Monday, November 9, 2015

A Homemade Haunted House

You know how families have Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions? Well, my family has Halloween traditions. Every year on October 31, we host a "haunted trail" in the woods behind our house, which is located in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. About 100 neighborhood children flock to our house promptly at 8 p.m. – when trick-or-treating ends – to walk through our DIY scare machine.

My mom builds all of the props from scratch, re-using old items and buying new ones for cheap at thrift stores. We have about 20 different displays that begin in the tree-covered path behind our fence and wind through our backyard. Some props act as decorative items, while others move or make noise in an attempt to scare people.

Here are some of the displays featured in this year's trail. Although it happened at night,  I took most of the photos during the day so you see the details.

The Graveyard 

The Dot Wall 
An S-shaped structure covered with black canvas and fluorescent polka dots 

The "Carn-evil" 
Featuring Boo-loon Rides, Face-less Painting, Mis-Fortune Teller, Petting Zoo, Roller Ghoster, Kissing Boo-th, Rotten Candy, and Eyes-Cream
Miscellaneous Props 
As you can see, my mom goes all out for the Haunted Trail!

Now we don't expect to frighten the neighbors solely with stationary props. That's where my brother, his friends, and I come in. We worked the trail this year. Just like actors at a haunted house, we hid in various places and jumped out at people as they passed. We elicited countless screams – and quite a few crying spells from little kids as well.

Here's how everything went down:


The dot wall is an S-shaped structure made of black canvas covered in fluorescent polka dots. This is the most popular attraction every year. Due to black lights hung from the top of the structure, the dots glow in the dark while the rest of the canvas remains black. My mom constructed a dummy out of rods and pool noodles, and we dressed it in clothing covered in the same polka dot pattern as the walls. I also dressed in clothing with the same polka dot pattern, and I donned a black mask. I am pictured to the left, and the dummy is on the right – we're twins!

When I leaned against the dot wall during the night, you could barely see me. I was practically invisible. Taking advantage of this, I stood in one corner of the dot wall and blended in to my surroundings. We placed the dummy in another corner of the structure. We figured this could have two potential solutions:

1) People wouldn't see me or the dummy, and I would jump out from the shadows and scare        them.

2) People would see the dummy and think it was a person planning to jump out at them. While      they were distracted by the dummy, I would sneak up behind them and scare them.

The plan worked out great! Half of the people didn't see me or the dummy, and they nearly popped my ear drums with screams when I jumped out. The other half were so intimidated by the dummy that they didn't see me approach from behind. A couple of little kids were so scared of the dummy that they nearly turned around and went back to the entrance of the trail.


We host the trail in the woods behind my house, and the trees offer many hiding places. My brother and his other friends crouched in dark spaces and jumped out as people walked past. They were also equipped with cans of silly string – which was a hit with the kids. Since these boys weren't attached to a particular location, they moved around the trail as they pleased. That way, kids who went through the trail multiple times didn't know where, exactly, the scares would happen.

Excuse the grainy pictures...

The trail lasts about an hour-and-a-half each year. We usually have about 150 neighbors and their friends walk through, and the line for the trail can be backed up by 20 or 30 people. Quite impressive for a DIY haunted house, huh?

Here's a (low-quality) video depicting part of the trail. It's dark, but you can make out some of the props:

Every year, while the trail is under way, my parents throw a Halloween party underneath some tents in my yard. Candy, cookies, hot dogs, and hot chocolate await anyone who wants it. We also had a full-size keg and a pot of delicious apple cider wine for the adults! The night always end with a group of neighbors drinking and relaxing by a warm bonfire until the wee hours of the night.

My family is moving to Florida next year, so unfortunately this was the last annual haunted trail. I'm so glad I was able to travel home from college for the weekend to participate. I'll always keep my unique family memories of Halloween; the traditions have made it one of my favorite holidays. And who knows, maybe we'll end up hosting a homemade haunted house among the palm trees in Florida!