The quiet Memphis suburb of Arlington, TN, is known for its small-town atmosphere, friendly neighbors, and a distinct “everybody knows everybody” impression. On one quiet Arlington street, there’s a haunted house that’s making an impression of its own … but it’s only “haunted” for a limited time, and its history is just as touching as it is spooky.
We spoke with the owner, Michael, who hosts his haunted house tour to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. What began as a fun way to give back to the community has become something of an homage to his late wife, Jenn, who sadly passed away soon after the first annual haunted tour. We spoke to Michael about his inspiration, his process, and what keeps him going.
7 Questions with Michael, the Haunted House Owner
How long have you been hosting this haunted house?
Our Haunted House walk-through started in 2019. Before that, we made static interactive displays while handing out candy to the kids. This whole Halloween decoration explosion happened back in 2015 as I came home from work, and noticed Jenn had purchased a few Dollar Tree tombstones that were just flopping in the wind. I thought to myself, “there has to be a way to make that more stable and realistic”… and that is how we got here. It all started with a single tombstone and a desire to create something special.
We are a military family and moved around a lot, but decided Arlington is a place we could grow roots and grow old. If we are staying, why not build a haunted house? We can build it and raise money for St. Jude. Let’s just go crazy. It took three months of hard work, but we did it raising $614 from over 700 generous visitors in our first year!
We couldn’t wait to see what the next year had in store. Unfortunately, my beautiful wife, Jennifer, unexpectedly died in January 2020, so the next year never came for her. It was a hard year losing my wife and best friend. The COVID isolation further complicated the grief and loss. Alone and heartbroken, I almost gave up the dream of Halloween. How could I do this without her? With only one week before Halloween, I had a dream about Jenn. I felt compelled to continue this tradition. For the community, for me, for her, for us. That night, we raised over $1600. I only hope that made her smile and made her proud.
What inspired you to create a haunted house?
The reason I do this, and continue to do this, is building memories. There are so many people that look forward to this each year. It is now their family tradition. For me, looking back, the memories of my mom and dad spending hours on my costumes and makeup are such wonderful memories — bonding moments that made a profound impact on my life and love for all things spooky.
I do this because I want to give back. I want people to have the same feeling about Halloween that I get when I think about all my memories and experiences. But the main reason is that I want my son to know that this is a tradition I do for us, and for his mom, because I know she would want us to do this. I almost gave up. I almost quit. I keep doing this to be a role model for my son, to show him that anything is possible. I want him to know that even when you’re in the darkness, you can still be the light for someone else.
Do you make your Halloween decor items, or do you buy them?
It’s a mix of both. I get inspiration for building props from YouTube and Halloween groups on Facebook. I usually start building new things in August. The tombstones are a combination of built by hand and store-bought. I would say it’s 75% made and 25% bought. I prefer to make things myself.
The haunted house is quite an undertaking. Where do you store everything when it’s not Halloween season?
I store it all here. I had plywood laid over the exposed rafters of the attic. That added about 600 square feet of space. Most everything is made of insulation foam — sturdy enough, but light enough to lift. When building or purchasing decorations, I am always thinking about how to store them. Making sure things break down into smaller components is key.
Do you keep the same theme each year?
The theme is “Dark Crossing Hotel.” I keep the same theme but just add on each year. I want it to look as nice in the day as it does at night. I want to give something new for our return visitors each year.
Do you go all out for Christmas, too?
Oh no, because I would go down a massive rabbit hole. Besides, where would I store it all?
How much have you raised for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital?
Just over $3,200. Not only do we get cash donations the night of, but people all over the world have donated when I share to Facebook.
If you would like to visit the haunted house tour at 6279 Burren Way on Halloween night, would like to volunteer, or send a donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, please email [email protected] for more information!
All photos courtesy of Michael! Now, get out there and get spooked for a good cause!
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