Columbia neighbors turn lawns into a cemetery

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 | 3:25 p.m. CDT; updated 11:46 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The "ghost" of Sarah, from the infamous Stephens College Senior Hall legend, rests in a mausoleum within an elaborate Halloween display in the front yards of Ron Graves and Dennis Hill. Neighbors Graves and Hill put up the festive display for the second year in a row.

COLUMBIA — Silly grown-ups: Tricks are for kids.  That doesn't matter to two Columbia residents who are sharing their passion for Halloween with the whole neighborhood. Ron Graves and Dennis Hill created “Graves Hill Cemetery” on their neighboring lawns for Halloween.

Driving down Bent Oak Drive, it appears to be a foggy night. But it's perfectly clear outside, as far as nature is concerned. The fog comes from strategically placed machines inside the cemetery, three of which are at the rear of a mausoleum in the center of the yard. The 8-by-7-foot structure houses Sarah, the legendary ghost of Stephens College.

“She lives at Senior Hall but hangs out here and haunts here,” Graves said.  The two chose her as their resident ghost because she is the local legend, and according to Graves, “it teaches the kids some history.”

The cemetery idea came about after Hill’s Christmas display kept surpassing Graves’.

“I had to step it up for Christmas,” Graves said. “His yard was better than mine.” 

“We thought to do it small, and got it going, and it got bigger,” Graves said.  The two found ideas for their spooky spectacle on the Internet.

“It's amazing what you have access to on the Internet. We found a network of Halloween people that this is what they do,” Graves said.  They found construction plans for the mausoleum online, a Web site dedicated to animated effects equipment, which they used for Sarah, and ideas for a hybrid glue gun/air compressor tool used to make spider webs.

Original construction began in June 2007, with the cemetery debuting in October the same year. This year, construction began in April.

If you go

What: "Graves Hill Cemetery," a Halloween graveyard display built by neighbors Ron Graves and Dennis Hill

When: Any time through Halloween, but Graves and Hill usually shut the lights, fog machines and music off between 10 and 10:30 p.m.

Where: 3803 and 3805 Bent Oak Drive. Take Chapel Hill Road, and turn south on Grant. Turn right onto Bent Oak Drive, and look for the graveyard.

Admission: Free.

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“But we took the summer off for Little League,” Graves said.  Both men have families with two children. “We don’t get much done around the house in August and September. The ‘honey-do’ list is getting pretty long.” 

To make a little more time for family, the two made a pact to have next year’s decorations finished by football season.

“We’re going to have everything done when football starts and put it up on an away game or bye week,” said Graves.

The various materials that make up Graves Hill Cemetery include PVC pipe, wood, odds and ends from Oriental Trading Company, and closeout items and improperly mixed paint from Sherwin Williams .

“We are scavengers of wood,” Graves said.  “A guy had some wood in his driveway for six months. He was just throwing it away. Dennis asked if he could take it.” 

They used the wood to fashion a casket.

One of the more impressive parts of the display is the fog.  It creates the atmosphere of a haunted graveyard and friendly argument between the homeowners.

“My fog is awesome,” Hill said.

“Mine’s strong, too strong,” Graves said. He paused for a moment and walked to the mausoleum, changing the battery from a 12-volt to a five-volt. The fog calmed down and Graves surveyed it once he returned to the sidewalk. He was pleased.

“It's $20 a gallon for the fog juice,” Graves said.

“We used one gallon and a half last night,” Hill added. “You get excited when your fog works the way it is supposed to be."

Hill said that the fog looks best on non-windy nights because it hovers over the ground and flows uninterrupted. 

Hill ran over to the fog and took slow, big steps to demonstrate how the fog looks under proper conditions.

“This is just the way Halloween should be. Fog. Spooky, eerie music in the background,” he said.

“This is what makes it worth it, people stopping,” Hill said as a van stopped in front of the two homes. Two children bailed out of the vehicle, running to the fence as their parents followed close behind.

“This is awesome!” Evan Crouse, 9, said, clutching the black plastic fence posts.
“R-I-P, do you know what that means?” Kay Crouse asked her two sons.
“Rest in peace,” the boys said in unison.

“People stop and have their pictures taken.  People send cards saying thank you for the display,” Hill said.

Graves' and Hill’s children take just as much pride in the decorations as they do.

“When their friends from the neighborhood come by and see this, they can’t help but smile and take pride in it,” Graves said.

“And when the principal says they are coming by it put the pressure on,” Hill added.

Graves and Hill both welcome people to view their work at 3803 and 3805 Bent Oak Drive. However, they ask for you to stay safe and be mindful of the fog as you are driving.

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