Dennis Murphy and daughter Mackay Murphy, of Royal Oak, stand in front of their home Oct. 25. The pair has decorated for Halloween for the past two decades.

Dennis Murphy and daughter Mackay Murphy, of Royal Oak, stand in front of their home Oct. 25. The pair has decorated for Halloween for the past two decades.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik


Residents take Halloween to the extreme

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 29, 2018

 Dennis and Mackay Murphy, of Royal Oak, transform their whole yard and house facade into a creepy attraction for Halloween.

Dennis and Mackay Murphy, of Royal Oak, transform their whole yard and house facade into a creepy attraction for Halloween.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 Gayla Bonner, of Clawson, created a comical luau-themed spectacle with her decorations this year.

Gayla Bonner, of Clawson, created a comical luau-themed spectacle with her decorations this year.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 A  skeleton  attempts to limbo beneath a stick held by two skeletal dogs, part of Clawson resident Gayla Bonner’s luau-themed  Halloween display this year.

A skeleton attempts to limbo beneath a stick held by two skeletal dogs, part of Clawson resident Gayla Bonner’s luau-themed Halloween display this year.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

ROYAL OAK/CLAWSON — Each year, neighbors anticipate the Halloween displays of two local homes.

Father-daughter duo Dennis and Mackay Murphy, of Royal Oak, have perfected their motion-sensing tableaux over the past approximately 20 years, and Gayla Bonner, of Clawson, has taken to creating themes for her menagerie of skeletons, which includes a horse, a bat, a frog, fish and many dogs.

Royal Oak

Dennis said he established his Halloween decoration roots with a couple of homemade tombstones and a bit of fencing with his daughter when she was about 5 years old. Now 25, Mackay said she begins to get excited in mid-September.

The pair set up three weeks before Halloween, and each year, they add something new.

“This year, we added a skeleton with a shovel, like he’s digging, and also another one coming out of a coffin with another one pulling him,” Dennis said. “I don’t know how it started — it just started. My daughter loves horror movies.”

He built most of the figures himself out of PVC pipe and old clothing, and he installed windshield wiper motors to make them come to life when passers-by set off any of the three motion sensors placed along the property.

“I always put them together and dress them,” Mackay said. “When we bring everything down from the attic, it’s officially Halloween.”

Dennis said they put straw down to cover all of the wires.

Three years ago, Dennis and Mackay added myriad skeletons climbing the exterior of the home, and they also closed off their driveway to expand.

“My mom and brother think we’re nuts,” Mackay said. “But I fell in love and it blossomed. I get so excited.”

Mackay hand-painted larger-than-life blocks, which serve as a foundation for half a dozen undead babies and a zombie mother who rocks an infant when the sensor is tripped.

Dennis created a candy booth out of their old fence, where Mackay sits on Halloween in costume and passes out candy Halloween night. He also built a shack-like structure where a talking witch greets visitors, as well as all of the wood details.

After dark, a total of six projectors on the property add a new level of ghoulish grandeur.

The pair also made their own jar of eyeballs, as well as eyeballs and brains out of papier-mache. A propane fire pit sits in the center of the front yard, surrounded by bones.

“Every time you come by, you see something else,” Dennis said.” It’s so cool at night with all the projectors.”

Despite their zeal for the holiday, Dennis said they take all the decorations down the day after Halloween.

“For Christmas, we outline the house (with lights) so it looks like a gingerbread house,” he said.

Clawson

Bonner said she began decorating her Clawson home for Halloween approximately five years ago when her sister, who also lives at the home, pitched the idea of getting a skeleton.

“She likes skeletons, so she thought it would be fun to get a skeleton, and then I saw a dog (skeleton). It started with one skeleton and one dog,” Bonner said. “It’s a new thing, and it really exploded quickly.”

Bonner, who volunteers at the Michigan Humane Society, has a soft spot for dogs.

“I have more dog (skeletons) than I have the people ones,” she said. “Anytime I’d see a different one, I’d pick it up because I had to have all of them, and I try to work them into whatever theme is going on.”

Last year, she said, the theme was camping. This year, it is a luau.

Her favorite part of the display is a skeleton limboing under a stick held by two skeleton dogs. Another highlight is a skeleton couple in tropical attire standing at a table where a skeleton dog drinks from an overturned cup.

“I’m already thinking about what I’m going to do next year,” Bonner said. “(Halloween is) my favorite holiday.”

She said she begins decorating the weekend before Oct. 1 so that she can enjoy it for the entire month.

“Now, since I have a horse, I turn two of the skeletons and the horse into a Thanksgiving (scene),” she said. 

She said the skeletons occasionally come out for other holidays as well, such as Fourth of July, when they don Independence Day hats.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s kind of morphed into a big thing now.”

Bonner said she enjoys the families that come out and take pictures with the skeletons.

“I just like to do stuff out in the yard all year, so this made it nice to finish up the season,” she said.

Dennis and Mackay live at 728 Maplegrove Ave., near Woodward Avenue and Catalpa Drive.

Bonner lives at 202 E. Baker Ave., near Main Street and 14 Mile Road.