The Hillcrest House of Horrors

TVT_4016There are a number of steadfast traditions in Louisville – special days that bring people together en masse. One of those times is Halloween on Hillcrest Avenue. For the past two decades, residents on this leafy street have sought to create a ghoulish wonderland by crafting displays in their front yards. These Halloween displays, often featuring lights, smoke machines, skeletons and of course a ton of pumpkins have attracted thousands each year to walk down, trick or treat and enjoy the festivities.

One man who was one of the first to up the ante on Hillcrest Avenue and create displays that people would talk about each year is Mike Ghrist. Initially a way to entertain his then young children, Ghrist has gone on to create a display that spans the entire length of his driveway, front yard and porch, and makes its way comfortably to the top of his house and the roof. Hundreds stop by each night to check out his house knowing full well there will be something to delight them each year.

Since its inception, the front porch has been filled with an array of creations, all themed under the guise of “The Hillcrest Cemetery” – a graveyard full of zany characters who have somehow met their demise and have pun-tastic names. There is I.B. Tulow – a set of legs sticking out of the ground on the sidewalk by Ghrist’s house with a parachute tangled in the tree next to him. There is Indiana Bones – an intrepid skeleton explorer climbing up the side of the house. Close by is mad scientist Leland La Moon, who “Mixed the wrong stuff and he went ka-boom!” Aside from those, there is also a plane that’s crashed into his roof, a live band that plays on Halloween night and a bunch of other surprises for those looking to be scared and wowed.

So what’s the appeal for Ghrist?

“Initially it was fun for my wife and I because we had kids,” he explains. “I was going to stop when they left home, but we had too many people who stopped by and would tell us how much they enjoyed seeing it each year and thank us for doing it. So we just kept going.”

While Ghrist loves what he does – deriving clear pleasure from seeing countless families make the annual pilgrimage to his house on Halloween, time is catching up. He turns 64 this year, and the physical toll of a month laying out a display in his front yard is catching up. Last year, Ghrist injured his back falling off a ladder and was relegated to the sidelines with the distinct chance that he would not be able to make a display for the first time in nearly two decades. But as a testament to his character and what the display means to locals, the show went on.

“I wasn’t going to be able to do the display that year” recalls Ghrist. “But there were three teams of people: my neighbours, my friends and some ex co-workers came out at different times and put it up for me.”

And it’s perhaps this kind of sentiment that keeps Ghrist going – especially on the creative side. When The Voice-Tribune met him, he was busy putting the finishing touches to this year’s edition – a scaled down version of the Titanic. In fact, for Ghrist, the planning for his display starts on the day of the previous year’s Halloween.

“I’ll always try to add a thing each year,” explains Ghrist. “But now I’m at the point where I have to take something out,” he laughs, still recalling his first ever display, which featured a witch being burned at the stake, fake flames and smoke in place. “When we did that everyone freaked out and loved it.”

While Ghrist may not go on forever, the spirit of Halloween that he helped foster all those years ago will no doubt live on at Hillcrest. VT