The most ostentatious Halloween show in Mar Lee, and maybe the city, is back after taking the year off.
Wires, threaded through pulleys, criss-cross above Johnny Sandoval’s front yard. Each is attached to a grotesque, handmade ghoul that dances when Sandoval or one of his three assistants pulls on the other end. For a week, every night through Halloween, the freakish marionettes will come to life and delight hoards of kids and adults passing by.
Sandoval has been the architect of this experience for 18 years. He’s only missed two years, most recently last year after his brother passed away just a few weeks before Halloween.
Taking the year off did not sit well with him.
“I didn’t like it. It’s like missing out on something big,” he said. “What bothers me most is these people come driving by wondering what happened to me.”
Last year, he tried to avoid seeing advertisements or haunted houses around town. Halloween reminders just made him sad. Now that he’s back in action, he and his audience are both glad that his yard is once again filled with horror.
“Everywhere I go, they’re over there thanking me,” he said.
Sandoval has a few new faces in his undead crowd this year, including a postal carrier inspired by a neighbor who donated her USPS uniform.
“She’s been after me to make one for about three years,” he said.
On Saturday, well before the first show kicked off that evening, Daisy Zamora and her family came by to see what Sandoval was up to. They used to live in the neighborhood, and they’ve been missing the fright show since they moved to Aurora.
“We wanted to come and see what’s new,” she said. “The kids, they like seeing all of that.”
Sandoval gets to work around June each year building new ghouls. Many of his new additions are based on horror movies that come out each year. It’s not just his painstaking detail and craft that brings people back.
“This is not just a display, it’s a show,” he said. “Everyone expects a show.”
He and his three assistants, his granddaughter’s friends, have been working out the kinks in their performance to get ready for the big week. They’ve been at it about two and a half weeks.
People always ask, “Where do you start?”
“Well,” he always answers, “one string at a time.”