Skeleton Garden Menu: Main Skeletons Skeleton Garden Skeleton Flowers Skeleton Tree
The Skeleton Garden Room
Photo: Delan Robbins - One View of the Skeleton Garden
Following a six year absence from creating haunted house rooms, I decided to finally put together the last idea I had had for a room. This came about mainly because I had toured the 2012 Wyandotte Jaycee haunted house and been impressed by some of the creative ideas I saw in there. I am a sucker for being a part of something where people are trying to do good work in an arena that interests me.
So I decided to dust off that last idea I had and take a fresh look at it to see how it could be done.
The Skeleton Garden's History - Phase 1: It's a Skull World
The Skeleton Flowers were the initial reason for even thinking of doing a haunt like this. My original concept (from 2006) was for a room that was to be called It's a Skull World which was to be a parody of Disney's ride It's a Small World. That ride is famous for its bunch of cloying little dolls who shriek their signature song at you for the ten or so minutes it takes for to complete the ride.
The Original Plan for It's a Skull World. Green - Walls, Purple - Walking Path, Red - Doors/Props
My idea was to have a bunch (I originally wanted six) little skull flowers singing It's a Skull World, which was to be some sort of death metal ditty sung by long time haunted artist Garrett Memring's band Placenta. I even penned some lyrics which have since been lost. (This is probably a good thing.) I do recall parts of it went, "It's a world of hate, It's a world of fear". So you can well imagine the rest of it. (I was trying to write something Placenta would at least be willing to sing for me. I barely knew what death metal was.) I had even purchased some talking skulls that I thought I could use as the head of the skull flowers, although I had no clue how to rewire them so they would look like they were singing along with whatever we fed through them. So that stymied this idea for years.
The Skull Post Fence in the Skeleton Tree Atrium Room
There was also to be a building in the middle of the room with two flying skeleton reapers chasing each other (they were tied to blades of a fan.) The room was to be insulated and have Frank Sinatra's Come Fly With Me playing because I thought it would be funny to have such a jarring contrast in music inside the (hopefully quieter) room. This was the first part of the room to get scrapped. There was also to be a picked fence with skulls on the main posts, which also wound up getting scrapped. (Although it was used in my Skeleton Tree Atrium haunted house room the year after I came up with the original design.)
In 2012, I told Jonathan Dering, the chairman of the project, about my singing skulls and my room idea. He agreed to help me. Unfortunately we never quite got the rewiring of the skulls figured out.
The Skeleton Garden's History - Phase 2: The Skeleton Yard Concept
The 1st Skeleton Garden Tree - Front
Since It's a Skull World relied on the singing skull flowers which I couldn't figure out or find anyone to help me
The 1st Skeleton Tree - Left
build, I started reexamining the idea in 2007. After creating the Skeleton Tree Atrium haunt, I thought it would be neat to include the skeleton tree prop I designed into the haunt.
So the idea morphed from a Disney ride parody into a back yard scene. (Why someone would have singing skeleton flowers in your back yard is a mystery, but then so is the reasoning behind why they would have a skeleton tree. So we'll just leave that for now.) I added the concept of little skull plants on an Astroturf floor inside the haunts. Stick a skeleton with his back to the tree, perhaps his arm on a raised knee and you had a placid scene. Neat.
Except the skeleton atrium was the last haunt I did for six years. In the mean time, the skeleton tree prop had gotten ruined from being shuttled around from Wyandotte Jaycee haunted house to Wyandotte Jaycee haunted house. I was still anchored to this idea, however, so when I started reconsidering my back yard vignette, I knew I'd have to create another tree.
The Skeleton Garden's History - Phase 3: The Skeleton Garden
The final revision to the idea came when I decided to make this room after going through the 2012 Wyandotte Jaycees haunted house. By now the elements had been swirling around in my head for years. Every time I saw the skeleton lights in the basement or all the skull parts in the garage I thought about how this room might work.
I had always sort of planned to have two spaces in the room, with the patrons weaving around them so they could examine the details as you may have noticed in the It's a Skull World plan above. I knew the tree would take up a lot of real estate in one of those spaces. With this in mind, I warned Jonathan about this haunt in 2012, explaining that this idea would eat a lot of space. He delivered that. And more. You can see the resulting room plan below.
The Skeleton Garden Room Plan. Green - Picket Fence, Purple - Walking Path, White - Skull Props, Red - Other Props, Yellow - Skull Sun
The Skeleton Garden's Skeleton Tree Area
The Skeleton Garden Tree (With a Skeleton
Flower and Girl on a Swing.)
As I explained, I needed another skeleton tree for this haunt. In fact, I wanted an area specifically for the tree. In 2012, I also mentally added a little girl on a swing to the tree. This came about as a result of sitting on my friend's John's front porch watching the trick-or-treaters that year. There were several little girls in cutsey pink and purple monster costumes and it occurred to me that it would be funny to have a skeleton wearing a cutsey pink and purple skeleton costume. Since this had to be a little girl skeleton, I decided to add her to the tree and stick her on a swing.
At some point I had decided that the room should be all black lit. I like black lit rooms (see the Amazeing and the String Monster for proof of this.) Black light adds a surreal element to everything. This meant that everything needed to I wanted an area be lit up from the inside or painted in fluorescent paint if it wasn't going to fade into the background.
Photo: Delan Robbins
The Scene in Black Light So the redesign of the tree included fluorescent painted skeleton parts. After attaching these and testing it in my garage, I realized the tree itself would fade into the background, so I wound up dusting it with orange fluorescent paint. You can read in detail how the tree was created on the Skeleton Garden Skeleton Tree web page. The worker actually hid inside the tree and scared people as they came around it from the back. I figured the other area, being so brightly lit, would distract
The Other side of the Tree Area - See the Open Part of the Tree?
the patrons enough so that they wouldn't notice the top 1/3 of the other side of the tree was an open window.
The little girl was fairly simple - I just painted a plastic skeleton blue and put the costume on her. I thought the costume would fluoresce, but nothing on it glowed. So I wound up dusting parts of her her costume with glow paint. You can read the details of that and the creation of the swing on the Skeleton Garden Skeletons page.
Although I couldn't get the large skeleton flowers to sing, I still decided to make them for the room using a skull that lit up from the inside rather than one that seemed to talk. I had three life-sized spines I had picked up on eBay over the years, so I made three flowers. For variety's sake, I stuck one of the skeleton flowers (the largest - the red one) in this area. You can read about the process of making those on the Large Skeleton Garden Flowers page.
The Owl on the Free-Floating Skeleton Tree Branch
skeletons and flowers were the first props ready, so they were the first to be brought down to the haunted house. When I returned to my garage to begin work on the garden for the other area of the room, I decided to put together a branch to be added to the tree to make it more 'realistic'. (There's only so much realism that you can bring to a tree embedded with glowing skeleton parts.)
So I found an appropriate branch, painted it orange and stuck an owl (dusted in glow paint) that I had bought the year before on it. (I actually had bought a crow, an owl and a bat for the tree, but there just wasn't enough 'safe' areas in the haunt for them all. 'Safe' here referring to areas people couldn't easily reach in and grab the props off the branch.)
I even created a skull to cover the part of the branch that was inside of a piece of 2x4 that was to be used to attach it to the tree.
However, when I got it to the haunted house I realized that the branch was too big and would interfere with the girl on the swing. My friend John suggested we put it on the opposite wall - which made no sense whatsoever - but which would keep it out of the way of the swing. So we did. It actually worked pretty well. (Physics be damned.)
The Skeleton Garden's Garden Area
The Skeleton Garden Area of the Haunt
The second area of the haunt - the Skeleton Garden area - was crammed with stuff to look at. This was partially by design - I wanted people's attention focused on this as they came around the skeleton tree. It was partially by accident as well because I didn't realize how much space Jonathan was going to give me!
One of the things I wanted to be sure to put in the haunt were the two parent skeletons - the red and 'glowing' one. (The glowing one is painted with glow paint which made it look white/green when the black light was turned on as you will notice in the photo below right.)
They were to be sitting on a bench and posed like two skeletons that can briefly be seen in a scene in the movie Beetlejuice. You can read more about this on the Skeleton Garden Skeletons page.
Photo: Delan Robbins
"Mom... Dad... Mom, Dad. I just want you two to know, you're
welcome at our house anytime you want to come over."
Since my friend John had agreed to help me with this haunt, I wanted to give him some of the work on this part of the room to do. I already had plenty of props to build for this room, so I asked him to build the bench for me. It's a humble black thing in the middle of this large room containing glowing... everything else... but he did a really nice job on it. I specifically asked him to make it a bit rickety so no one would decide to sit on it, so it's nice a light-weight. I plan to keep it and its two occupants as they appear here for awhile.
In a way, these two skeletons became the focal point of the room for me. I love the homage aspect, I loved to see them sitting their glowing demonically and I really just liked the idea of the skeleton family hanging out in their back yard garden, incorporating the second and third phases of this room. Plus they gave me a nice area to stick two of the large skeleton flowers.
The Skeleton Garden Itself
The main feature of the second area was the Skeleton Garden prop itself. This was actually the last thing I thought of for the room. I had always had a vague idea of putting skeleton lights on small trees and maybe planting a small skull plant or two here and there to reenforce the skeleton plants in the back yard concept. However, when Jonathan showed me all the space that I had for the haunt, I realized I didn't have enough stuff for the room. So the skeleton garden was born.
This was all inspired by one of my neighbors. He had put together a garden in his side yard. He did this by assembling a bunch of 2x12 boards on the lawn and then pouring bags of dirt into it. (I'm not sure why he didn't just till the soil that was already there, but that's not important right now.) It was an amazing display of garden and I decided to emulate it using skull plants and 2x4s.
Although I had had several ideas for skeleton flowers during the years between 2006 and 2013, this proved to be one of the most challenging props in the room to assemble. About a third to half of the skeleton garden contained what I called sprouts. These were little skull lights with rags on their heads that I turned into turnip-like plants with the skulls being the bulb and the rags being formed into the green shoots coming out of the skulls. They were initially held up with paint, but that proved to be a little week to keep them straight, so I had John's son Johnny wrap wires around them to try and give the shoots a boost.
A View of Part of the Skeleton Garden Black Lit. (It was a challenge to photograph the whole thing.)
(It worked better than not having wires, although some of them still drooped pretty badly.
The second third to quarter of the garden contained small skeleton flowers which consisted of small foam skulls mounted on wire stems with roses as the flower holding up the skull. They actually had a lot in common with the large skeleton flowers as far as general form goes, but they were easier to build.
The last part of the garden contained larger plants. These were mostly old props I had used in other haunts which I modified to fit the garden motif. I had purchased two medium-sized skulls back in 2006 for the It's a Skull World haunt that were included. I also had a black plastic skull with a flicker bulb from the old Poetry Haunt that got included. Some vines from the Jurassic Park Velociraptor haunt found their way in as well. The only new object in the larger plants was a cheap glitter skull that I mounted to a large flower. You can see a detailed run down on how the Skeleton Garden was created here.
The Large Plants Section of the Garden
The Small Flowers (left side) and the Sprouts (right) in the Skeleton Garden
Scarecrow in Normal Light
Photo: Delan Robbins
Scarecrow in Black Light
The other major feature of area 2 of the Skeleton Garden was the Scarecrow prop. I had a skeleton-based garden. I had a skeleton-based scarecrow. The two must go together! The only trouble with the scarecrow was the lighting. He was designed to be used with two blue pin spot lights, but that is such a dim lighting effect that I figured he would probably get lost in the glowing plants.
So I decided to bite the bullet and dust my scarecrow prop with glow in the dark paint that I purchased from Wal~Mart. The nice thing about glow-in-the-dark paint is that it doesn't really add a lot of color to whatever you're painting. Oh, it had some... sort of a light yellowish tinge - as if the prop had a touch of yellow fever or something. But it wasn't so much that the prop would be spoiled for other uses. (Besides... it would now glow in the dark! That's a pretty creepy effect.)
The Window, Orange Light Tree, Proto-Flower and Scarecrow
You may also notice a couple of other things in the scarecrow photos. First, I had built a window with red and blue borders that was backed with black plastic. This was actually sort of based on a room I did in 1993 that had a bunch of similarly constructed window frames on black plastic in an otherwise long and dull hallway. We cut out one of the widows so that a person could hide behind it and poke through the plastic. So the intent was to give reinforce the idea of a back yard and also suggest to the patrons that someone could be hiding behind it.
Second, the prototype skeleton flower was sitting at the feet of the scarecrow. He was the first prop built specifically for this room (back in 2006). You can read about him on the Skeleton Flowers prop page.
Third was the little black tree with orange lights. I had found this for 75% off at Target in 2012 and bought it on a whom, thinking it would fit in here. It did.
Last was the little skull candle in a lantern prop aka. the Pirate Light. This was a piece from my pirate haunt from the Wyandotte Jaycees 2006 haunted house. He was actually just sort of thrown in at the last minute because I saw him on the shelf when I was searching through all the skull props I had bought in 2006.
The Skull Sun
The idea for a skull sun came to me about the same time as the idea for the garden. When I went to the haunted house to look at the space, Jonathan showed me a bunch of props they had which weren't being used. One of them was a very large ghost/skull thing with hands reaching out as if to grab you. It was one of those props that had a wire frame disguised in layers of tattered cloth.
Photo: Delan Robbins
The Skull Sun Presiding Over the Skeleton Garden
I asked Jonathan if I could take it apart and use the skull. He said I could, so I decided to make this 30" tall skull the center of a sun.
Now I had plenty of projects on my plate already, so I asked my friend John if he could make the skull out of cardboard for me. He works for Fedex and had access to large pieces of cardboard. He agreed to do that. I took the skull and painted it yellow, thinking that the center of the sun would be yellow to give the effect of the skull emerging from the sun. This is one of those ideas that has been around in the pop culture since the 60s or 70s - I'm guessing thanks to the influences of the Grateful Dead and pot. ("Dude! There's a giant skull in the sun!" "I can see it.") But it was also something that would work well with a skeleton garden, so I used it.
When I got to John's to pick up the bench for the two Beetlejuice skeletons and the sun I was shocked to see how large it was. As you look at the room photos here, you will notice that it is apparent everywhere in the room. It was so large he had to store it in his neighbor's garage because he didn't have enough space! I had given him a can of yellow and orange fluorescent spray paint and he had actually run out of the orange. John decided to paint the center of the sun orange instead of yellow, so the emerging skull idea was sort of gone. (He claims I told him to do this, which I'm pretty sure I didn't.) It still looked really cool, however, so I didn't worry about it.
Skull Sun Seen From the Girl on a Swing
Looking Up at the Sun
Gil Mayrand Admiring the Enormous Skull Sun