2 Flowery Branch families transform garage into haunted house
“In the name of Halloween!” Flowery Branch junior Stephen Thomas shouted, as he covered his first childhood stuffed animal in spray paint.
The 16-year-old is not being a reckless, rebellious teenager. He is simply adding the toy to the haunted house he has helped build in a neighbor’s garage.
The haunted house at 5422 Redfield Way started five years ago, when childhood friends Jay Avery and Stephen Thomas became too old to go trick or treating. But the two teens still wanted to participate in the Halloween fun. Thus, with the help of their mothers, Carol Avery and Melissa Thomas, the haunted house was born in the garage at the Avery residence in Hunnington Mill subdivision.
In its first year, only Jay Avery and the Thomas family constructed a fake graveyard on the front lawn and covered the garage in bedroom sheets. Then the group scared those who approached the house.
But in the past four years, the families have improved the appearance and performance of the haunted house. Using spray paint, creativity, and a dark garage, the six teenagers and adults transformed common household items into frightening features to scare trick-or-treaters.
Stephen Thomas and Jay Avery spearheaded the majority of the building and recruited friends and fellow Flowery Branch band members to help.
“This year, we are a lot more sophisticated,” Carol Avery said. “We’ve got electronics and special effects.”
She credited many of their ideas to Pinterest, which were tweaked to fit their desired outcome: to scare as many people as possible.
Melissa Thomas noticed the haunted house bringing back trick-or-treaters from the newer developments in the area.
Having developed quite a following, people questioned its absence last year. The answer was simple: The masterminds were performing down the road with the Flowery Branch High School marching band because Halloween was on a football Friday night.
This year, the haunted house has a $2 recommended donation. Signs on Spout Springs Road near Flowery Branch High School and down Union Circle will direct visitors to their destination.
“We won’t turn anyone ... away, but a donation is strongly encouraged,” Melissa Thomas said. Donations will help to purchase new equipment for the Flowery Branch High School band program.
Teenagers are the target audience, especially Flowery Branch students, though kids of all ages are welcome and encouraged to take the plunge and test their fear.
“If you’re under five and get scared, we will turn the lights on,” Melissa Thomas said. “Any older, and you’ve got to tough it out.”
The haunted house takes victims through a winding corridor built with PVC or bookcases covered in black trash bags. But in the dark, it becomes another world entirely.
Last week, a neighbor, Susan Nolan, donated a pickup truck full of “gory stuff,” Carol Avery said.
“We had a good haunted house before, but we’ll have a great one now,” Avery said of the donated goods.
South Hall residents try to creep out visitors
Gravestones surrounded by a faded white picket fence mark the corner of the Kuhs family’s property in Flowery Branch. Complementing the bloody graves are skeletons carrying an open coffin, the grim reaper guarding the doorstep and a doll dressed in white tatters singing an eerie song while swinging from the rafters.
This is nothing out of the ordinary for residents of Reunion, a country club in Flowery Branch, where the Kuhs decorate their house like a Halloween extravaganza every year.
“We’ve lived here for seven years, and every year we add a few pieces,” said Jon Kuhs, who decorates the house annually with his daughter, Emi.
Completing the look are boarded-up shutters on all the windows, and spider web drapings across the front porch.
“My favorite piece is the grim reaper,” Emi said.
Halloween decorations are common all across Northeast Georgia. However, some families use it to make a statement, draw in trick-or-treaters or for tradition.
“We have always decorated our house, but we used to be more focused on Christmas decorations,” Jon said. “Now it has shifted to Halloween, because we like the scariness of it.
Jon said he has played an active role in adding a live element to the scene.
“Two years ago, I dressed as Chewbacca and hid in the trees,” he said. “When trick-or-treaters would walk up, I ran out and scared them. Even teenagers ran across the street and dropped their candy.”
After the initial screams and shouts have subsided, trick-or-treaters venture to the doorstep, where they are rewarded with large pieces of candy.
“Our favorites to give out are Kit Kats and Reese’s Pieces,” Jon said.
Many of the larger Halloween decorations displayed in their front yard were purchased at specialty stores such as Spirit Halloween or Halloween Express, on 858 Dawsonville Highway, in Gainesville.
The Kuhs are considered the resident decorators of the neighborhood, said neighbor Amber Davenport. She also decorates her house with her husband and two children every year.
“The decorations are fun and they entertain our kids,” Davenport said.
The Halloween decor gracing their front yard includes lit gravestones accented by lights strung across the house.
Coleson, 6, and Evie, 4, help decorate with their dad every year.
“My favorite pieces are the ghosts around the tree,” Coleson said, pointing out the sheets tied together to form a ring around a tree in their front yard.
North Hall county aim to frighten but not terrify children
For the past 15 years, Robbie and Stephanie Westbrooks have filled their front yard and porch with skeletons, cobwebs, bats and witches. This year is no different.
Despite the damper recent rain has put on the Westbrooks’ decorating, the couple’s Halloween spirit has not wavered. They spent several days last week creating a spooky atmosphere at 4848 Thunder Drive Road.
“We try to change up a few things every year,” Stephanie Westbrooks said. “We just keep adding to our collection.”
And quite the collection it is. On Halloween, trick-or-treaters are welcomed by a fog machine, creepy lights and scary music.
“It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I guess my favorite decorations are the drapey things, the haunted-house looking things,” Stephanie said.
Along with their decorations, the two always dress up to hand out candy.
“Sometimes, he’s worn this creepy clown mask,” Stephanie said.
“Yeah, and one time, a kid was so scared when I opened the door that he bopped me in the nose,” Robbie said with a laugh.
The Westbrooks believe children don’t like to be terrified, but like to be scared. Therefore, that’s the kind of experience they set out to provide.
“It’s kind of fun watching the kids get a kick out of it,” Robbie said. “We’re too old to trick or treat, so this is what we do instead.”
And the couple creates their Halloween experience on a budget.
“We’ve never gotten super expensive decorations,” Stephanie said. “It’s easy to do a lot on your own. It’s just really important to be creative.”
An inexpensive decoration she recommends is cutting black table cloths to use as streamers.
Her second pieces of advice: Have fun decorating and make it creepy but not gross.