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What is a Home Haunt or Halloween Yard Haunt?

Trying to Explain What's Going on in Your Neighbor's Yard in Late October

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dave gugel yard haunt halloween
Photo courtesy of Dave Gugel
So what exactly is a "Home Haunt," "Yard Haunt" or "Halloween Yard Haunt?"

All three terms are used interchangeably to describe a residential-based haunted house, haunted yard or Halloween-decorated yard to be enjoyed and visited by neighbors, young trick-or-treaters, parents, friends, and the community.

Another way of looking at it: home haunts are the Halloween version of winter holiday and Christmas decorations festooning doors, entryways, windows, porches, pathways, patios, decks, back and front yards, and basically every square inch on and above your property. Many home haunts feature walk-throughs, which lead visitors down a pathway or through a maze from the front yard to the back.

Meet the Mitchells: They Wrote the Book

Before starting up their yard haunt, Lynne and Shawn Mitchell began noticing a marked decline in the number of trick-or-treaters in their Florida neighborhood. In 2005, the artists / designers made props, decorated and put up a sign inviting residents to visit the "Mitchell Cemetary" on Halloween night.

"Every year since, we've seen more and more people stop by," says Lynne. "We feel it's our duty to keep the Halloween spirit alive." The Mitchells got into yard haunting so much, they wrote what many to be the essential guide, How to Haunt Your House.

Parental Panic, Urban Myths and X-Raying Trick-or-Treat Loot

Trick-or-treating's popularity started to wane in the latter part of the 20th century. Remember the tales and urban legends in the 1970s and 1980s about razor blades in apples and candy-tampering? Then there were the public campaigns inviting families to bring their kids' loot bags to local hospitals after an evening of trick-or-treating? There, for free, the friendly medical staff would x-ray candy, looking for sharp objects or foreign substances embedded in treats. Now that must have been a dismal way to spend Halloween for the children whose families decided to partake in this well-intentioned but ominous ritual.

The Call of the Mall: Trick-or-Treaters Vacate Their Neighborhoods

As fear swept the United States over Halloween safety, different types of community and church-based Halloween activities lured children away from their neighborhoods. Among the alternatives: parties, costume parades and "Trunk-or-Treats," where participants park in, say, the church parking lot, with their vehicles decorated for Halloween. Costumed children go from car to car collecting candy; no doorbells or strangers involved.

Even shopping malls started hosting trick or treat events, although in the present economy, vacancies at malls are akin to empty or foreclosed houses in any given neighborhood.

Come Back, Come Ba-aaack!

With folklore and parental anxiety starting to be replaced by community awareness and more reasonable parental supervision, trick-or-treaters are venturing back into their own neighborhoods.

But candy isn't always the allure of a certain house. Often, it's the home with a walk-through yard haunt, screaming with decorations -- pumpkins, monsters, ghosts, fog and animatronic props. And it's not just children visiting these home haunts -- it's adults, teens, even home haunters' relatives sometimes fly out for the event. Why not? It's like having a smaller version of Knott's Scary Farm in your own neighborhood.

How Did Home Haunts Get Started?

There was no particular place on a certain date that can claim to be "the birth of yard haunts." Like many DIY projects, yard haunts start out small and evolve. Most begin with a few decorations on the door or porch. Those get a good response and the homeowners enjoy making props, so they research the internet to find out more about Halloween yard decorations and all types of monsters, animatronics, effects and props.

By the mid-1990s, Halloween yard haunts were becoming more popular and prevalent. Sales of Halloween decorations increased, and pretty soon you were seeing lots more than lighted jack-o-lanterns on porches.

Do Home Haunters 'Haunt" Other People's Homes?

No. They decorate their own homes, primarily the outdoor areas of their properties. Some have branched off and started businesses decorating other people's yards (just like Christmas holiday lighting-installation companies), but they don't roam the streets of their communities in October and "haunt," spook or vandalize other houses.

Haunt, home haunt, or yard haunt are terms for a place or event. Example: "Our neighbors have been hosting an unbelievable yard haunt since 2004!" And "haunters" is the term for the yard-haunt creators themselves -- the diehards who are working on props year 'round, in some cases.

Do Halloween Yard Haunts Charge Admission?

Most yard haunts are free and open to the public. Some accept donations, partly to offset their costs and / or to benefit local charities.

Where Do Halloween Yard Haunters Get Their Props? Do They Hire Decorators?

Most home yard haunters are do-it-yourselfers.

Home haunters are a uniquely creative bunch," explains author Lynne Mitchell. "I'd say they are movie buffs, 'imagineers' and avid recyclers who like to turn ordinary stuff into [Disneyland's] Haunted Mansion props." Many home haunter groups / organizations can be found regionally, internationally, and online".

And it seems to be an amicable group. "They're all willing to help with any questions or projects you have," continues Lynne. "There are conventions, backyard get-togethers, and yearly group meetings."

Whoever said Halloween is just one day out of the year?

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