There’s a good reason Ammon Smith’s neighbors are shy about decorating their homes for Halloween: a sparse jack-o’-lantern is spotted here, a modest faux spiderweb dangling from a tree there.
For the past decade, the Utah resident has gone ghastly gangbusters on his yard (think a near scale haunted pirate ship, a DIY Area 51-inspired display—flying saucer and all—and a Jurassic Park-themed enclosure replete with a gaggle of Velociraptors and a 35-foot T-rex), turning his Salt Lake City home into a local tourist attraction.
Ammon Smith standing in front of the T-Rex he made for Halloween. This is so spectacular. I don’t know what it’s not being feted everywhere. Last year he did King Kong. pic.twitter.com/5AyIgcHUqz
— Sherri #ExpandtheSupremeCourt (@sherripark) October 29, 2018
This year’s motif: a “not so much creepy, bloody-faced clown version” of an 1800s carnival, suggested by his wife, Tera. “She’s kind of the theme master,” Smith says. “She is a genius and comes up with these great ideas.”
Boasting a motion-activated animatronic fortune teller named Zaltana, interactive game stations, an automated merry-go-round and an imposing ferris wheel, he says the project took approximately 80 hours and six weeks to complete.
Standing in front of his house, past an oversized gaping mouth that’s taken over the main entrance, and next to a reimagined popcorn stand now advertising “just popped” corneas, Smith takes a moment to soak it in.
“I think my favorite part is the ferris wheel, because I built it,” he says, staring at its skeletal passengers. “It kind of speaks to me a little differently.” Smith estimates the towering structure is around 23 feet tall (his measuring tape only extends to 20 feet).
The endeavor, it turns out, is a ghoulishly green one.
“I really try to upcycle everything that I use for wood,” he says, adding that a good number of materials were crowdsourced. “This year I put out on Nextdoor: ‘Hey, I’m your weirdo Halloween neighbor. I’m not looking for money or new wood, but if you have old wood—if you broke down a deck or a fence got blown over or something and it’s old and weathered—I’ll come pick it up from you and clear out your wood pile.’” The response to the post was “overwhelming,” he says.
The recycled nature of the components takes the guilty edge off should they end up in a landfill, though he already has three bidders wanting to get their hands on the ferris wheel and an offer on the creepy carousel.
Between the purchase of lights, plastic skeletons to replace his the war-torn battalion from years past, motorized parts and, of course, candy, Smith says the running tab for the current immersive exhibit is about $1,000.
The investment, he notes, brought an immediate return.
“It’s totally worth it,” the furniture-maker-by-day says. “We get huge swaths of kids, the crowds are gigantic. It’s a lot of fun, we throw a good party and we have a good time.”
Along with neighborhood praise, there’s the stamp of approval from his two children, aged 2 and 6, who grew up with their dad building macabre creations in the garage.
“I don’t think they’re old enough to have a good perspective yet. They kind of just think, ‘oh, it’s Halloween and we build these big, crazy things,’” he says. “I think once they’re teenagers, they’ll probably be embarrassed by it. But up until that point, they’ll probably think it’s cool. Right now, they think it’s cool,” Smith says with a laugh.
After innumerable hours, mechanical woes and endless splinters, why keep going?
“Because it’s a lot of fun, I love Halloween and I really enjoy building this stuff,” he says of what has now become a yearlong hobby. “A lot of times when people are watching Netflix documentaries, I’m out in my driveway building Halloween stuff. That’s what I would honestly rather be doing—tinkering together these little things.” He pauses, “it’s fun, you know?”
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