David Bragg’s recurring nightmares are always the same.
No teeth falling out. No forgetting to study for a big test.
Instead, it’s Halloween night and Bragg has forgotten to build the Terror Street Fair — the haunted attraction that lives in Bragg’s Federal Heights two-car-garage and spills into his backyard.
“Every home haunter has the dream,” Bragg said, hoisting a plastic skeleton off the wall at Westminster party supply store Fun Services. “You wake up in a cold sweat.”
Home haunters — people who erect spooky walk-throughs for the Halloween season teeming with ghosts, skeletons and fog machines right in their own backyards, driveways and garages — aren’t satisfied doling out Tootsie Pops come All Hallows’ Eve. In Colorado, home haunters are tricking out their handmade attractions with special effects worth tens of thousands of dollars executed in such a way to make a grown adult shriek in horror and delight.
The attractions — many offering entry for a couple bucks or a donation to a charity of their choice — require months of design, planning and manual labor all for a few nights of primetime October entertainment each year, but the madmen and women behind the boos find the hard work worth it.
“In 30 years, the kids who went through my haunt won’t remember my name but they’ll remember the experience and the memories we helped create,” Bragg said. “We’ll be that one weird haunted house of kids’ childhoods.”
Gold mine gone wrong
Peering down Sean Herman’s Denver alleyway, suburbia stretches as far as the eye can see: rows of uniform houses, a bike propped to the side and a tetherball swaying in the breeze.
But when Herman, 36, lifts his garage door, the jaw-dropping facade of an abandoned goldmine makes the surrounding homes look out of place.
In lieu of a garage entrance stands a wall of rock so realistic, it begs for double-takes. There’s one way in and one way out.
Step inside the mine entrance and prospector Herman leads visitors to an elevator motion simulator — a room Herman built that jostles guests around using airbags underfoot while a television posing as a window broadcasts the elevator’s descent into a haunted gold mine.
The elevator unloads guests into the mine with the undead, fog, dynamite and other startles.
“Home haunting is addicting,” said Herman, who works as a web developer when he’s not building an amusement park in his garage. “I don’t stop thinking about it all year.”
This is the Hermans’ fourth year of their walk-through home haunt, which opens Friday night and runs on weekends through Halloween. Sean Herman and wife Becki Herman draw lines down the block and have welcomed travelers from across the country to check out their small but mighty gold mine. Visit their website, wickermanor.com, for dates, times and address information.
Throughout the years, the Hermans invested between $20,000 to $40,000 on all their spooky sundries from animatronic skeletons to lumber costs. Despite the costs, they don’t charge an entry fee and hand over any donations to charity. This year, they’re giving all proceeds to Judi’s House, a non-profit for grieving children and families.
For the Hermans, watching visitors enjoy their fleeting fright fest is worth their weight in gold.
“The best is watching people come out and hearing their reactions,” Becki Herman said. “I love when they’re like ‘I can’t believe this is somebody’s garage!”
Catch the haunt while you can as the Hermans are looking to purchase land and go pro next year, hoping to make the move from the garage to the big leagues.
“Imagine what we could do with all that space,” Sean Herman said.
“Mini amusement park”
Bragg’s birthday is Nov. 2, so Halloween always felt like the whole country was giving out candy and having parties just for him. It wasn’t until high school when Bragg ventured through a haunted house with his buddies that he got bit by the haunt bug.
“The whole time I was going through it, I was having fun with my friends, but I could see the actors’ feet moving behind the scenes and I kept seeing missed scare opportunities,” Bragg said. “I remember thinking ‘this is cool, but I could do this a lot better. I’m sure of it.’”
Teenage Bragg would be proud of 42-year-old Bragg who shared his experience bringing the macabre dreams of his youth to life while shopping for plastic severed limbs at his local party and costume supply shop.
When Bragg and his wife bought their house in 2011, he finally had his own space to spook. The attraction has grown over the years with props purchased off Craigslist, retrieved from what other people trashed or bought on the cheap when taking broken Halloween goods off stores’ hands.
This year, Bragg’s haunt is themed to a funeral set in the underworld. The maze stretches from Bragg’s two-car garage through the driveway, into his side yard and throughout his backyard. Bragg’s friends and family members volunteer to pop out along the way. Bragg even hooked up a one-way mirror so the people waiting in line get a glimpse inside the attraction.
“It’s like running a mini amusement park,” Bragg said.
It takes about 750 hours of hard work for Bragg’s home to be transformed into the Terror Street funeral. Bragg learned different special effects, safety techniques — he is an insurance agent by day, after all — and prop designs from the local haunt community, which Bragg said is alive and well in Colorado.
Professional haunters like the people who put on Anderson Farm’s Terror in the Corn host workshops for the amateurs to teach them the nuts and bolts of the scare business, Bragg said.
“The community aspect of home haunts is the best part,” Bragg said, inspecting a wall full of plastic severed limbs for sale. “It brings so many people together, and we get 600 to 800 people who come through the haunt every night. Our driveway is filled with people from all walks of life just wanting to have a good time.”
Folks are welcome to join the fun from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 28, 29 and 31 at 2125 W. 90th Ave. in Federal Heights.
Instead of payment, Bragg collects canned food or monetary donations for Food Bank of the Rockies. In their 10 years of operation, Bragg said they’ve collected more than 7,000 pounds of food for the charity.
“Kind of infectious”
By day, Thomas Giomi teaches piano, but come October, the 43-year-old Arvada resident moonlights as a master of mayhem at his home haunt, 6366 A Haunting on Ingalls Court.
Giomi, who has been in the home haunting business for six years, was struck by the rising costs of professional haunted houses. His lengthy haunted maze costs $10 — as opposed to some of the big-name haunts where tickets can climb to near $100 with added bells and whistles.
“We want to make it super affordable for the neighborhood kids so even families who can’t afford to go to a big commercial haunt can still have fun and go to something that I think is pretty good,” Giomi said.
Giomi’s haunt — which has featured creepy clowns, animatronics and an ominous corn maze among other ghoulish delights — began as a treat for his piano students but became so beloved, he decided to expand it to the public for two nights only.
“It’s kind of infectious,” Giomi said.
Buy tickets for the experience through a post linked on their Facebook page, 6366 A Haunting on Ingalls Ct.
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