Halloween, 1997
This year was a little better than last year, with several behind-the-scene changes and some new treats for the kids. To understand these items, you should have read the history of the 1996 season.

The upgrades included:

New stuff included: Misc:
Automating the ghost

The ghost now runs on a loop, like a clothesline, but running horizontally. He is allowed to freefall down (which looks better), but then is pushed back up to the top.

One end of the loop is attached at a second-story dormer, using a steel bracket that we welded up and bolted in place. The pulley is some auto part!

The bottom end of the loop is attached to a wooden fence. This is the "business end" of the system, with the motor, the tension controls and the system controls. This picture shows a regular pulley wheel attached to a motor, which is bolted to a custom-made steel bracked, which is bolted to two 2x4's. This is all suspended by the loop wire, and held down by the chain loops to the fence. Turnbuckles provide fine control for the tension.

Here's a picture looking up to the dormer from the bottom bracket.

The system is controlled with X10 home automation controls. Let's start with the ghost at the top of the system, positioned just before the top pulley wheel. When activated by a wireless remote, the motor pushes the ghost around the top pulley, where it is allowed to free-fall to the bottom of the system. A loop of metal wire is used attach the ghost to the line. When the ghost comes to the bottom, this metal line makes contact with a sensor (an old reciprical saw blade attached to an X10 universal module) which sends the X10 command to turn off the motor. When we're ready, we can turn the motor on again, which sends the ghost to the top of the system. An "anti-ghost" (a piece of metal wire firmly attached to the line 1/2 way around from the real ghost) triggers the sensor and turns the motor off, leaving the ghost positioned at the top of the system.

I think it sounds more complicated than it is. Maybe I should have taken some more pictures!

With this system now automated, anyone can trigger the ghost. Last year, I had to hide in the dormer and pull the ghost back up by hand!

Better werewolf

A new werewolf voice (from LNS) didn't work as well as planned - I think it was an amplification problem. I need to crack open the unit and see if we can bypass the built-in amp.

He also sported a new camera (from Home Automation Systems). This camera comes with a very bare cable - one RCA connector for video, another for mono audio, 2 wires for power and 2 wires for mic power. I hooked this up to an old PC power supply. I ran the video and audio through a VCR and then on to a TV for watching the "victims".

The build-in mic was very helpful! It was very sensitive, not visible, and didn't require a separate cable to get back to the control room.

Last year, I used cheap ping-pong balls for his eyes. This year, I made one into a kind of contact lens to cover the camera.

Here's the finished mask (we combed his hair before we let him out!). The body is just old clothes stuffed with newspapers.

Here's a picture of the control room. From the left, you can see the CD player (playing spooky music), the mixing board (controling the spooky music and the werewolf audio), the TV (showing the video from the werewolf - he's looking down the driveway toward the cemetary) and a macintosh (which we had planned to use to post images to the internet throughout the evening).

Here are some assembly pictures of the werewolf: two old mic stands for legs, tape used as suspenders, stuff the legs with newspaper, torso installed, the finished product. I had some trouble with his shoulders this year, so I took a 2x4 and drilled two holes to receive the tops of the mic stand poles. I also cut a wedge out of the backs of the sneakers so they would slip around the mic stand. That reciprical saw really got a workout this year!

Better audio

The plan was to use more of the band's PA gear to extend audio farther down the driveway. The primary purpose for this is to broadcast my scary music CD. We designed a plan that would have let me dial-in the werewolf voice to any of 5 speaker locations. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to get this all configured properly. I was really looking forward to chatting with some kid at the werewolf, and then heckling him as he walked down the driveway!

The graveyard

The graveyard consisted of four hand-made headstones with fresh-dirt graves. Even Death herself was seen in the graveyard.

The graves are made up of old pillows, put inside of black trash bags. The headstones are held in place by bricks on either side. Here's a picture during assembly. The whole area was then covered with dirt and a few leaves. Here's a pre-dark picture.

A raven kept an eye on things.

Here are some work-in-progress shots of the tombstones. If anyone would like hints or specific directions, let me know.

Here are some shots of the finished products:

  • Here lies.... The letters on this stone were painted, which hid the fact that the letters were carved.
  • Do Not Enter... Dead End The letters on this stone were untreated, and unreadable! My son, then 4, suggested this text.
  • E. Coli... These letters were shaded with a charcoal pencil. Very nice!
  • We all have a debt... Unreadable. For the complete text, see below.

Carve the stones outside, and watch out for debris.

The epitaphs were made by picking the text, picking a font, printing it out on my laser printer, "tracing" the letters onto the styrofoam with a utility knife and then routing out the letters with a dremel tool.

The list of names and epitaphs that I found in the halloween-l archives and elsewhere on the web is here. I found a pointer to the fonts on the halloween-l web site (bostonia and ghost town are the favorites so far).

Scrapped plans:
The rat
A friend had purchased a brand new RC car and was going to build a rat covering. I'm trying to talk him into making it a spider...

Flying Crank Ghost
In anticipation of making a FCG, I bought a few of those 5RPM motors from C&H. We now have it wired up so you can just plug it in, and throw a switch for forward or reverse direction. I'm not sure it will turn into a FCG, but it was fun to put it together. Here are a couple of pictures of my friend Todd doing just that, with me, um, assisting: 1 2 3. The finished product is here.
Misc and credits

Standard porch decorations, too.

A lot of credit for all of this goes to the members of the Halloween Mailing List, whose great ideas have provided the new werewolf voice, the techniques for the tombstones, the source for the ravens, and lots of other great ideas. All that and I don't feel so wierd anymore!

Feel free to write.

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