Josh Shaffer

Shaffer: Spooked-up house in Oakwood draws throngs

Jesse Jones combines live actors and life-sized dummies at his house in Raleigh’s historic Oakwood neighborhood, where last year he handed out 1,000 pieces of candy in 45 minutes.
Jesse Jones combines live actors and life-sized dummies at his house in Raleigh’s historic Oakwood neighborhood, where last year he handed out 1,000 pieces of candy in 45 minutes. Josh Shaffer

Five years ago, Jesse Jones started his Halloween madhouse with a humble pair of skeletons that talked and moved.

That gesture soon found him dressed up in a wolf suit and howling from his own roof, dropping plastic snakes on people, trying to bungee jump from the side of his house and drawing 2,000 trick-or-treaters in a single night, some of them arriving by bus.

In that short time, Jones’ place on Oakwood Avenue has so completely captured Raleigh’s haunted-house crown that people show up to photograph it a week before Halloween. The steady stream of gawkers Thursday night included visitors from Australia.

The attention makes sense considering Jones rigged a life-size zombie with fishing line so its hands jiggle when you tug on them, and when kids approach and discover it’s only a dummy, a pair of live-actor zombies jump out at them from the dark.

Between the screams triggered by motion sensors and the noise-activated ghost-moaning, the corner of Oakwood and East Street sounds like somebody pulled a fire alarm in a crypt.

“I like scaring dogs and children,” said Jones, a 40-ish attorney. “I don’t know if that makes me weird.”

No scary fun in childhood

When he was a kid in Fuquay-Varina, Jones hardly celebrated Halloween. His father thought it frivolous, he said, a waste of time.

So he promised that if he ever had his own house, he’d go a bit nuts.

Hence the skeletons climbing out of the trash can.

Hence the half-buried corpse pushing its way out of a pile of dirt, a wig on its skull and a pair of high heels at its feet.

Hence the buzzards and the rats, and the severed hand under the circular saw, and the giant spider clutching a baby doll, and the pair of ruby slippers attached to a pair of squished, striped legs.

A white-haired woman stops her car on Friday morning and snaps a picture. “Have you ever?” she asks.

‘Only about 70 percent done’

Jones played football for N.C. State in the ’80s, which explains why his front-yard decor runs heavy on wolves, one of them sporting the No. 90 jersey he wore in the Peach Bowl. The largest and most ferocious of the beasts is shown ripping apart a ram and holding its heart in his paw.

“I’m only about 70 percent done,” Jones said six days from Halloween. “I stay up until 2 or 3 working on it. I just love Halloween.”

Wife, in-laws, neighbors and employees all accept Jones’ mania. In the off-season, his props get stuffed in closets or behind doors around the house and office.

“My paralegal actually wet herself last week,” he said.

He holds a holiday party and gets donated candy, which is necessary considering trick-or-treaters went through 1,000 pieces in 45 minutes last year.

He also relies on a cast of about 10 law students from Campbell University, who come and act out horror-show roles on his lawn. More volunteer spooks show up that he doesn’t even know.

Jones won’t say what this hobby costs in dollars or hours. He worries you’d think him crazy. He installed a security system to prevent theft after someone stole his original skeletons, and when people walk past his house, he can hear their comments through the intercom. A typical one: “This guy has a problem.”

But to my mind, the only problem Jones has is too little space. Think what he could do with a yard twice as big, or a five-story house, or enough electricity to power a guillotine and a fountain of fake blood. Oh, for a 20-outlet power strip and an extension cord a mile long.