If you’re ready to get into the Halloween spirit, there’s some spooky fun to be found on the 18000 block of Oakwood Avenue in Lansing.
A federal security officer by day, a U.S. Army Reservist by weekend, Eric Fowler is the spook master by night in the month of October. Actually, his interest in Halloween has now extended to a yearlong hobby as he has shifted from store-bought decorations and inflatables to now creating his own props and building his own computer-based animatronics. “Each year, it’s gotten to be more and more, gradually bigger and bigger,” he said.
He’s lived in his home at 18042 Oakwood Ave. for the past eight years and as fall kicks in, his front yard becomes a graveyard. While he has been decorating each year since he moved in, he said he really got into it around 2008. While stationed in Afghanistan, some friends had told him about a group called Chicago Haunt Builders. He researched them online and started communicating with the group via email. He sent pictures of his Halloween display and was accepted into the group. He relied heavily on its members for learning the tricks of the trade. “A lot of them have been doing it 15 years or longer. Some are really good at lighting, some at woodworking. Each has a special skill,” he said. “It’s fantastic and they’re a great group of guys.”
He’s since been approached by others asking him to design props and now offers custom prop building for others with a love of everything scary and spooky. His neighborhood has also been motivated by Fowler’s enthusiasm for fright. He’s helped them with their props and the neighbors on each side have offered space in their front yards for Fowler to expand. On one side, Fowler said, the neighbor welcomes the decorations so that she doesn’t have to put up any of her own and on the other side, he said, is a man named Gabe who helps him set it all up. “The whole block gets into it,” he said.
Neighbors on the street get petition signatures as they would for a block party to have road blocks at each end of the block for Halloween night. “This way the kids can trick or treat and not worry about the cars,” he said. “We block the streets off and have some live actors. It’s a pretty good time.”
If you take a walk by his house any evening this month, you’ll encounter fully animated figures, like the one that’s on the fence and talks to passers-by among the graveyard with about 30 tombstones. There’s a coffin with a sensor that causes it to appear that someone’s banging on it from the inside. He’s redone all the pillars to make the gargoyles breath smoke with a lightning show in the background. And it’s still a work in progress. Fowler said he’ll continue building until Halloween night when additional props will be added. About 95 percent of what you see has been made by or rebuilt and customized by Fowler.
One item visitors favor is a projector that plays a movie in the window of the house. “That’s gotten a lot of people’s attention,” he said.
The Halloween set up, which he has named “Haunted 4 Life” has operating hours that are posted on the pillars. The display can be viewed from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 6:30 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays. On Halloween it will stay up until about midnight. Because there are so many electronic components that are sensitive to rain, the display is open, weather permitting. Fowler said the display usually comes down on Nov. 1, but since it falls mid-week this year, it will remain up until the following weekend.
In 2010 and 2011 he served a second tour, this time in Egypt, but he managed to keep going on the prop building and adding to his collection. And he plans to keep expanding. One neighbor has given the OK to move further into her yard and he hopes to add more to the parkway next year. And he’s heard from people volunteering to play the part of live ghouls and zombies and he plans to take some of them up on it.
“It’s nice the crowd of people that we get,” Fowler said. “Each year we get bigger. That’s the goal. We want to expand and get a little more inventive with the props. We’ve gone more the spooky route and at first I thought I’d have an issue with it, but I really haven’t. It’s a fun thing. A lot of people come by every day. I do it for people to enjoy and for people who can’t afford to go to the big haunted houses because they are expensive. So, they can come here and maybe get a little scare for free.”
For more information, visit the Facebook page “Haunted 4 Life.”