David Bragg’s recurring nightmares are always the same.
No falling teeth. Not to mention studying for a big test.
Instead, it’s Halloween night and Bragg forgot to build the Terror Street Fair – the haunted attraction that lives in Bragg’s Federal Heights two-car garage and spills out into his backyard.
“Every house hunter has the dream,” Bragg said, lifting a plastic skeleton from the wall of Westminster party supply store Fun Services. “You wake up with cold sweats.”
Home hauntings – people who erect spooky passageways for the Halloween season teeming with ghosts, skeletons and fog machines in their own backyards, driveways and garages – aren’t satisfied handing out Tootsie Pops on All Saints Day. In Colorado, house hunters cheat their homemade attractions with special effects worth tens of thousands of dollars executed to make a grown adult scream in horror and delight.
The attractions – many of which offer entry for a few dollars or a donation to a charity of their choice – require months of design, planning and manual labor for a few nights of prime-time entertainment in October each year, but the boobies and women behind the boos find the hard work worth it.
“Thirty years from now, the kids who have passed by my house won’t remember my name, but they will remember the experience and the memories we helped create,” Bragg said. “We will be this strange haunted house of children’s childhood.”
The gold mine gone bad
Looking down Sean Herman’s Denver Lane, suburbia stretches as far as the eye can see: rows of uniform houses, a bicycle leaning to the side and a tethered ball swaying in the breeze.
But when Herman, 36, lifts the door to his garage, the breathtaking facade of an abandoned gold mine makes the surrounding homes look out of place.
Instead of a driveway stands a rock wall so realistic it begs for a double take. There is an entrance and an exit.
Enter the mine entrance and Prospector Herman leads visitors to an elevator motion simulator – a room built by Herman that jostles guests using airbags under their feet while a television is making passing for a window broadcasts the descent of the elevator into a haunted gold mine.
The elevator dumps guests into the mine with the undead, fog, dynamite, and other bursts.
“The haunting at home is addictive,” said Herman, who works as a web developer when he’s not building an amusement park in his garage. “I can’t stop thinking about it all year.”
This is the fourth year for the Hermans of their home haunt, which opens on Friday nights and runs on weekends until Halloween. Sean Herman and his wife Becki Herman draw lines around the block and have welcomed travelers from across the country to experience their small but mighty gold mine. Visit their website, wickermanor.com, for dates, times and addresses.
Over the years, the Hermans have invested between $20,000 and $40,000 on all of their spooky sundries, from animatronic skeletons to timber costs. Despite the cost, they don’t charge an entrance fee and donate donations to charity. This year, they’re donating all proceeds to Judi’s House, a nonprofit for grieving children and families.
For the Hermans, watching visitors enjoy their fleeting fear party is worth its weight in gold.
“The best thing is to watch people come out and hear their reactions,” Becki Herman said. “I love it when they say ‘I can’t believe this is someone’s garage!’
Grab the lair while you can, as the Hermans are looking to buy some land and turn pro next year, hoping to move from the garage to the major leagues.
“Imagine what we could do with all that space,” said Sean Herman.
“Mini amusement park”
Bragg’s birthday is November 2, so Halloween always felt like the whole country was handing out candy and throwing parties just for him. It wasn’t until high school, when Bragg ventured into a haunted house with his buddies, that he was bitten by the haunting bug.
“The whole time I was going through it, I was having fun with my friends, but I could see the actors’ feet moving backstage and I kept seeing missed scary opportunities,” Bragg said. “I remember thinking ‘that’s cool, but I could do a lot better. I’m sure.'”
Teenage Bragg would be proud of Bragg, 42, who shared his experience bringing the gruesome dreams of his youth to life while buying plastic severed limbs at his local party and costume supply store.
When Bragg and his wife bought their home in 2011, he finally had his own space to scare. The attraction has grown over the years with props bought on Craigslist, salvaged from what other people have trashed, or bought cheaply by pulling broken Halloween merchandise out of the hands of stores.
This year, Bragg’s Lair is themed around a burial in the underworld. The maze extends from Bragg’s two-car garage across the driveway, into his side yard and into his backyard. Bragg’s friends and family volunteer to hang out along the way. Bragg even hooked up a two-way mirror so people waiting in line could get a glimpse inside the attraction.
“It’s like running a mini amusement park,” Bragg said.
It takes about 750 hours of hard work to turn Bragg’s house into a Terror Street funeral. Bragg learned different special effects, security techniques — he’s a daytime insurance agent, after all — and prop designs from the local haunting community, which Bragg says is alive and well in Colorado.
Professional hauntings like the people who put together Anderson Farm’s Terror in the Corn hold workshops for amateurs to teach them the inner workings of fear, Bragg said.
“The community aspect of hangouts is the best part,” Bragg said, inspecting a wall filled with plastic severed limbs for sale. “It brings so many people together and we have 600-800 people coming through the lair every night. Our driveway is filled with people from all walks of life who just want to have a good time.
People are invited to join the party from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on October 28, 29 and 31 at 2125 W. 90th Ave. in Federal Heights.
In lieu of payment, Bragg collects canned food or monetary donations for the Rocky Mountain Food Bank. During their 10 years in business, Bragg said they collected more than 7,000 pounds of food for the charity.
“A little contagious”
By day, Thomas Giomi teaches piano, but in October, the 43-year-old Arvada resident moonlights as a master of chaos at his lair, 6366 A Haunting on Ingalls Court.
Giomi, who has been in the haunted house business for six years, was struck by the rising cost of professional haunted houses. Its long haunted maze costs $10 – unlike some of the big name haunts where tickets can soar to nearly $100 with additional bells and whistles.
“We want to make it super affordable for kids in the neighborhood so even families who can’t afford to go to a big shopping den can still have fun and go to something that I think is pretty good,” said said Giomi.
Giomi’s Lair – which featured spooky clowns, animatronics and an ominous corn maze among other macabre delights – started out as a treat for his piano students but became so beloved that he decided to expand to the public for two nights only.
“It’s kind of contagious,” Giomi said.
Purchase tickets for the experience via a linked post on their Facebook page, 6366 A Haunting on Ingalls Ct.