One of those odd little things about Groton is that the First Parish Church’s graveyard is several miles from the church, out at 55 Dolan Drive, in Pat and Jay Lawrence’s front yard. Also, that the graveyard only comes out to play a few days every year… at Halloween. Formally, it’s the First Parish Spook Walk, and it’s a charity fund-raising event, and the Lawrence’s tribute to their favorite holiday.
And it’s an exciting place to visit. As you walk up to the newish house on a well-kept cul de sac, you notice that there seems to be a pretty active thunderstorm in the front yard. The occupant of a coffin standing near the street jumps around a bit, trying to break the chains holding it in place. Lights flash, the sound track booms.
Go further, and Princess, the watchdog, growls and comes out of her doghouse. Princess was adopted from her previous kennel on Ebay. She’s built on a door-closer mechanism and has her own really scary dog-barking sound track. She’s feeling her age this year, though, Jay said. “Jimmy and I took her apart, and she needs some JB weld, but she can be fixed up.”
“This is one of my favorites — this one scares the heck out of people,” Jay said with a laugh as you take a few more steps toward the house, trip invisible laser sensors and a hairy 3-foot across spider drops out of a tree, exactly on queue. Keep going and you meet the anti-smoking zombie, start wading through thick fog as you approach the porch, and finally get to ask for candy.
The Lawrence’s Spook Walk has its roots going back a decade or more, when they staged Halloween parties and decorated their yard. Then it grew a bit as they became certified “haunters” and added scenes and special effects…. like the line upon line of neat white crosses stretching between the driveway and the crypt, over toward the more modern part of the cemetery with it’s random gray headstones. Then it became their church’s Halloween event, pulling in teams of teen volunteers. It’s also a favorite of neighborhood kids for trick-or-treat… but only the brave ones.
“Most of the setup of the displays is done by members of First Parish Youth Group,” Pat wrote in an e-mail. “They were here all day today running cables, hooking up props, and hammering in tomb stones. We will accept donations — we recommended $1 a kid or $5 a family. All proceeds will go to City Reach of Boston, UNICEF AND the Youth Programs at First Parish.”
This year, Jay explained, there are seven pneumatic props, two crank ghosts, two cemeteries of about 40 tombstones each, an awesome thunder-and-lightening display, a 500 watt black light to make them glow, and static props. This is all coordinated by two laptops hooked to sensors that know where our “guests” are, to maximize the experience. An air compressor chugs away in the basement of the house to power the effects. Each scene takes half a dozen power, audio, and data cables and maybe an air line to operate.
The times for the Spook Walk are Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 27 and 28) evening from 6:00-8:00 p.m., and Tuesday and Halloween night (Oct. 30 and 31) from 6:00-9:00. The haunt is “dark” on Monday night, because even zombies need a day off.
The couple were still putting the finishing touches in place Wednesday evening. “And I’ve got a cocoon man I’ve gotta hang,” Pat said, as they walked through their yard.
“Maybe we’ll do him over there,” Jay answered.
“Yeah, we can hang him from the tree, with the light on him,” Pat replied.
“Yeah, on the left side,” Jay said, nailing down the details. “And there’ll probably be one more skeleton in a cage, that’ll be up there somewhere,” Jay said. “He’ll be kind of shaking and rattling it. And there’s one other prop that I’m trying to get built. It’s a rocking chair that rocks all by itself. So when kids come up on the porch to trick-or-treat, there it’ll be, rocking….” he said with only a slightly maniacal laugh.