Crank Ghost v1.0

This is one of the most popular prop ideas around the web.  It's little more than a car's windshield wiper motor animating a hanging sheet.  As with most things, however, it's all the execution.  There are plenty pages that do a better job describing this project than I will, but here's my take on it.  Note that I'm calling this v1.0 because I expect to modify it considerably.  I'll post photos whenever that happens.

Here's a picture of it in an upstairs bedroom window.  You can see some of the armature above it in this image because this is a long-exposure shot.  I don't think anyone would notice it otherwise.

You can even see the baby's crib in the background, although she wasn't sleeping in her room by herself yet, so the ghost never bothered her.  It actually would have doubled as a nice, soothing mobile, what with the hum of the wiper motor and the slow up/down motion of the specter!

Not-so-long exposure shot.  In reality, the intensity of the light is somewhere between these two images.

That's the Halloween Countdown Clock to the left.

Here's a wide shot of the house and much of the yard (from Halloween night 2013).  This gives you a sense of how prominent the Crank Ghost is from the sidewalk.  Even with all the lights and other decorations, the movement of the ghost helped draw attention to it.  It was fun to hear kids gasp and point when they noticed it.

Here's the basic armature.  I don't have the dimensions written down, but it's all constructed from stock metal from Lowes, cut up with an angle grinder.

The middle section was designed like a shelf so that I would have an area to set the motor as well as the power supply/speed controller.

The sides or "arms" of the
armature can be rotated out to set the desired width for whatever prop gets hung from it.

I'm lucky in that this is a historic home with lots of wood behind the sheetrock.  I didn't have to worry about finding studs for the hooks (looped through the eye bolts).  Your situation might be a bit more complicated.

That's the blacklight across the bottom left.  I just attached it to the armature so I wouldn't have to put more holes in the wall (The sheetrock was brand new).

The black box is the power supply/speed controller from  Just beyond that is the wiper motor on top of a metal plate with a hole drilled through it for the arm that moves the ghost.

I went through several iterations of adjustments and tests at almost every stage.  For example, I originally made the rotating much longer than this, but I cut it back when I found that it was longer than needed and less effective as a result.

Here's a little bit wider shot showing more of the completed set-up in daylight.

Here's a closeup of the skull.  Lots of folks use styrofoam heads with LED lights, but this idea popped into my head, and I have plenty of these skulls from ???after-Halloween sales.

As you can see, I made several mods to the skull:
*Pinhead!  I drilled a hole through the top of the skull to attach it to the armature.  That's also the point where the curtains are attached so they drape outward from the head to the arms. 
The placement of the hole is important.  I got it wrong the first time, so it wasn't looking down at the street; instead it was looking straight out the window.
*Eyeholes.  Again, drilled these out.
*Stuffed hole.  The hole at the bottom of the skull (equivalent to but not anatomically correct for the foramen magnum) lets out a lot of light.  I solved that by stuffing a bit of a Chips Ahoy cookie wrapper into it, then putting a bit of tape to hold it in place.  That reflected the light back into the skull and didn't let any escape out the bottom (which was very obvious before I added the wrapper).

Inside the skull is just a single red C7 Xmas light.  You can see the cord for that running behind the ghost up to the armature.

I did a few other things as well that didn't work out.  For example, at one point I took the skull down and sprayed it with glow-in-the-dark spray.  However, it looked like that might be too thick, so I wiped it off.

The cloth has to fluoresce under a blacklight, or the effect is minimized using this set-up.  I used some light curtains that came with the house.  We were going to toss them, but I realized they fluoresced, so I kept them for this or another project.

The picture shows how I attached the "arms."  It's a nylon washer tied to the fishing line (which was threaded through the cheesecloth-like curtain fabric.  Definitely use fishing line.  That's the obvious choice anyway, but I originally went with black yarn, and that was a bad idea.  It got tangled at one point, then broke on another occasion.

Incidentally, I had a neat idea to use clear two-liter bottles at the "wrists" so that the cloth would appear to be draped over invisible arms/hands.  Never got around to trying that out (yet).

I put everything on a power strip set up with an X10 module*, so I could turn it all on by remote in the evening.  That worked great when I was testing it and only wanted it to run for a few seconds just to see what it looked like from outside before making adjustments.  I didn't want too many neighbors to see it before it was ready.

The power strip made it easy with all the electrical things: blacklight, power supply for the motor, and the little light inside the skull.  I propped it up on the stuffed hippo so I wouldn't need an extension cord for the blacklight

*For those who don't know, X10 is a generic term for home automation devices.  These allow you to turn lights (and other devices) off and on via remotes.  They're very convenient for decorations as well.  For example, I have blacklight for the Halloween Clock uses an outlet in the attic, so it would be very inconvenient to have to go up there twice every night to turn it on/off.  Instead, I just hit one of the remotes.

Here's a close-up of the corner of the window.  I put this clip up here to keep the cord(s) out from between the ghost and any viewers on the street.  (Yeah, it's hella white-trashy, I know.  Window shade with no shade and rough edges where we hadn't put the trim back up after having the room sheetrocked.  I have a long "to do" list.)

One last thing:  The biggest limitation of the whole set-up is the weight of the ghost (or whatever creature you use).  The motor only has so much torque available to it, so you are limited in how much weight it can accommodate.  My original plan was to use parts of Halloween Jack (i.e., the green pumpkin head and arms), but that was too heavy.  I'm working on a stripped-down version with more anatomy to it than just a sheet, but we'll see if my v2.0 is possible.


Copyright 2014 the Ale[x]orcist.