On All Hallow's Eve, people around Memphis celebrate Halloween in different ways. Some, of course, chose to pretend the holiday doesn't exist — they're too stingy to give candy to the kiddies, or too scared to open their doors to strangers at night. Others may place a carved pumpkin on their doorstep, or dangle fake rubber bats from their porch.
And then you have Mike and Rayeanne Childs, who for three years now have turned their East Memphis home on Sequoia into one of the spookiest destinations in the city.
"Every year we have a theme," says Mike, a FedEx freight manager. "Two years ago, we built a haunted house out front, and last year it was a big graveyard. This year I plan to put a 12-foot-tall Mardi Gras ghost in the yard. It's got a black head with flickering eyes, and will be great."
For the Childs, October 31st is the biggest day of the year. "We don't have kids, so we don't really do Christmas anymore," says Rayeanne, a cardiovascular nurse at Methodist Hospital. "So Halloween is like Christmas. I take a whole week off from work to get everything ready for it."
The yard decorations include a giant inflated skull gripped by a giant purple spider, a shrieking motion-activated "ghost" that flies along a cable strung between trees, hundreds of orange lights strung in the bushes and trees, cobwebs dripping from the eaves, gloves stuck in the ground ("like hands coming out of graves," says Rayeanne), rows of tombstones, tumble-down graveyard fences, and all sorts of creatures — some living, some not.
Mike likes to dress up in a dark costume and stand completely still by the front door, until someone approaches, when he leaps out and scares the daylights out of them.
"We probably had 200 trick-or-treaters last year," says Mike. "I really like to spook the kids, and I think adults get as much of a kick out of it as their children. They love to sit on the sidewalk and watch."
The Childs began their holiday tradition about 10 years ago, when they lived in the Berclair area. "That area was sort of going downhill, and nobody over there would even give out candy," says Rayeanne. "We wanted to do something special, so now we just load them up."
Half of their attic is now filled with Halloween decorations, says Rayeanne. "I go to Sam's Club every year and probably buy more than $200 worth of candy, because there is no way on earth that we want to run out."
When they lived in Berclair, the couple put up so many illuminated and motor-driven decorations that kept blowing fuses. "When we moved into our new house three years ago," says Rayeanne, "Mike said he was going to give me my own electrical system just for the Halloween lights, and he did."
Rayeanne begins decorating their house and yard three weeks before Halloween, though she admits an early start can cause problems. "The sooner I start putting things out, the more I put out, because I'll look at a place in the yard and think, that needs something."
The Childs haven't kept track of how much money their Halloween extravaganza has cost them, but Mike says it's not expensive: "We always make our own junk. It's not anything you buy. We built that haunted house out of discarded refrigerator boxes, and one year we went to Target after Halloween and bought a ton of decorations when they were 70 percent off."
As you might expect, the Childs don't just sit at the front door and hand out candy. Rayeanne has dressed up as a 1960s go-go dancer and as Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmations . Mike usually sports an all-black outfit with an orange wig and hundreds of battery-powered lights.
"It's kind of gotten out of hand," Rayeanne admits, laughing. "But all the kids look forward to it so much that we can't back down now."