HISTORY OF WARDS POINT CEMETERY
1994: THE FIRST YEAR
It all started with a visit to the Hunted Mansion attraction in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World - Orlando. While waiting in line to enter the Mansion, I was looking at the whimsical tombstones outside on the lawn and the idea came to me. Back at home with a little imagination and a lot of good red wine the Wards Point Cemetery came to life. It consisted of a 12’ by 12’ area with a white picket fence, gate, overhead sign, Styrofoam tombstones, and coffin that opened & closed with a pneumatic air piston. A simple household humidifier was used for "fog" along with and some 12Ov floodlights & Spanish moss. It was a simple, cute front yard Halloween display.
1995: Always trying to improve, I utilized the previous year’s display but dug a 3’ deep hole in the ground nearby, inserted a plastic sump liner and installed my first spooky head with up/down motion from a pneumatic air piston. That first head popping out of the ground was a big hit with the visitors!
1996: Well if one pop up head was a success last year, why not add more. This year I again utilized the original display but added two more pits in ground with new up & down heads..
1997: This year I added the “Rocking Tombstone, Jonathan Blake Tombstone” and a few other props. The unusually cool & damp weather caused water condensation problems in the above ground pneumatic airlines. I tried heat lamps and heat tape in the pits to keep the pistons warm with little success. Up until this year, all the pistons operated with complete random motion with no control timing system. It was frustrating as the heads did not always work properly.
1998: YEAR OF CONTROLS
Well, this was a turning point for the Cemetery. To continue to grow & improve, I had to make a major investment in technology and infrastructure. The yard was dug up and underground PVC conduit was installed throughout, tying all animation locations to the control area in the garage. I reworked all pneumatic air pistons with electric valves and in-line air filters. Air lines & control wires were pulled through the conduit and no longer laid on top of the ground. An Omron industrial control system was installed and programmed for the show. I also changed to low voltage display lighting and illuminated the “resident’s eyes. New display props included an Up & Down Cross and rubber Bats with illuminated eyes throughout the trees. I installed and experimented with overhead fine water misters in tree branches for a "fog" effect. These misters were fed from a hot water tank in the garage – it worked well but everything got too wet. A few years later, I replaced the warm water misters with commercial smoke units. These smoke machines would work far better but were costly to operate.
1999: MANY MORE CHANGES
Up until this year, the construction & operation team for the Cemetery consisted primarily of Dan Van Hemm & me. I’d dream up the ideas, construct the props and cajole Danny to wire it all up. But there were also other helpers, movers & landscapers behind the scenes. That’s right, landscapers – each year, after Halloween when the Cemetery was dismantled and removed, the yard had to be re-sodded. The Cemetery was becoming more involved and it now consumed several months of our volunteer time each year. This year, I wanted to add more theatrical elements to the show – mainly sound effects & artificial “weather”. I asked Dan to find some supplier for our new needs. Dan being Dan gets the phone book and flips to the letter “A” under “lighting & Sound”. He speaks with the first person who answers the phone from Advanced Lighting & Sound in Troy. This person happens to be the owner, Bob Sullivan. Bob listens to Dan and initially thinks that we’re a little bit off our rocker but reluctantly agrees to come out to visit our Cemetery. During his visit, he gets caught up in our enthusiasm and climbs on board the team. We installed a PC with several Bose speakers throughout the cemetery for sound effects, strobes for lightning effects and commercial smoke machines for fog. We dug a 7' deep hole for our Bones (a full size skeleton) character to rise out of the ground with his eyes lit, heart beating and cigar smoking. A replica of the old "Curry" Mausoleum located in Key West, Florida was built for our new Soupbone character – the mausoleum doors automatically open, Soupbone (a full size standing skeleton with lit eyes & beating heart) walks two feet out in a cloud of smoke & strobes holding a flickering candelabra. This was the most complex, animated prop to date. Also added was our Loopie Character, a pop up, spinning head. The combination of lighting, fog, and sound effects really brought turned our cemetery display into a SHOW for the first time – LIGHTS, ACTION, and SOUND! It was a total different feel.
2000: AN AUTHENTIC ENTRANCE
Up until this year, our visitors stood behind a sign or caution tape and viewed the display. It lacked the look & feel of visiting a real Cemetery. Taking another clue from Disney’s Haunted Mansion, I constructed an entrance with real brick pillars with automatically opening gates, fencing and signage for a complete cemetery feel. The pillars were very heavy and were supported by concrete footings. We were now a realistic cemetery! A large above ground animated crypt was added whose lid noisily slides opens and our Dracula character sits up and turns to guests and speaks (another mechanical marvel!). We also added our Daniel Van Brown character that rises out of the top of an opening tombstone. Several more speakers were installed (including one in the mailbox behind our visitors) and for the first time, implemented a complete story line with dialogue for our cemetery residents. It would turn out in the following years that the story line or script for each show was the most difficult part to produce. Screen writing is definitely not my thing and I kept putting if off until the last minute driving everyone, especially Bob crazy. As our programmer, he needed the script early on to be able to put the sound effects, animation timing & dialogue together. I usually dragged my feet until the last minute before coming up with a script. It was difficult for me to look at a pile of residents and props and come up with a new script for each year. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have worried how goofy or nonsensical the story lines were as a good percentage of our visitors were only there for the frights & animation and could care less about what the residents were saying. Oh well, shows seemed to satisfy most everyone. Back to this year; after all the work that went into the Cemetery and just before the show was to start up, a new resident came along. I was given a battery operated, animated Gopher toy from the Caddy Shack movie. The staff was worn & tired out but I had an idea. Back in the shop I reworked the Gopher and before long, he was rising out of the ground and dancing to the Caddy Shack theme. The visitors absolute LOVED the Gopher and we used him for several years.
2001: WARDS POINT CEMETERY GOES HOLLYWOOD
WOW! This was a heck of a show & my personal favorite. A full size shuttle van was parked cemetery and was packed with animation. When sequenced, strobe lights flashed, the engine sputtered & started, the window rolled down and Sherrie turned & talked and Grandpa Munster popped out of the top of a stack of luggage on the roof. All the animation for the van was separately controlled by a second PC running our new SFX Show software. We were now up to 16 amplified sound channels with over 24 speaker locations. A second full size mausoleum was constructed with a video screen & DLP projector behind automatically opening doors. I was filmed as the Crypt Keeper character acting as the Master of Ceremonies for the video portion of the show. A lot of old time classic movie horror characters were added to the cemetery as our new residents including Chuckie across the street, up in a tree. By taking lights, animation & sound across the street and behind our Cemetery visitors viewing area, it expanded our “stage” and allowed us time to reset animation items in the Cemetery while the Visitors were turned around. The story line for this year’s show was big & involved with lots of video including old movie clips. – The Crypt Keeper relocated our original Cemetery residents and had his old Hollywood friends move in where each old star tries to show up the other and boast about their past successes. We had a difficult time editing, compiling and rotating our video sequences to fit our unique screen size format of our mausoleum and kept a large MAC computer running for some time. A freestanding water fountain was added along with Lion tombstone with its own water fountain and speaker. Colleen Burcar, a local radio personality, joined the staff as our most professional voice over. We inserted a donation solicitation spot by local police & fire personnel in our video segment which helped raise $2000.00 from our generous visitors.
2002: THE YEAR OF MEDIA ATTENTION
This year we built new state of the art control room over the garage and now fed with over 100,000 feet of pipe & wire buried throughout the cemetery. The original Omron industrial control system was replaced by two PC's running SFX Show software which allowed us wireless programming and remote Internet control. We built a full closet of electronic switch gear controlled by MIDI commands off the PC’s. Next to this was a rack of audio amplifiers – all pretty cool stuff. I’ve been in most of Disney’s control rooms and this ranks right up there! Gone were the cold, damp nights in the garage of programming and constantly running back & forth throughout the yard. Now we are able to sit out in front of the Cemetery (with propane heaters) and programmed the show while watching it – or control it over the Internet. If you were there in the beginning days, you’d know that this was a real luxury. We reworked our video mausoleum from last year for our new Flying Witch character. The mausoleum’s doors automatically open; the Witch moves two foot forward and rises up over twelve feet in a cloud of smoke & lighting. The story line for the show was about our Witch casting a “spell” & taking control of the cemetery. Earlier in the year, we attended the National Halloween show for the first time. Wow! The Halloween industry is huge. At the show, we purchased our Leaper character that jumps 16' over an above ground crypt we constructed; our Melvin, our full size character dressed in overalls which we installed in a tree across the street hanging upside down and automatically thrashes around; and two camouflaged Skelerectors which we installed underground along the inside of our fence and jump up to frighten the “daylights” out of our visitors. We also built and installed air cannons inside and along our fencing to blast our visitors with air. Our original Coffin from the first year was reworked for our new Pop Up Pete character – a handsomely dressed fellow. We replaced our original Bones character, which rose six feet out of the ground, with our new Bones Jr. Character. This is our second generation of animation and whose head movements are controlled by three servos and with synchronized mouth movement to voice. As I mentioned before, this was the year of media attention. Just as the Cemetery was to open for the season, WDIV-TV came out and did a live television broadcast with microwave & satellite trucks parked around the house. After that, every other local TV, radio & newspaper came out and did their own story on the Cemetery. We even got picked up by the national wire services and later MSNBC-TV. I had friends calling me from around the country. We were now getting hundreds of visitors every night and raised $4,000.00 in donations for our local fire department.
2003: OUR 10th ANNIVERSARY SHOW
Well, our 10th Anniversary Show turned out great, BUT not without lots of controversy. Construction on the show was well underway and props partially installed when three neighbors complained to the City. Their chief complaints were their concerns for visitors being injured by vehicles, trash & debris, parking issues and that “the Cemetery has gotten too big and just doesn’t belong (in a residential area) here anymore”. Work was halted on the Cemetery and the City of Orchard Lake Village scheduled a special council meeting. Prior to the meeting, I met with and obtained the support of all the other residents of the street (all except for those three complainers!). The media caught on and newspaper, radio and TV stories came out. I began to receive hundreds of e-mails and letters in support – some as far away as Florida. The Pontiac Yacht Club, Foot Care and Orchard Food Center graciously gave us permission to use their parking lots for visitors. The City Council meeting went on, the opposition presented their case and I offered my solutions. Several neighbors spoke on behalf of the Cemetery. In the end, solutions were hammered out and as Diana Lewis of ABC-TV said, “The City said BOO” to the opposition and the show was able to go on. Well, it was back to work on the set and time was running short. We added our new Grave Digger character and brought back Chuckie across the street in the tree. The story line was about us trying to bury Pop Up Pete, in the original coffin, once and for all. But as you can expect, we ran into a few problems along the way. The Flying Witch again casts a spell & the Grave Digger keeps hitting buried underground utility lines while preparing a hole for Pete. First Digger hits an underground electric cable (highlighted with dimming lights, strobes, smoke & our neat spark generator - a MIG welder automatically feeding to a carbon plate with a blast of air), then Digger hits a water main (with rumbling water sound & our water cannon – bought at the Halloween Show and can really “blast” some water) and lastly, Digger was supposed to hit a natural gas line. OK, I wanted a flame & explosion sequence but my staff turned me down arguing strongly against it for safety issues – BUT, maybe some day! Video returned between the animations shows via a pop up screen and showed a humorous, ten minute look back at our past ten years. I was the host of the clip showing me talking inside the Cemetery, from the Haunted Mansion at WDW, back in our control room and then, I sat up in our Dracula’s Crypt as an animatronic resident – all dressed in the same outfit. I had my head “reproduced” earlier in the year at an Orlando special effects studio and we replaced our Drac Character with my torso. It was a fun sequence to produce. Some of our visitors liked the video clip while others liked the animation show. But whatever they liked, it was a good time for all and we raised $5,000.00 for Camp Make a Dream – an outstanding charity for children with serious medical conditions.
Well, partly due to last year’s problems with the City, partly because we’ve haven’t been able to come up with any fresh story line ideas for our Cemetery theme and mostly because we’re just plain worn out after ten years, (especially with the past few years taking over three months to produce, set up, run & tear down the show – a huge time commitment for me & my volunteer crew) we’ve made the decision to take the Halloween Season 2004 OFF!.
In latter discussions with the crew, we have decided that we have gone about as far as we can with our past Cemetery theme. Therefore, the Wards Point Cemetery props and residents have been mothballed for good. That said however, we have cracked the door open to the possibility of a future show revolving around the foreboding secrets of the recently discovered entrance to the Wards Point Mortuary. STAY TUNNED!
There will be NO show for Halloween Season 2005 as well.
After many years of dreaming about it and with life not getting any longer, I moved to the Caribbean in 2005. I’ve been enjoying my new adventure and I’m thankful for every day I wake up on top of the sod err sand! I miss the Halloween shows and all the great visitors over the years. Life is short, use your imagination & have fun. I brought a crate of old Cemetery props down with me and some of the locals on the island have asked me to set up some sort of haunted house. Or, maybe I’ll return home someday when I get bored of $3/lb lobster, cheap rum & constant 85 degree weather – who knows, time will tell?
THANKS AGAIN TO EVERYONE WHO VISITED THE WARDS POINT CEMETERY, SENT A KIND NOTE OR E-MAIL OR DONATED TO OUR CHARITIES.
Should you like additional information about the Cemetery / Mortuary or have any comments or suggestions, feel free to call at E-mail me at:
(877) 932-8798 “WE BURY U”