Every year Keith Oliver and his family add one more decoration to their smoking Halloween display.
This year machines emitted low-hanging fog around the Nightmare Before Christmas and Dracula photo op stations near the sidewalk on Windswept Court in Sykesville, and behind them a cemetery with gravestones and bones led up to the garage.
That’s where Oliver set up a laboratory, complete with Frankenstein and his creation, jars of eyeballs and fingers, and a projector prepared to show the mad scientist.
“It’s our third year doing this,” he said. “Now, the day after Halloween I’m at Walmart at 6 a.m. to get everything on clearance.”
And Oliver made by hand what he could not find in stores — decorations like Dr. Frankenstein’s giant electric machine, a wooden panel he painted silver and on which he affixed various knobs and tubes.
But he didn’t come up with the idea to turn his house into a Halloween destination alone.
“It’s all Mike’s fault,” he said, “his and his wife’s fault.”
It started with a DVD of a window projection, which led to his need for a projector, he said, before it morphed into a full-fledged spectacle.
Up the street, Mike and Shain Marbut’s home was also set up for trick-or-treaters — but they are known for scaring even the adults in the neighborhood.
“Essentially, my oldest son will be sitting in that chair [in the garage] and I am going to flip this switch, and he is going to act like he is being electrocuted,” Marbut said.
Fifteen-year-old Alex Marbut wore a gray clown costume and was pretending to be a prop sitting in a chair behind makeshift chains locking him in the garage.
“We’ve had props in past years,” he said, “and we are really hoping people think he is a prop and get scared.”
To the young Marbut’s right was a homemade swing set with a girl doll sitting on a swing. Her hair was long and dark, her dress was white and her skin was pale.
“La la la la la la,” she sang ominously as her yellow eyes glowed at dusk.
To the young Marbut’s left, a beheaded man hung from a tree; his head hung from from a meat hook on a chain and lights flashed around him. Whenever someone walked by, his motion-activated sensors started up and he shook in the tree.
The Marbut property also had a homemade coffin with a dead man inside missing eyeballs. On top of the coffin was one of almost 10 zombie babies on the property, holding his eyes.
Other zombie babies were in a painted crib with a strobe light.
“That was our son’s crib,” Shain Marbut said, laughing. “He asked me if I would help him paint it, I said, ‘I’m not helping you paint our son’s crib for that!’ ”
One of Oliver’s neighbors, Ciara O’Croinin, 9, was dressed up as a princess and preparing to head out trick-or-treating. She stood next to her siblings, Liam, 6, and Rose, 11.
“I like [Oliver’s] house with the fog machine and all the decorations,” she said. “The other one is like, more realistic scary with a real chainsaw.
“I used to be too scared to go there,” said Ciara, “but this year I’m going to just get my candy. They always get their oldest son to scare all the people and I’m just going to be like, ‘Pennywise, you don’t scare me!’ ”
And although the Olivers and Marbuts have lived on Windswept Court for years, their enthusiasm has spread to newcomers.
“We had a lot of new people move in this past year,” Oliver said.
Two houses away from the Olivers is the Robertson home. After living in Tucson, New York, and other parts of the United States, they’ve made Sykesville their home.
On Halloween, they recruited members of their church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to help give out hot dogs, caramel popcorn balls, apple cider and hot chocolate to any passersby.
“We’re new here, but we figured, why not do something?” said Emily Robertson. “I feel like Halloween is a bigger thing now than when I was a kid.”
Driving by Century High School earlier that day, Robertson said she saw a house with a guillotine in the front yard.
A few streets over, there are other houses with elaborately themed decorations.
David and Cindy Walls have been setting up their garage on Norris Avenue with a new theme every year for the past six years.
This year, it’s a saloon of skeletons called “Last Call Saloon.”
“This street is amazing with kids, we get hundreds,” said Cindy Walls in her wild west attire, complete with a cowboy hat, cinched belt and long skirt.
Behind her a skeleton played the piano on its own and a male and female skeleton hanging from the left side of the garage ceiling danced.
On the right side, another skeleton was mopping a bar top.
“Last year we had a pirate theme, we’ve done a lab scene, torture chamber,” David Walls said.
And they even inspired the boy next door, 11-year-old Cameron Dobres.
Dobres has been decorating his garage for the past three years after helping the Walls with their garage.
“He just started doing it,” his father Mitch Dobres said.
Dobres set up an evil carnival this year, called “Carnevil,” where a dropped bucket of popcorn has a rat scuttling out of it, skeletons are dressed up in traditional clown attire, and slowed-down carnival music plays in the background.
After having worked on his display since the second-to-last weekend in September, and saving up money all year for his decorations, he said he doesn’t think he is going trick-or-treating this year.
“He has so much more fun watching people enjoy what he put together,” said his mother, Erinn Dobres.
She said throughout the years she noticed that Halloween festivities have gotten bigger and better.
“I feel like each more everyone on this street does a little bit more, and a little bit more every year.”