Under the cover of darkness, illuminated faintly by street lights, the sidewalks are filled with little ghosts and goblins.
“Trick or Treat!” is their battle cry, as the macabre characters move from house to house seeking candy from friendly neighbors.
These are the Halloween memories that inspire Lynne and Shawn Mitchell to turn their West Pensacola home into a chamber of horrors each year.
“The Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating was still pretty big when we were kids – house to house that is, not going to the mall or a fall festival,” said Lynne Mitchell. “We both have strong memories of going to every house on the block, sometimes even more if we could get away with it.”
The Mitchells, who met on a high school journalism trip to Disney World when they bonded over the Haunted Mansion attraction, love Halloween – so much so that they were married on the holiday 24 years ago.
When they purchased a home of their own, they were horrified that the traditions they loved were fading away.
“It wasn’t something we thought would vanish over the years,” Mitchell said. “We were shocked to discover so few trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood.”
So they decided to do something about it.
In 2005, as part of Halloween party, they created the first Halloween display outside their home, “The Mitchell Cemetery.”
“We put out a sign by the road inviting the neighborhood to come take a tour on Halloween night,” Mitchell said. “Every year since, we have done a bit more and try to do something a little different.”
The displays grow annually, from the cemetery, which featured “Pepper’s Ghost” illusions that made spirits appear to rise up from or stand transparently against the tombstones, to a mad scientist’s lab and a séance room.
For 2014, the Mitchells have expanded a theme they created last year, “Invasion of the Spiders”, which now encompasses both the front and back yards.
“It’s dedicated to the B-movie classics we love,” Mitchell said. “We hand-cut 70 pounds of beef netting material to create the webs which have literally taken over our house!”
Over the past few years, the Mitchells have been featured in numerous national media outlets, spotlighting their creations.
FearNet.com web series, Route 666 – America’s Scariest Home Haunts, DIY Network posted several of their tutorials on their website, filmed for HGTV – Halloween Tricked Out, which was also replayed on the Travel Channel all have featured their handiwork.
This year, Mitchell said, they were filmed for a new Halloween Home Haunt Competition they can’t yet mention. It will air Oct. 28.
With so much creative talent and passion, the Mitchells decided to share their know-how with others in 2008 and started work on their first book, “How to Haunt Your House”, which now has three volumes, with a fourth on the way. Combined, the books have sold over 7,000 copies.
“For a self-published book series, we have done really well,” Mitchell said. “We found a niche market and other home haunters have really encouraged us to keep going.”
For those interested in haunting their own home, Mitchell’s advice: Start simple.
“Do an online search for home haunt projects. There are a ton of free tutorials out there,” Mitchell said. “Make a few Styrofoam headstones. Hang some cheesecloth webs around the front door. Handing out candy doesn’t have to mean a boring, plastic bowl. Come up with something more creative.”
Mitchell also believes that home-haunting should be a family affair.
“Get the kids involved,” she said. “Come up with a theme and see how many things you can create or assemble to make that theme come ALIVE! Before you know it you will have a new family tradition.”
The Mitchells have taken on a new project this year that will impact their ability to do elaborate displays for next few years, but will enhance them in the future.
“We are in the process of adopting three young siblings, all under the age of five,” Mitchell said. “They need our complete attention right now. But as time progresses, we hope to inspire them to be future home haunters and monster makers.”
WANT TO GO?
The Mitchell’s home haunt, “Invasion of the Spiders.”
WHERE: 6701 Penton St. in Myrtle Grove.
WHEN: Oct. 31.
DETAILS: For more information on their haunt, books and project ideas, visit howtohauntyourhouse.com.