The Doleshal house on 143rd Street in Gardner was haunted long before the family of five resided in it.
They created their first haunted house in their home’s interior before there was sheetrock on the wall studs.
Tammy Doleshal estimates that would’ve been in 1996 or 1997.
“The last couple of years it’s gotten quite extensive,” Tammy said. “It used to be put out a graveyard and a couple of ghosts.”
Today, planning for the family’s annual Halloween festivities starts as early as August, and for the last two years has included jaunts to Haunted House conventions. Family members, which include Tammy and her husband, and their three grown children – two with spouses – and several grandchildren – start new projects and decorating the family barn on weekends.
Last year, they created a 26-foot-tall Jack O’latern. Its giant head was created using chicken wire and spray foam. At night, it’s red eyes glow and smoke appears to comes from his mouth.
This year, the family created a spooky cabin with a life-like motion-picture zombie window. When guests step on a rug in the cabin, it appears to catch the attention of a zombie feasting on a victim beyond the window. The zombie rushes towards the cabin window, before being shot from behind by a hunter in the woods behind the cabin.
Guests can feel blood spatter as the gun shot coincides with a puff of water that shoots from beneath the window.
“Over the last couple years, the props have gotten quite extensive,” Tammy said. “We built a whole cabin for this zombie attack window.”
Family members credit Don Doleshal, 28, of Edgerton for creating a monstrous family addiction for Halloween.
Don said the family always decorated for the holidays, and he especially loved Halloween decorations. When he was 12 years old, he found a life-size crypt keeper at Spencer’s gifts. It was $400.
That was the year Don discovered layaway. When he was a teenager, Don worked at haunted houses in Kansas City.
“He couldn’t wait to work there,” Tammy explained.
Through the years, Don’s collection grew.
Family members typically purchase Halloween or haunt house decorations and props for Don’s birthday and Christmas. Some of his early pieces include a lighted “Bates Motel” sign and a life-size Alien figure from the film, Aliens.
Tammy said the life-size Alien is one of five Alien prototypes that were made as promotional items for the film. When it appeared in a Sharper Image store on the Plaza, the Doleshals waited for the price to drop.
Tammy said some of the props can be expensive.
“Some of the props are literally $15,000 apeice,” she said.
Last year, the entire family attended a haunted house convention in St. Louis. There, they learned they aren’t the only connosiers of Halloween-themed props.
Behind several horror tableaus in the Doleshal barns are the mechanics of creating a haunted house. Behind one of the cabin’s interior walls, there is a room filled with speakers, air compressors and wiring.
Another section of the barn contains what looks like an everyday living room with a large projection screen. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is playing, but there’s a book containing almost every horror DVD made in the last 20 years.
In another section, a chainsaw massacre maniac looms next to a life-size Hannibal Lecter.
In the center of the room, sits a child’s haunted house. Bats and cobwebs hang inside its inflatable walls.
Another section of the barn contains a cemetery with ghosts projected from hidden screens.
Kristen Moldrup, the Doleshal’s daughter, said preparing for Halloween at the Doleshal house is a lot like getting ready for a wedding.
“It really does feel like it’s your wedding day,” she said. “You can’t just focus on one thing.”
For now, the horrors are contained to the Doleshal barn and acreage near the house which sits far from the road.
Tammy said she’d love to share it with the public one day, but for now, the horrors at the Doleshal house are shared with family and friends at an annual party. Even Jack – the family’s 26-foot pumpkin king – can’t be seen from the road.
Tammy worries about vandalism – especially at Halloween time. Last year, teenagers tried to set the family’s large Big foot statute that can be seen from the road on fire.
“They sprayed lighter fluid on it. Luckily the fabric I made him of wouldn’t burn,” she said.
Tammy said the family should own a haunted house.
“When we started going to the convention, that’s when this thing got so big. We bought some major things that haunted houses usually have.”