Early in October, two skeletons played checkers on the lawn; two weeks later they stood waving to passersby beneath the trees. They weren’t alone: The skeletal pair were accompanied by ghosts, witches, stacks of bones, spiders and other scary stuff. It’s the Halloween season, and Jonathan Adams has been hard at work.
During October, Adams’ Jonesborough home is the best kind of roadside attraction — one that leads to double takes, slowed traffic and impromptu visits from strangers. Jonathan considers his enjoyment secondary to that of others, and the work he puts into the decorations is his gift to the community.
“It’s a lot of work. All I can say is ‘shew!’ But it’s worth it when people stop and ask if they can walk around,” Adams said.
A lifelong lover of Halloween — it’s his favorite holiday — Adams began decorating the yard of a house he lived in up the street from his current home six years ago. Planning and executing increasingly complicated designs have become an annual preoccupation.
“I think ahead from year to year,” he said, adding he has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish before he begins decorating.
He adds and subtracts from one Halloween to another. Last year, he dug fresh dirt to create a “cemetery” complete with headstones beneath a tree on one side of the house. The dirt killed the grass and a fence was added since then, so the cemetery is not part of this year’s tableau.
Instead, he cut out silhouettes of a witch and a cat with an arched back, which stand in front of the fence, then found a clever use for the leftover wood. Oversized incisors and canines form an entrance to the front door, forcing visitors to step into the gaping “mouth” before entering the house.
A mix of real and fake jack-o’-lanterns dot the yard, all with frightening features. A massive black spider sits atop the metal roof, looking as if it’s ready to hop down to the rope web that spans the front porch — or onto an unsuspecting visitor. A ghost hangs suspended from a tree. At night, his eyes light up red, and a black light is trained on him to accentuate its spookiness.
It’s no surprise that Adams fondly remembers trick-or-treating growing up in the 1970s and early ’80s: “I did it every year until I was too old to go. You knew everybody. Sometimes (people) would give you pennies, nickels or dimes, but we just wanted candy.”
He also remembers the dearth of decorations available during his childhood. “Back then, we didn’t have much to decorate with,” he said. There were pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns, and little else; still, his mother made sure the house was decorated.
Her resourcefulness obviously rubbed off. Adams has become a master at making his own decorations, including the “boards” over the upstairs windows.
“I made those boards out of the sheathing that goes under siding,” he said. “I painted them dark brown, then pulled across almond-colored paint.” To give the boards a weathered look, he scratched them with a screwdriver and pounded in knotholes with a hammer.
In 2009, he wanted “shutters” on the house, so he cut them out of cardboard, painted them black and hung them to look as if they were ready to fall off. The architecture of his house, built in the 1920s, contributes to the overall haunted effect, which is heightened by a thunder-and-lightning machine. The ghastly decor, already spotlighted and glow-in-the-dark, is illuminated by bright flashes of light and the mood is set with loud rolls of thunder.
Some take delight in the effect. Others, not as much.
“This one lady brought her kid up one day, dragging him. He was lying on the ground screaming bloody murder,” Adams said. “She just wanted to see the decorations.”
Though neighborhood visitation doesn’t hold the same importance it once did for children, the yearly uptick in trick-or-treaters is a source of delight for Adams.
“The first year, we had 19. The second year, 29. Now we’re up to 49, 50, 55,” he said, adding, “We have more picture takers than trick-or-treaters.”
On at least one occasion, pictures takers and candy cadgers blocked the road so that cars couldn’t get through.
On warm October weekend evenings — the lights and lightning machine are turned on Friday through Sunday — Adams will sit on the his porch swing and watch the traffic go by.
“I watch the cars slow down. If they come back by, they will pull in,” he said.
Though he’s not issuing an open invitation, Adams said the inside of the house is decorated, too.
“I cover the furniture with drop clothes to make it look like an old, abandoned house. I use a spider-web-maker hooked to an air compressor and spider web everything,” he said.
He also sets out jars of “eyeballs” and “fingers” to add to the effect.
“We have people who come in and sit,” he said. “People want to come and take pictures in the house.”
The decorations come down Nov. 1 after a month of normal routine interrupted.
Adams said he doesn’t mind the work, though. “If you can bring a little enjoyment to someone, it’s worth it.”