November 21, 2022

On Labor Day weekend when Minnesotans are enjoying the last few moments of summer, Stillwater resident Chad Bracewell is busy planning for the future — one that includes a fog machine, cobwebs and skeletons. 

Bracewell, 24, and his mother, Michelle Bracewell-Musson, tend to go “all out” for holidays but Halloween is their favorite. 

Stillwater area resident Chad Bracewell holds a Michael Jackson cardboard in front of the Halloween decorations on Oct. 18 in Stillwater, Minn.

Kerem Yücel | MPR News

It takes lots of planning to turn the old Victorian home at the corner of Fourth and Marsh streets into a Halloween abyss. It’s not gore and blood; Chad said the house is always kid friendly. On any given day 150 kids pass through the yard while Chad and Michelle are still decorating. They estimate they had 1,500 guests last Halloween. 

Chad is the one who envisions the design and sets up the décor, and he’s the designated tour guide. He has a rare disease that affects his speech and his cognitive abilities, so he usually speaks just a couple words at a time, but it’s enough to explain the thought process that went into his creative decisions. Michelle said these conversations help Chad improve his communication skills. While Michelle and others help, she said it’s really Chad’s show. 

As Chad was showing off his work on a chilly October morning, a young boy walked up to the house intrigued. Chad greeted him with a wave and a big smile and showed him the pirates, Ghostbuster dedication with, of course, a nod to Minnesota resident and buster Ernie Hudson, and skeleton bands like the Grateful Dead and, new this year, singer Billie Eilish. 

He explained his favorite parts to the boy: the Michael Jackson cardboard cut out in the window and Jack Sparrow on the roof. 

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“There are so many people that come through and they love talking to Chad. Even before we decorated so much, we’ve always loved Halloween. The witches, the colors — it’s just fun to believe in something,” Michelle said. 

Chad and Michelle are not alone in this pursuit. MPR News tracked down other Halloween fanatics across the state to tell their story about why they got in the Halloween decorating game and what made them stick around. 

Inflatables galore in Rochester

In Rochester, Mike Boyer creates what he calls “a larger than life” Halloween display at his house. With approximately 130 inflatables and a dedicated Facebook page, “Boyer Halloween” can see up to 2,000 people a night on Halloween and the days leading up to it. 

But Halloween wasn’t always a part of Boyer’s life. He never went trick-or-treating as a kid or really celebrated All Hallows’ Eve. But then he began having children and celebrating the holiday with his family, and something shifted in him. Decorating grew into a yearly ritual.

“I love hearing the side conversations and people’s excitement when they are walking through. Given the size of what I am doing, I need to be committed. It’s an experience we want people to remember. Maybe it becomes a tradition to visit us every year for families — some already do.” 

In addition to the display, Boyer also raises money for Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester. He said that last year visitors donated $4,100, which he said equates to roughly 15,000 meals. 

An “Island of Terror” in Maple Island

On the scarier side of things, a couple has created a frightful night in Maple Island. Kiersten and Josh Cornelius launched “The Island of Terror” this year. Kiersten said to think of it like a scary amusement park including actors waiting to jump out and scare you. 

There are mazes, a cemetery scene, Satan worshippers, a haunted school bus and a  bonfire for those who would rather sit out the screams. 

“I like Halloween and I have always loved dressing up,” Kiersten said. “We did a hay ride last year but we wanted something bigger. We enjoy the walkthrough because it’s more intimate and scarier.” 

The Island of Terror, located at 85210 Shady Lane in Hollandale, is open from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 28 and 29. It is $15 for people 16 and older, and $7 for children 15 and under. 

A classic yard in Minneapolis

For the classics, James Broden in Minneapolis sticks to headstones, skeletons and creepy sepia photos. 

He has been decorating his yard and the yards of his close neighbors religiously for the last 14 years. He has always liked Halloween but usually spent it working and did not have time to decorate at first. Even though he enjoys his yearly custom, he said he does feel like it has turned into a bit of obligation. 

Many residents ask him if he is going to continue into the next year, and he obliges, but without a lot of help the task can be daunting. 

“I am getting older and every year it takes a bit longer but I do enjoy watching how happy people get. There is so much excitement and a diversity of people who get together for the day.”

And for the rest of Minnesota, we asked you to send your scariest Halloween houses and included them below. Want to submit a photo of your decked-out house to be considered for our slideshow? Email [email protected]