SPRINGVILLE — Ever since age 6, when he plunged his hands into a bowlful of cold spaghetti “brains” at a neighborhood spook alley, the “Wolfman of Springville” has had a thing for Halloween.
Today, Robert Wolf’s house is probably the only place on his block with a fog machine parked year-round next to the lawn mower. Friends who drop by in July aren’t surprised to find Wolf spraying liquid latex onto a skeleton to create a perfect corpse or taking a soldering iron to plastic-foam tombstones so they’ll appear as though they’ve been moldering in his front yard for centuries.
This year, the Wolf family’s annual “Haunted Wolf Hollow” display will feature skeletons posing in a cemetery for a family portrait, a chorus of singing jack-o'-lanterns and a “Who’s on First” routine between a bony cadaver named Fester and a pumpkin named Rott.
“Their jokes are pretty bad, so I hope they don’t drive anybody away,” says Wolf. “But creepy is always better than bloody. You never want people saying, ‘So are all of the cats in the neighborhood accounted for?’”
Wolf, a 43-year-old software engineer whose dream job is to work for Disney creating animatronics for rides like the “Haunted Mansion,” strung his first strand of orange lights 20 years ago. Last week, he took time to share his story in Free Lunch while putting the finishing touches on a Halloween display that draws hundreds to his Springville neighborhood every year.
“I have an agreement with my wife (Kristie) that I can start putting up decorations on my birthday, three weeks before Halloween,” he says. Other than an occasional wrapped skeleton, latex mask or chain saw, “that’s my big birthday present.”
It was 1991 when Wolf, recalling the Halloweens of his childhood, volunteered to decorate a room at a church-sponsored spook alley. “I dressed up as a hobo and my wife threw together a gypsy costume,” he says, “but she needed a crystal ball."
Wolf unscrewed a round light fixture from his ceiling, put it in a box with some battery-powered lights to replicate the look of swirling gas and was launched that night down the path of no return into the wacky world of Halloween hobbyists.
“People asked me at church on Sunday, ‘What are you going to do next year?’ and I knew that I was hooked,” he says. “When I found out there was an actual group that meets to come up with creepy decorating props, how could I stay away?”
Wolf now helps manage the Rocky Mountain Haunters club, a circle of about 300 Halloween-obsessed souls (mostly from Utah) who get together every two months to compare notes on making everything from pop-up coffins to witches cauldrons.
“As you can guess, we’re a weird group,” says Wolf, who has helped teach classes on how to replicate rotting skin (layer liquid latex and spider webs over a skeleton) and create a life-size crypt keeper using PVC pipe and chicken wire.
Who knew that you could use a windshield-wiper motor and fishing line to bring skulls and ghosts alive?
"It’s a slippery slope once you start doing this,” confesses Wolf, whose lawn is now littered with tombstones for “Ima Goner,” “Colden Buried” “and “M.T. Graves.” “Trust me. It will literally come back to haunt you.”
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Cathy Free has written her "Free Lunch" column since 1999, believing that everyone has a story worth telling. A longtime western correspondent for People Magazine, she has also worked as a contributing editor for Reader's Digest.