There are Merced residents who decorate their homes for Halloween.
And then there is the Anderson Family — Ken and Harmony, along with their three children.
Let’s just say they are on a whole different level unto themselves.
“We went crazy and now it’s evolved into this,” says Harmony Anderson as she walks through the graveyard in her front yard. “It gets bigger and bigger every year.”
Nearby her husband, Ken, laughs and says, “I guess I get carried away … and then all of a sudden it’s like: ‘How much money did we spend yesterday? … I can’t believe it.”
The Anderson’s haunted house at 1669 Oregon Drive looks like something from a 3-D, 360-degree Universal Studios Hollywood set.
Everything — inside and outside — is cloaked in spooky charm and devilish enchantment.
There’s even a theme to the scary scene. A horror movie plot, if you will: Skeleton warriors approach the home, and scale its walls, in an attempt to slay a demonic dragon that’s perched atop the chimney.
Neighbors are not surprised at the Nightmare on Oregon Drive that develops every year.
The Andersons have been creating the dark haven for all things dreadful since they moved in three years ago. And ever since, literally thousands of trick-or-treaters have sought out the ghoulish place.
The family’s passion for Halloween started with Harmony. When she was a little girl, her family did not celebrate holidays due to religious beliefs.
“In elementary school, I was exiled to the office when there was any kind of celebration in the classroom,” she says. “When the other kids would dress up for Halloween and make jack-o’-lanterns, I wasn’t allowed to do it. But secretly I loved it, and I thought it was the coolest holiday ever. It was always my favorite. So when I grew up, I started to collect decorations for my own family. I wanted my children to be able to enjoy it.”
Perhaps it was destiny when Harmony met Ken, a local tree contractor. They fell in love, got married, and started a family of their own.
But little did Harmony know, Ken was a monster of make-believe waiting to happen.
“At first he wasn’t interested in Halloween that much,” Harmony says. “I started decorating inside the house, and when he saw what I could do, he became ridiculous. … That’s when we started getting the larger props outside.”
Harmony actually starts decorating right after the Fourth of July. However, because of the pandemic this year, the couple was a bit hesitant to “go big” outside.
“We weren’t going to do it, but then we kept seeing the cars drive by and the little kids looking out at our yard,” Ken says. “They would ask us if we were going to decorate this year.”
So six weeks ago, Ken decided to get into full warlock-mode. This year, he added a giant, 12-foot skeleton with glowing eyes — the same sold-out model that became a big hit for Home Depot this year. He added an army of other skeletons, with one of them riding a life-size horse, another atop a giant spider on the roof, and yet another holding on to an actual Harley Road King motorcycle that Ken transformed into a death machine. There’s moving monsters throughout the front yard, including Bubba the hair-raising dog that shoots out of its doghouse. And the final shocker: Ken brought out a construction-grade, 3,000-pound Ditch Witch he uses at his tree service business. Today it’s being driven by a skeleton — of course — who is picking up remains of the undead off the sidewalk.
And not to mention: As the sun goes down, and darkness descends, the Anderson’s Family’s Haunted House is lit up with hundreds of lights, and smoke machines add to the ghostly atmosphere. Speaking of ghosts, you can see them dancing at night in the upstairs windows.
Visitors to the site have been showing up for weeks now. Ken and Harmony often greet them outside as they both enjoy wine after work. Sometimes Ken mingles in with unsuspecting onlookers, and makes a comment like: “Wow, the family who lives here must be crazy, huh?”
Sometimes the Andersons give tours of the inside of the house. Every room is decked out in supernatural strangeness and macabre— including the dining room, kitchen, downstairs bathroom, and even inside a gold fish tank on a counter.
The family stores all their Halloween props in two large sheds that look like granny units in the backyard. Ken shakes his head and expresses the idea that one of them could very well be converted into a man cave … “but oh well.”
Last year, the couple estimates their frightening home attracted 1,500 trick-o-treaters on Halloween. They expect this year will be no different. And they’ve already bought $1,000 worth of candy to hand out. The supply usually doesn’t last long. They warn people that parking on the street is limited.
On Halloween night, the Andersons set up a fire pit in the driveway, and Harmony Anderson makes a traditional pumpkin sausage soup for family and friends who stop by.
“We create quite the ruckus,” Ken Anderson says, “but the people of Merced have been awesome. This is such a great community.”
Harmony says she woke up recently and discovered a bag of Costco Halloween candy and a thank you card on the porch. Later, a neighbor stopped by to thank the couple for their holiday display, saying, “You are giving so much back to this community, and this community needs it right now.”
One big family of visitors appeared one day with a woman who was living with stage 4 cancer. She was smiling and her children were delighted.
And then there was a lady one day who ran up to their porch and dropped off a banner. She ran away before the Andersons could talk to her. Nevertheless, they loved the banner so much it’s now on display next to the front of the house.
It reads: “Don’t let Halloween be a thing of the past. Decorate, turn your lights on, hand out candy. Have fun. Make memories. Be a community.”
P.S. … If you’re wondering if the Andersons decorate for the Christmas season, they do. In fact, sometimes they keep the skeletons in the yard and dress them up in Santa hats and scarfs.