- Homeowners take joy in transforming property into Halloween attractions
- Haunted Hollow in upstate New York hosts thousands of visitors each year for free
- Andrew Adkins made each of the 17 creatures on his lawn in Ohio by hand
- "I love Halloween. It's just like Christmas," he says
What kind of people spend thousands of dollars transforming their front yard into a landscape of tombstones and singing skeletons, complete with a haunted maze and "Bone Yard Band," in the name of Halloween?
A retired kindergarten teacher and his cooperative wife, of course. At this time of year, however, Gary and Mary Server are known to neighbors as "Scary Gary" and "Bloody Mary."
Now in its eighth year, Haunted Hollow is a local attraction in Clarence Center, New York, making it one of many homegrown spooky houses to pop up across the country this Halloween season. With professional haunts costing more than $20 per person in some places, proprietors of homemade affairs say they are hosting more and more visitors each year.
"Scary Gary" and "Bloody Mary" don't ask for money to enter Haunted Hollow, but they accept donations, which they give in full to the Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo. Two years ago, they raised more than $5,000, Gary Server said.
"My wife and I love Halloween. Also, since I enjoy children so much and they have been such a large part of my life as a teacher, it makes Halloween even more enjoyable to do something for them," he said.
"We call it 'family frightful.' We don't do gore or blood. It's a chance for families to spend old-fashioned, quality time together. What's better than that?"
It's not unusual for families to spend hours exploring Haunted Hollow, because there's so much to see, he said.
There's an hourly light show and a graveyard of 100 tombstones, ghouls and monsters named for their grandson, Josh. A homemade hearse contains a "Bone Yard Band" of animatronic singing skulls. A crowd favorite, Victor the Talking Skeleton, communicates to visitors from his cage with the help of a remote microphone and an infrared camera monitored by one of Server's buddies from his living room.
A maze in the four-car garage leads you to a caged "insane asylum" of fright flick favorites including Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger and Jason.
CNN iReporter Deanna Rodrigues visited Haunted Hollow last Saturday with her 4-year-old son and spent nearly two hours exploring. Her son's favorite attraction was the garage maze, which has an electric chair that rattles and groans and lets off smoke when you sit on it, she said.
"He had a good time. He didn't want to leave," she said. "Real live ghouls roam around the stand behind bushes and 'boo' you."
It's a large undertaking to set the scene for thousands of visitors each year. Dozens of friends pitch in and they get a little help from students who volunteer for high school credit, which is why they do it every other year, Server said.
"It's really a lot of fun but we do it every two years because it's much work. It takes us three months to get ready," he said.
Kimberly Stegman and Andrew Adkins of Springdale, Ohio, also take several months to prepare their House of Hell, a graveyard of zombies and monsters that has grow in size over the past eight years. Each year brings more visitors, Adkins said. About 300 visitors came by last weekend, not including the retirement home bus and hayride that passed by.
The house on Glen Sharon Road has also become a local legend. iReporter Greg Reese made a point of visiting Saturday after missing it last year. As he pulled his car up to the house, he was greeted by a chainsaw-wielding Jason from the movie "Halloween."
"Others down the street are starting to dress up their house because of the response," Reese said. "He obviously takes a lot of time on the creatures."
The couple don't charge visitors a fee to view the collection of 17 zombies and monsters, each of which Adkins makes by hand. This year's new addition: the infamous scene from "The Exorcist" of the possessed young girl strapped to a bed.
It was simple, really, he said. A nurse friend gave him a gown and scrubs for clothes, and he made the body out of packing foam and the bed from wood left over at work.
"The thing that cost the most was the mask of her face, which I found online. But I didn't like how it looked so I painted over it to make it look better," he said.
It's a true labor of love that goes back to childhood, when he'd construct his own tombstone decorations of cardboard for his mother's home.
"I love Halloween, it's just like Christmas," he said. "As much as I like Halloween and horror movies, I'll keep doing it until I can't anymore. I have more space in the backyard so I'll probably end up there next year."