2005 Sidewalk of Horror pt 2: Construction & Decoration

The second day of tunnel construction was much less “construction” and much more “decoration”, however there were a few outstanding items before I could get to the really fun part. First, I rolled up the extra black plastic along the bottom of the tunnel and staked it down with tent stakes. Now the tunnel didn’t look quite as sloppy since the bottom edge looked much more uniform. I’ll admit that the staking I was doing in my yard was a little bit nerve wracking. I have an in-lawn sprinkler system, and since I just moved into the house this summer I’m not very certain of where all the pipes are laid. It felt a little bit like playing Russian Roulette, but fortunately I don’t think I hit anything important.

Tunnel interior with rubber spider and showing plastic strips separating chambers.The next step was to divide the tunnel into chambers. I’d originally considered putting up a curtain of black plastic at each pipe, but that was just a vague idea before the building started. Chambers only 6′ deep weren’t very practical, so in the end I settled for two chambers. This turned out fine. I cut sections of plastic and attached them to the frames on either end and the middle using the same technique as we’d used to attach the outer plastic–duct tape and zip ties. Once the curtains were in place I used a razor to cut long vertical strips so that people could walk through.

Lighting was an early concern with the tunnel. I certainly didn’t want people tripping and hurting themselves or walking into the tunnel walls. I’d long concluded that I’d need to run a strand of Christmas lights through the tunnel to provide a little illumination. The spine made it easier, since I could run the lights along the ceiling instead of on the ground where they could be stepped upon or tripped over. Yet again, zip ties made the job fairly easy. I ran the lights from the front porch, along one of the guy wires, into the tunnel, and along the spine. And that pretty much did it for “construction”.

This is probably a good place to mention the weather. By late Sunday afternoon, the wind was really blowing (video). Forecasts called for a 60% chance of rain the next day. The interior of the tunnel was pretty spooky, just from the way it would heave to and fro with the wind. The linked 10 second .avi video (1.5-ish mb) gives you an idea of the extremity of the situation, although I can guarantee it was more freaky if you were standing in it. It’s


To be honest, prior to construction I only had a vague idea of how I’d decorate the tunnel. For one thing, I wasn’t sure how big the chambers would be and I wanted to stay flexible. One of the few ideas I’d had from early on was of a witch’s cauldron. Toward that end, on Saturday morning I bought 16 pounds of dry ice to create a fog effect in the “cauldron”. I figured between the fog and a green glow-stick, I’d have a pretty cool effect. For the cauldron, I had a round, black plastic tub that had come from my parents’ ranch. I think it originally held salt or molasses for cattle, but now it was just a clean, empty bucket and the perfect size for a cauldron. Now, on Saturday morning when I bought the ice I brought an cooler with me and rushed it home to my deep freeze. Sunday afternoon I checked on it and was…dismayed. The sack was roughly half the weight it had been when I bought it. That’s when Mrs. Flametoad mentioned “Oh yeah, dry ice is like -100 degrees. I thought you were buying it awfully early.” Gee, thanks for the info. I’d never had an opportunity to have dry ice before, and hadn’t bothered to do any research on the net before hand.

Incidentally, later that evening Jason stopped back by to see how things were going and we pulled out the ice to play with it. Why not? It wouldn’t last another 24 hours anyway. We chipped some off and dropped it in a cup of water. Sure enough, it bubbled and fogged and was pretty cool. (Literally). But then after about five minutes the fog decreased, and we learned something else about try ice. You gotta keep the water hot. As the ice cooled off the water, it created less fog. At first fog was billowing over the top of the cup and filling the bottom of the sink. After a while, it barely maintained a layer over the top of the water. If we had tried the ice in the cauldron with a bit of water at the bottom, I think we might have been disappointed in the results. Especially with a strong wind blowing.

But back to decorating. Earlier in the week I stopped by a nearby card and party supply store and picked up a few odds and ends. To be more specific, I picked up some cotton “spider web”, some plastic glow-in-the-dark insects, a fake arm (complete with sleeve), a cheap-o dangling spider and some posters (“Moan-a Lisa” and “Halloween Gothic”). Sunday morning (October 30) during my weekend trip to the grocery store, I browsed the Halloween section and picked up a few more items. I found a 6′ tall skeleton dressed in ghostly white, a string of lights shaped like skeletan hands, and a battery-powered light meant to simulate candle-light in a pumpkin. All were 25% off, since most people had already done their Halloween decorating.

Halloween cauldron with fake arm and glow in the dark bugs.So along with the Christmas light strung along the ceiling, the latter half of the tunnel was lit with skeleton hands that appeared to be coming out of the ground. Even though it was empty, I left the cauldron at the tunnel exit (the side closest to the door) simply because it seemed like the area needed a prop. To liven it up, I hung the fake arm over the side as if someone were inside reaching out. (On Halloween I also tried sticking the plastic bugs to the side using folded up duct tape, but the air was moist with rain and the duct tape just wasn’t sticking.) I also hung the plastic spider from one of the arches using fishing line. The spider was black, and I hung it chest level on an adult, which I figured would be roughly eye level for some of the older kids. Because the walls were black too, it blended in perfectly. I walked into it a few times myself, and I know it startled Mrs. Flametoad at least two or three times. The 6′ skeleton went in the first chamber, along with a concrete gargoyle Mrs. Flametoad had gotten me back when were dating.

The final touch inside the tunnel were some cut-out tombstones. Jason had some used paneling from some home remodeling that he offered up for the cause. I went over to his house and we borrowed a foam tombstone decorating his neighbor’s yard. Using that as a guide, we traced out six tombstones in the single sheet of paneling. Jason used a table saw on the straight parts and passed them on to me to finish out the curved parts with a jigsaw. We then used some scrap lumber and a pneumatic finishing nailer (how did humanity ever build anything before nailguns?) to build bases. By this time it was late Sunday afternoon, and I pretty much ran out of time and energy to paint them. They went in the tunnel as-is. This turned out to be okay, because my first inclination would have been to paint them grey. However, at night the light-colored paneling stood out just enough. If they’d been painted a darker color they might very well have blended into the black plastic behind them. All that was really missing were epitaphs. Maybe next year.

So that covered it for the inside of the tunnel. The front was still somewhat lacking. Fortunately, some fake spiderweb, some yellow “caution” tape I’d stolen from somewhere as a teen (and to think Mrs. Flametoad never believed me when I said it might come in handy one day!), a friendly stuffed ghost I’d picked up at a dollar store, and a pair of Halloween pumpkins certainly helped make the tunnel entrance look more festive.

Now that the work was done, I carefully packed up anything of value (meaning the skeleton, the gargoyle, fake arm, tombstones, and bugs) and brought them inside. My biggest fear (okay, second biggest) was that some teens would come along and either tear down some or all of my work, or walk off with some of props. I was by no means a bad kid, but if someone had put up something like this when I was a teen then I’m honest enough to recognize that it would have been a prime target. Teens and vandalism just go hand in hand. If the tunnel ended up being too tempting of a target, at the very least I didn’t want the valuables stolen.

Jump back to re-read construction notes on Page 1, or the excitement continues on page 3 with a report of Halloween night and lessons learned for next year.

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