 when some neighbors a cul-de-sac over set up a truly amazing Halloween graveyard. That same year, I set up my own display, which was nothing compared to theirs, although it ended up scaring a few people. Unfortunately, those neighbors moved away a couple of years later.

My cemetery originally started out with a couple of stuffed dummies and tombstones made of cardboard boxes spray painted white, however these two tombstones spawned more, which multiplied into a small army. I now have over 50 Styrofoam tombstones which fill my front yard, along with various props, such as a body slinger, family plot fencing, a witch's cauldron, and dead bushes. My parents particularly hate the dead bushes, since they have to be stored in a back corner of the property. I know quite well that they think I'm crazy. And then there is the mad scientist's lab, which contains a Jacob's Ladder, Van DeGraff Generator, Pepper's Ghost, Tesla Coil (taken out of service this year due to safety), a glowing pickle, an operating table, and various other lab paraphernalia. Oooooh…. Scary scary.

In addition to the TV coverage, the newspaper also ran a story on the event in the local Neighbors Section, which certainly helped to draw more people in. The reporter did an excellent job with the story, and I definitely thank her.

Well, back to the day of….

Friends were over helping out with the graveyard setup, which also resembled a party, since there were beverages, pizza, and party-like foods. One friend, Brian, was roaming around with a camcorder filming most everything, and he got handfuls of hilarious footage down on tape. (For some reason, many of these involved Justin. Go figure. ...) Some still frames from these classic scenes are on the web, but without sufficient explanation, they fall into the category of inside jokes.

The camcorder used was a Sony Hi8 Handycam with NightShot, which was purchased earlier that year when the former one broke beyond reasonable repair. Wow, Sony makes good camcorders. I have to hand it to them for that. If you ever need a camcorder that can film in dark conditions, get one with NightShot. Believe me, it's worth it. In Night Shot mode, it was able to pick up everything in the graveyard, although everything had a greenish tinge to it. I really like that camcorder. …

As night quickly approached, the graveyard finally got completed, and people began getting into costumes and putting on makeup. I was working feverishly on the lab, even after some trick-or-treaters began to come through, but I just used what I had to work with, and it seemed to go over well with the audience. I'd like to thank Michael and Kirill S. for helping with the lab by keeping the beakers filled with dry ice and acting on the operating table. I'd also like to thank Andy for his work on the operating table. His acting and bloody makeup were particularly disturbing, and I think he's given several small children nightmares. … (It's not the goal of the entire setup, though, but just a side-effect for those who go in without reading the warning sign.)

Then Andy had to leave to pick up Ying, Jia, Anna and Hope at a local mall. Something about Ying getting them stranded or something about Hope not wanting to walk a mile and a half wearing heavy chain mail, which was understandable. The stories tend to vary depending on the source, but here's the short story: it was chaotic. However, one part of it is relatively amusing to look back on, since Andy was wandering around the mall's food court in full makeup, all bloodied with scars on his face and a bolt sticking out of his forehead, trying to find them.

There is still some debate of whose fault the stranding was. But I'm digressing from the topic at hand….

Ah, Halloween.

For the first half an hour it was open to the public, organization of the graveyard scene didn't exist. I provided the set for my friends to act on, and a list of general guidelines for them to follow. Other than that, what goes on every year at Halloween is like a writhing, uncontrollable mass, which eventually coagulates into something resembling order. On opening night, after about a half an hour of complete chaos and mayhem, plus me stepping in with a degree of control and my friend Michael's organization of people, things started to flow more smoothly. It all ended up working quite nicely, really. The scaring this year went better than any other year, since more creativity and acting was involved. The little kids went through special "lights on" tours and weren't scared, while the older ones went through and got the full impact.

After touring the graveyard, the guests were lead back to the mad scientist's lab. There, I demonstrated various high voltage devices, a glowing pickle, and a live roach box. Well, at least I claimed that it had live roaches in it, building the suspense of the audience. I sought out the ones who seemed squeamish and went right up to them, all the while talking about the live insects. I would then reach into the box and pull out rubber roaches and toss them in their direction. The reactions were quite amusing, to tell you the truth.

On the operating table, Andy did an awesome job of acting. He'd purchased a prosthetic which made it appear that a bolt was sticking out of his forehead. That, plus a bottle of stage blood over his face and shirt, combined with his excellent acting, produced what my mom called "the most disturbing character of them all."

The graveyard scene went very well, and we got a huge attendance, even though it was held on Saturday, October 30, and my county had set trick-or-treating for Sunday. The media coverage coupled with the 200+ flyers I handed out made a difference, since on Sunday, only about 10 trick-or-treaters showed up in my section of the neighborhood, while we got well over 50 on Saturday.

Nearing 10:00p.m., the stream of patrons began to die down, and Brian, Andy, and Nick went out in the woods behind my house to film a spoof of the Blair Witch Project, with the villain being the Blair Carpenter, who was responsible for putting a large bolt into Andy's head. Quite amusing to watch, really.

Somewhere in this time, I went around getting still pictures of the graveyard and friends. We began cleanup after about 10:30p.m., much to the neighbor's glee. And some time in there, my mom got home from carting Ying and her friends back home. Heh. Enough said.

Most of my friends were gone by 11:00p.m., however I didn't get to sleep until 2:00 a.m. that night due to cleanup, watching the video, and fooling around with a remaining 5 pounds dry ice pellets left over from the lab. I had the entire kitchen filled with a couple of feet of dry ice fog. Pretty fun, really. After that, I went to sleep, trying not to think of the monster of a cleanup job that still remained.

Now, looking back on it all, Halloween went incredibly well for the number of people involved and the amount of things which could have gone wrong. We all got to participate in an unusual event, and everyone had a good time, which is what really matters in the end.