Emily C. Roush
The Ashland Beacon
Throughout the Tri-State many people decorate their homes for Halloween, but some go above and beyond the typical string lights and jack o’lanterns. These elaborately decorated dwellings can build followings and become popular attractions in their communities. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, staple fall and Halloween events have been scaled back or canceled. Many of the people who live in these decorated “Halloween houses” hope that their displays bring joy to their neighborhoods and provide fun activities for families. Last week, we traveled into two other spooky areas and homes. Part two of this article series takes spectators from Ashland and Ironton to Huntington.
For the past five years, residents in Huntington have experienced Midvale Haunt on 177 Midvale Drive. The home of Rodney Sanders and his husband Joshua Daniels has become famous in their neighborhood. According to Rodney, “We get a lot of cars, especially on the weekend. The kids in the neighborhood love it. They call us the ‘Halloween House.’”
Rodney has long been a Halloween enthusiast. “I love fall. There is something magical about pumpkins, witches, and ghosts.” Josh has a slightly different take on the holiday. “I have always enjoyed Halloween, but I don’t think I ever got into it as much until I met [Rodney].” Rodney replied with a laugh, “I won’t let you escape it.” Both men have fond childhood memories of Halloween. “When we were kids, Josh and I each had a house in our neighborhoods that was ‘the Halloween House’ that gave out whole candy bars. Now that’s us. We get to do that,” he said with a smile.
The couple like to go with a different concept each year. Past themes have included a haunted farm, animatronic witches, and a cemetery. They even built a horse drawn hearse one year that weighed roughly 400 pounds. “That was an adventure.” Rodney joked. He continued, “It’s fun to branch out with new ideas.”
The goal this year was a Voodoo bayou theme. They originally had another concept in mind but changed direction because of COVID as their initial plan included walk-through components that would not work with social distancing measures. “I was inspired right after Mardi Gras. Universal Studios does a Mardi Gras event every year, and this year they had a section that was a Voodoo lounge type thing. I thought that would be interesting,” said Rodney. He researched the religion to make sure all the displays would be respectful and not offensive to followers of the belief system. “I looked at reference photos from Louisiana. Since it has a Voodoo element, we also wanted to be true to the religion.” The display even features dolls and fetishes crafted by a Canada based Voodoo priestess.
In a typical year, Rodney and Josh begin ordering supplies and commissioned pieces in March and start the building phase in July. They visit area flea markets and salvage stores throughout the year to find items and building materials that can be saved and reclaimed. They also repurpose as much as they can from previous years’ displays. This year, they were even able to turn to nature for decoration. A large storm that rolled through during the summer left fallen tree branches and sticks that the couple collected from neighbors to add ambiance to their Louisiana bayou scene.
The goal is for everything they create to be as realistic looking as possible. Josh specializes in the building and wiring of their displays while Rodney handles more artistic and decorative elements. “I rigg everything so it doesn’t fall down,” laughed Josh. Rodney explained, “detail is very important to me, and I think the devil is in the details. I will spend a lot of time researching and taking pictures of things I like.” Rodney wanted this year’s display to have an organic, realistic feel.
The central piece of their exhibition is a life-sized Voodoo man sitting on the porch facade of a shack Josh affixed to the side of their home. “He is the star of the show,” proclaimed Rodney. The man is comprised of a realistic head made by a Hollywood based theatrical supply company. “We ordered it in March a week before COVID hit [here]. We didn’t get it until July because the company that makes it switched their production to make [medical simulators] to train medical professionals.” Rodney aged the man’s clothing with Plains dust, a product that theater professionals use to give the appearance of dirt on costumes.
The Voodoo Man even led to some scares before Rodney and Josh finished building the display. According Josh, “We had him sitting [inside] while we were still working on everything. He startled us a couple of times when walking into the house.” An installer came to take measurements for new flooring in their home. “We forgot it was in Josh’s office,” Rodney explained. “He went into the room and was startled,” he laughed. The two joked that they eventually covered him with a towel to avoid further frights.
The shack itself required extensive work to give it an aged appearance. Stain and paint treatments were used to distress the wood. Creating the roof proved to be the biggest challenge. Rodney explained, “the roof is rusted. When you buy sheets of metal, they are new and shiny. [The metal] has a zinc coating. We used muriatic acid to take off the zinc so we could age the metal.” They used this treatment on the roof as well as exposed nails seen on other set pieces.
Rodney and Josh intend for Midvale Haunt to be an immersive experience for spectators. Fog emitted from a machine has been treated with an additive to make it smell like a swamp. Sound effects can even be heard through FM radio at 88.7. They have all aspects of their display turned on every evening and encourage people to drive by and take pictures. More information about Midvale Haunt can be found on their Facebook page.