Halloween: Gravestones and the Undead!

The nice thing about having a "crafty" partner, is she's going to surprise you in the areas you're most interested in.  In this case, we're talking about Halloween.

The Final Product
Pictured are the glowing ghosts, the gravestones, the "Enter at your own risk" sign, and the giant spider on the roof.  (From 2006)

Here's another photo taken in the daylight.

The rest of this page is how made the gravestones and dressed them up.

The headstones were made from 4' x 2' sheets of plywood.  I cut them down to 3' x 2'.  I'll show you what I did with the rest of the wood later.

I sketched the approximate shapes of the tops of the "stones," on a piece of paper and Dani made templates like the one in the photo which I traced onto the boards then cut it with a jigsaw and circular saw.

Here are the three we made in various stages of production:
1) Bare wood
2) Coat of white paint
3) Grey stone paint.
And Lady the Pug.  Obviously.

This is "stone creations" paint.  You can find similar varieties of this at most hardware stores.  Craft stores have loads of variations if you're particular.  I'm sure you can figure out how to simulate marble if you want to get really fancy, but we weren't that ambitious this year.

After I sprayed the first "stone," I found that a better approach was to do the outer edges first, then do a thinner coat around the middle.

In all cases, I'm only barely putting any spray onto these, much less than you would if you were applying a solid coat of paint.

I gave Dani some silly sayings her for the gravestones which she changed into different fonts and sized them before she printed them out.  She traced those onto each of the boards and painted in the letters in black.

The dogs were there for moral support.

And here are the final products!

In the past I'd just left the backs of the gravestones bare, but since we were having a party this year and people were going to be hanging out on the front porch, I figured I'd paint the "unseen" side as well.

What about those leftover pieces of wood, you ask?  Well, here they are...

I used one of them to make spikes (you can see the lines they're going to be cut along on the piece in Dani's hand) and I attached another one to each of the "stones" to fold out and act as an additional support.

This is how the back of the "stones" look.  They're staked into the ground, plus the "leg" helps on windy days.

We also picked up the rocks at a construction site nearby mostly for support, but there is an aesthetic component as well.

Problem: In 2007 the rain sogged up the ground, so the plywood spikes holding the tombstones turned to mush.  I went back and added "vampire stakes" like the one you see in the foreground, then ran a sheetrock screw through the front of the "stone."

The gravestones themselves began warping as well, so I solved both problems by adding a rigid backer board with a spike at the base.  Painting the backs of them probably helped keep the moisture from warping them as well.

Update: In 2008 I simply added a backbone of a 1x4 with a tapered tail to form a spike.

(Note: The boots are from this year's costume.  Just trying to get used to them.)

Update: In 2009 I took yet another approach.  I'm showing these on the fence, but I used them on the gravestones as well.  These are U-bolts/brackets clamped to rebar rods cut to ~3' each.

Here's the view from the opposite (street) side.  I put a little black spay paint on the fence here so they wouldn't stand out.  At night you'd never notice them.

I didn't have to touch up the paint on the gravestones because I place piles of rocks at the base of those where the bracket is.

Dressing it up
Dani had some flowers inside that were dying.  Rather than throwing them away, I put them out in front of one of the "stones."

I also stuffed gloves full of newspaper and put them over more stakes I put into the ground (made out of scrap wood I cut into smaller strips).  I did this when I was a kid.

The next year (2007) I didn't put any stones there, so they looked really plain.  The ones we had last year ended up around the fence in the back yard to keep our little dogs from trying to get out.  We never found a good construction site full of debris to pilfer this time around, so I came up with something different to dress up the space in front of them.  Read on...

I decided to steal Liz's idea for a corpse sneaking out of the grave, so we went to the Spirit Halloween store and picked up some props (and makeup; see the costume gallery).

I got a couple bags of top soil and the plastic skeleton...

...and put the upper torso in the dirt like he was coming out of the ground.

I didn't actually have legs on him (as you can see in the pic above).  I hadn't really figured out what to do with them though.  Maybe something for the Halloween party next year?  (Correct answer: Yes.  See pics.)

Once the mud was dry, the skeleton looked pretty good.  I like the bird on "Jake's" gravestone.  (He's real, not a prop.)

A night-time shot of Dani as Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas just before we went out to Oak Lawn on Saturday.

The next year (2008) I proped the skeleton up so he wasn't so laid-back (literally) as in the other pictures on this page.  That's a short length of 2x4 against his back and a small strip of wood wedged into the back of the neck joint.

We did the rocks again this year (2008).  I picked these up from a lady who was also getting rid of the pallets I used (in part) to build the "haunted house" fence out front (visible in one of the photos above).

This year (2009) I tried something a little different and stacked up some firewood first.  This built up the pile so I didn't have to use as much soil.  In fact, I didn't even go out and buy any this time.  The bag at the right was something I already had on hand, and I just made it work as best I could.

I've never been satisfied with the way the skeleton is so limp for being "undead" and coming out of the ground.  It just didn't make sense for him to be both "undead" and, well, lifeless!

This year I added a few twisted strands of galvanized wire to prop the arms up.  The wire forms a "Y" that cradles the arm, and the other end it just stuck into the ground.

When it's windy, the arms actually wave around a bit.  It wouldn't be difficult to add a motor to something like this to add still more motion.  Something else for my "to do" list, I guess.

Lighting it up
In 2008 I picked up a set of solar-powered lights for the gravestones since the "engravings" are otherwise almost illegible from the street anytime after dusk.

At night.

No Photoshopping or light painting it here.  This is a two-second exposure on a cloudy night with a nearly full moon in the sky just above the house.  You can see the gravestones lit up by the solar lights.  I have seen others try the graveyard scene without these, and it falls flat the moment the sun sets.  This is much better.

And here's how it all looks together during the day.

And another shot with all the colored lights, glowing skulls, and luminaria we added in 2009.

Late addition from 2007: This was on sale at the Halloween super-store.

I see Jehovah's witnesses in my neighborhood all the time, but they have only come to the door once, and that was more than a year ago.  This year the decorations were either not offensive enough to them or were so overwhelmingly repellent to them that I ought to mark my methods.  However, last year around this time I put up Halloween decorations and had two other preacher types come to the door within about a week.  Coincidence or intelligent design?

Copyright 2006-2009 Alexplorer.