This Family's Project A Neighborhood Haunt

This Family's Project A Neighborhood Haunt

Atmospheric fog, spider webs, tombstones and creepie crawlies are just some of the special effects.

The packages began to arrive at 8720 Plymouth Road in the first week of August. Sally Allen, a quiet and cheerful grandmother, would answer the door for the deliverymen and nonchalantly accept mail with return addresses like Terror, Inc. and the Nightmare Syndicate. It took several minutes for Allen and her son-in-law Darrell Miley to recollect all the things she’d received.

There were the “basket of skulls,” the two squatting ghouls, the tub of special effects latex and the colored gels for theater footlights.

“Did that mummy come in the mail?” Miley had to ask Allen.

She confirmed that it had; so did the six foot spider and the gargoyle heads.

So did Miley’s wife — and Allen’s daughter — Kathie’s special order. “She had the whole jar of blood, remember?” Miley said.

“And I’m the one to meet the UPS guy!” Allen said, laughing.

“It could be worse,” Miley added. “Some people get hooked on other things you know. We get hooked on Halloween.”

THE ADDICTION started three years ago when someone in the Allen family received a Halloween catalogue. On a whim, they ordered a few of the cardboard props. “They were horrible, horrible,” Miley recalled. “We did it the day of Halloween. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, made a million trips to the Halloween store, got some costumes and had some fun.”

The yard display they created was more campy than scary. The logistics required a lot of ingenuity. “The sound system the first year was my sister-in-law’s Rav [4] parked over here with the trunk open and a big black tarp over it,” Miley said.

This Halloween, the cardboard props will be gone. The family’s ingenuity has only grown. The seven-foot grim reaper that wanders the street outside the house will carry a remote control sickle capable of triggering a pneumatic gate. On the afternoon before Halloween, Kathie Miley will use a spider web gun — a glue gun with an air compressor nozzle bolted to it — to rapidly drape the walls, tombstones, crypts and everything else in the yard to atmospheric effect. And as people shuffle through the cemetery, a dismal fog will drift around their feet, clinging to the ground because it has been circulated through a homemade “fog chiller” that uses dryer ducts coiled through 20 bags-worth of ice dumped in 32 gallon trash cans.

“I THINK IT WAS A FEW THINGS,” Miley said when asked why the family made the leap from propping cardboard tombstones to hand-carving each brick of a foam wall dozens of feet long. “No. 1, we had a ton of fun, even with the lousy props. We had a ton of fun because we were together.”

For their second year of haunting Plymouth Road, the family began researching online months before the holiday. They discovered an entire “subculture” dedicated to home haunts. In the beginning of October, the family starting spending weekends together in the front yard. Miley said neighbors made a habit of strolling by to see what new creations had resulted from the din of hammering, sawing, cutting, taping, blow-torching, draping, spray-painting, bickering and laughing. Sally’s children James and Rebecca Allen also helped with the project along with Rebecca Allen’s fiancé Shawn Paxton and a nephew, David Allen. Assorted small children were fascinated by the project and played around the yard as their parents worked.

On Halloween night, everyone had a role, although Sally Allen didn’t know it until the last minute. “I did not want to do it. And the day of Halloween Kathy said, ‘Ma here’s this costume,’” Allen said. “Usually I’ll just stand in the corner of the group and they don’t know I’m there, and then I’ll step out. I don’t have to say anything, I just step out.”

“It’s always fun watching adults walk in and seeing them get scared,” Miley said.

At the beginning of the night, only a trickle of people found their way to Plymouth Road. But word of the terror spread. “What started out kind of slow,” Miley said, “wound up – it was like pandemonium. I saw a sea of cars and people.”

He estimated that, by the end of the night, more than 400 people had passed through the yard.

NOW, NEIGHBORS WALK by and cars slow to see the progress of the building. “The thing that strikes me about it that’s so interesting is that it’s a family event and it starts in August,” said Darci Vanderhoff, a next-door neighbor. “They have a really tight family,” she added later. “They do things together and you don’t see that much anymore.”

This year, the family — whose members come from as far as Bethesda and Centreville — started work on Labor Day. “That was our first run to Lowe’s,” Miley recalled wistfully. He estimated they spent about $1,500 the first weekend, and that number is somewhere above $4,000.

“All for five hours,” he added with bemusement.

Family members will take off Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare the haunting, haunt, then clean it up. They will hide innumerable speakers and colored lights throughout the property. As with any family, it can sometimes be a challenge to find consensus on issues like where to put the black lights to illuminate the Victorian ghosts. “There’s about three or four ways to do everything,” Miley said. “We all talk about it, argue about it, figure it out. And in the end we do what Kathie says.”

The haunting will begin around 6:30 and end at 10:30 of 11. The family is planning to request a police officer to shut down the road to vehicles to keep children safe.

“We don’t scare the little kids, we just wave to them,” Allen said.

“Older kids are fair game,” Miley gleefully added.