“I’d like to own my own haunted house, but I can’t afford it,” says Wilson. He’s transforming the yard of his house at 192 Park Lane in Childersburg’s Grove Park neighborhood into Dark Lane Cemetery.
“This is my second year here. I did this for two years in Odenville, but nowhere near this big,” he said.
He said his friend Darrell Cockrell in St. Clair County taught him how to make gravestones and structures out of Styrofoam, then paint them – first with a base coat, then with a mixture of paint and drywall mud – to create a realistic stone texture.
“He likes to make masks and creatures, and I make scenery and structures,” Wilson said. “It works out well for both of us.” They’ve sold a few of their spooky creations.
Wilson says there’s still a 12-foot grim reaper, a 10-foot obelisk and an 8-foot gargoyle to put up, plus a fog machine and a screen where he will project eerie images of a horse-drawn hearse arriving in the yard.
He says the neighbors in Grove Park tell him there were about 300 trick-or-treaters in his neighborhood the Halloween before he lived there, and he estimates there were 1,500 who came to see his graveyard last year. He hopes there will be 2,000 this year, and he’s armed with $200 worth of candy to give away.
Gravestones in the yard pay homage to real people who can be associated with Halloween – horror actor Vincent Price, “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley, American serial killer Albert Fish, and four people executed during the Salem witch trials: Rebecca Townes, George Jacobs, Bridget Bishop and Sarah Good.
Wilson says he always loved Halloween, and when he was growing up in Odenville, his mother never bought costumes. She would get some face paint, but ideas and the creativity of making costumes were up to him.
“I always liked Bela Lugosi and the universal horror characters,” he says. “I’ve been a vampire; I’ve glued hair on my face and been a werewolf – that’s not a good idea, by the way,” he laughed. “The gothic scenery in the cemetery goes to that theme of universal horror monsters.
“I plan to keep expanding. I’d love to have a walk-through haunted house, but I don’t see it happening in the near future,” he said.
In addition to being his favorite observance, Halloween is also the birthday of Wilson’s wife, Santana Stevenson. “This is my way to celebrate her birthday a little bit all year long,” he said.
“She says this is how I work out the stress of my job,” said Wilson, a correctional officer at the Childersburg Community Work Center. “But it can’t be that, because I started doing this two years before I got that job.”