Right, Glen Williams, right, introduces a mad doctor to his range of characters ready to entertain guests. photo by Ann L. Fouty.
October 17, 2013Glen Williams sleeps very well despite a multitude of holiday house guests.
Ghosts, pirates, witches with bubbling cauldrons, skeletons rattling chains, mad doctors, screaming prisoners, spiders dangling from rafters, Dracula, zombies, rats and just plain creepy characters are gathered in his Grosse Pointe Woods house, garage and yard at 19520 Mack and his parents' neighboring yard.
For more than 30 years the Grosse Pointe Public Schools elementary physical education teacher has been collecting, decorating and, in the past few years, hosting fundraisers during October in a spirit befitting the month's major holiday.
"I'm a collector," he said carrying corn stalks to set beside straw bales in the driveway. "They (Halloween decorations) have become more available. I started purchasing them and it became more of a habit. I have one of a kind animatronics, and a good friend, Gary Lumas, who is a good builder."
He points to the water wheel, one of the new additions this year.
"Whether we'll have water is questionable," said Williams, who estimates he and his father each spend more than 400 hours putting the season's displays together. Beginning in August, Williams has the inside of his 1,300 square foot house completely decorated. While the outside decorations are set up after school and on weekends from September until the last minute before guests arrive. Also just before 300 to 400 guests arrive, Williams takes 45 minutes to turn on all the lights, sounds, animation motion switches and completes a battery check on all the devices.
Then it's show time for Haunted Garage Productions, as Williams has dubbed his enterprise.
He doesn't do it alone. Williams credits friends Ray and Joan Williams, animatronics builder Lumas, set builder Jim Wieme, ticket takers and helpers Dawn, Andy and Zachary Magnuson, Liz Fildew, Robby and Jon Whaley and Jacob Malbouef for making the production possible.
This week they are working feverishly for time has arrived for the fundraisers benefitting all the elementary public school PTOs. Ferry and Trombly children were the first group to tour the nearly acre of haunts. Poupard and Mason children wrap up the month, the early evening of Oct. 27, viewing more than 70 characters in nine different scenes and being offered cider and freshly-made doughnuts.
Williams said he always liked Halloween and would trick-or-treat with his friends. By the time he was in sixth grade he had grown to more than 6-feet tall and was denied treats because people thought he was older.
"After the fifth house I went home crying," he said.
That experience resulted in Williams hosting Halloween parties for his friends until the guest list topped 100 to 150 guests. More than 40 years later, he is still in the Halloween mood.
As the guests enjoyed the ever-expanding Halloween scenes, Williams began to wonder what more he could do with his party idea. The Grosse Pointe Public Education Foundation was the first to take him up on a Halloween-themed fundraiser.
"I then decided to do a tour for the Maire children," he said. "It raised money for the PTO. For over 30 years I've been teaching at Maire; they (the PTO) have been generous to me supplying equipment. This was an easy fundraiser for them. There was not a lot of planning and no money up front. Then two years ago all nine elementaries have been coming."
Admission is $9. The proceeds are donated to the PTOs.
He emphasizes all actors are sensitive to the children, noting fourth and fifth graders like being scared as do younger children. "This is age appropriate haunting. If they (actors) see a nervous child, they pull their masks off. All the actors are former students or (their) families. They do a good job seeing who is nervous," he said. "We are also putting a blinking light on any child that is nervous this year. Once our 'entertainers' see this, it becomes a no haunt group."
Haunting venues have popped up across the metro area and the state. Williams is proud his site is where it is.
"This is family time," he said. "It's another fun Grosse Pointe event and (families don't) have to travel a number of hours and spend a ton of money. We make sure the families will have a good time. They look forward to it every year."
And every year, Williams rearranges, adds and subtracts from the rubber characters and scenes.
Because 2012 October weather was so bad, the commercial haunting sites did poorly financially. As a result, Williams was able to purchase the defunct Haunted Hallow in Westland, including storage trucks to warehouse the faded barn facade, a mad doctor's lab and figures, among others.
"I changed 75 percent of (the scenes) due to the new purchase. I purchased it in late May. Those who have been coming here will recognize the effort. We put on the best possible show in limited space," Williams said as he walked by an ancient gray, stooped servant with stringy hair dressed in a dusty tailcoat, just one of the characters inhabiting the Mack Avenue house with Williams.