WELLSVILLE, Cache County — Mike and Erika Siler work so well together it's scary. Really scary!
From the ghoulish hanging bride in their living room window to the skeletons, tombstones and werewolf on their Wellsville front lawn, the couple has fashioned an impressive Halloween yard haunt that spooks even their most steely visitors.
"Every time we drive in or out of the subdivision," neighbor Rob Phelps said, "we have to drive by the 'Halloween house.' They've done an incredible job over there. It's pretty creepy, but I appreciate that it's also family-oriented.
"When they were putting up the display a few weeks ago," Phelps said, "they had seven little kids from the neighborhood helping them pull extension cords and holding stuff, and our own boys just ate it up."
Phelps' son Hudson, 6, likes the "Grim Reaper guy" the best. Four-year-old Thatcher likes the crank ghost in the Silers' office window. "It looks like the ghost is following us," he said, "and it really freaks you out."
"We definitely want to startle people, but we don't want to terrify them," explained Erika Siler, a dental hygienist by day who moonlights as a vampiress on Halloween night.
"We just want to provide an atmosphere where people can have fun and enjoy Halloween the way we used to when we were kids."
"We could totally blow people away and go over the top," said Mike, an accountant and high school soccer coach. "But that's not really our style. Besides, we live in a family-friendly neighborhood, and our goal is just to create some lasting memories for our friends and family."
Built to withstand Wellsville's unpredictable fall weather, the Silers' haunting props have been on display throughout October and are attracting onlookers by the hundreds. Their house already offers a fright with eerie lighting, motion-tripped automation and spooky sounds. The couple has some new tricks in store for Halloween night, with Erika planning to surprise visitors from within a coffin and Mike dressing as the Grim Reaper on 3-foot stilts.
What most visitors don't realize as they take in the scene is that Mike and Erika, both 28, didn't buy their frightful Halloween collection. They built it, almost from scratch.
"It all started when we got married seven years ago and asked for holiday decorations as wedding gifts," Erika said. "As we started collecting things, we realized that we enjoyed modifying them and even designing new things, and it snowballed from there."
With their basement as their workshop, the Silers have amassed an eclectic collection of motors, mannequins, masks, skeleton heads, fog machines, chicken wire and foam, complete with an assortment of power tools, pulleys and lights.
"We use shiatsu neck massagers to create lifelike motion on some of our props," Mike explained, "and a lot of our effects are powered by pneumatic air. We spray foam inside gloves to create hands, and Erika uses a hot knife to carve words onto our headstones. It all has to be lightweight but durable, and when we take it down for the season, everything lives life-size down in our basement all year long."
Members of Rocky Mountain Haunters, a society of 200-plus Halloween aficionados from throughout the Intermountain West, the Silers enjoy sharing tricks of the trade with their fellow haunters, and they attend trade shows and visit specialty stores regularly.
One of their favorite suppliers? Deseret Industries. They also add to their growing inventory with yard sale treasures and online trips to eBay. But don't let the foraging fool you. The Silers also incorporate high-tech computer software, low voltage halogen lighting and intricate automation into their repertoire, and their props are secured with state-of-the-art alarms and cameras to prevent vandalism and theft.
Now in its third year, the Silers' annual Yard Haunt is becoming a Cache Valley tradition that involves much more than screams and chills.
"The first year we did this, we had five trick-or-treaters," Erika said, "and last year we had 400. I loved that our neighbors came out to visit with each other, and some of them stayed for hours. People think when you grow up, you always have to be grown up, but I think you can still be young at heart."
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Just ask the Phelps family. During a recent Sunday church meeting, Hunter and Thatcher were asked to share a favorite family activity. Pointing straight at Mike Siler, one of the boys said, "We like to go to his house!"
Here are a couple of epitaphs from the tombstones on Silers' front lawn:
"This is a tomb with quite a view
Do come in. There's room for you
But hearken dear mortal,
And mind me well
For I warn you now
The view is from HELL!"
"As you pass by and cast an eye,
As you are now, so once was I …"