ST. JOSEPH — It takes more than a dark and stormy night to blow away Dan and Julie Smith’s annual Halloween display.
The wind and rain that howled in Thursday certainly tried its best, knocking over the tombstones in the Smith Family Cemetery, throwing an eight-foot inflatable pumpkin into a fence, and even ripping off the legs of the enormous spider on their roof.
“It was above and beyond” anything they have seen in their 24 years of mounting the free seasonal attraction at 302 Veronica Court in St. Joseph, Julie Smith said. They braved the elements on Halloween night, “getting soaking wet,” as did a sizable crowd of visitors.
The attraction will be open from 6-10 p.m. tonight and Sunday.
On Friday the Smiths were busy righting the outdoor decorations and repairing their arresting arachnid, which comes with moving mandibles, in preparation for the evening.
Every year they come up with a new theme and try to make it bigger and better, Dan Smith said. Along with the outdoor oddities (check out the spaceship that rises and emits smoke, and the moving monuments) the garage has been transformed into a tribute to the classic television show, “The Twilight Zone.”
The spine-tingly effects begin with the spinning clock and askew door that leads to a dimension “not of sight and sound, but of mind,” followed by a vertigo-inducing tunnel.
There is a shrine to show creator Rod Serling and the scenes inside re-create moments from such episodes as “Terror at 20,000 Feet,” “Eye of the Beholder” and “Time Enough at Last.” Other fun-house frissons await around every corner.
A photo booth allows mortals to capture their images and have them posted on the internet as a souvenir.
The Smiths start in mid-August to get all the elements in place. The tradition started when Dan Smith, a technician at Cook Nuclear Plant, put together some props for a safety training, and then brought his special effects wizardry home.
“And it’s grown into the monster that it is now,” Dan Smith said.
While he makes the gadgets, his wife, the buyer for the Silver Beach Carousel’s gift shop, uses her own artistic talents to enhance their presentations.
She should have known that their marriage would lead to this. Their first date together was to see the movie “Creep Show.”
They wrote some of the humorous epitaphs on the tombstones themselves:
Here lies my wife
I bid her goodbye
She rests in peace
And so do I
They first started the haunted happening at their Fairplain home, then continued in St. Joe. In past years it has drawn thousands of curiosity seekers, and even an occasional celebrity – Muhammad Ali came by one year.
They took a break for about six years, but resurrected it last year.
The Smiths are already thinking about next year. Julie said she’d like to have an antique hearse to park in the yard.
“Every Halloween is an opportunity to outdo ourselves,” Dan Smith said.
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