Antolli Anesi has never been scared of anything.
“Except at night when I get up for water,” says the 10-year-old who has enough courage to rival most adults.
“Oh, yes. I forgot about the haunting old man who hangs from the wall,” his mother, Anitra Williams, remembers.
Every October, this mother-son duo, along with Antolli’s brothers, Dominic and Giovanni Williams, play roommates to a festoon of frights. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. Turning their home at 60th and Center streets into arguably Aksarben’s best-decorated haunted house, the family has invested an estimated $10,000 on things that go bump in the night, including ghosts, zombies, and serial killers by the dozen.
The whole front yard of their two-story residence is transformed into a cemetery filled with tombstones and bushes that project bloody hands. Lining the iron gate are skulls entangled in cobwebs, and those who are brave enough to make the walk from street to front porch will encounter towering statues of Michael Myers (the character from the Halloween films), a killer clown, and a guillotine. There’s even a pair of handmade coffins filled with the undead waiting to greet visitors.
“The neighbors and everyone who passes by seem to really enjoy it,” Williams says. “That new blow-up stuff is so cheesy. To see something that’s handmade and realistic instead is probably what surprises most.”
That’s right, this scary scene won’t be found anywhere else and isn’t courtesy of a home supply store—it’s the work of Williams and her boyfriend, Todd Sterba, as a majority of the outdoor décor has been crafted by the couple.
“Todd’s more the saw and nails, and I guess I’m the mastermind,” Williams says. “However, I did get my hands dirty helping with the headstones.”
Then there’s the inside.
The scares don’t stop at the front door. Almost every inch of every room is covered with creepiness. Ditching cheap, plastic pumpkins in favor of mummified skeletons, deranged dolls, a toilet seat dressed in a sweater, and props to look like Nightmare On Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, Williams’ aesthetic gives terror a place to call home.
Her favorite piece has got to be the animated corpse being eaten alive by a large rat that’s hung in no less of a prominent place than right above the dining room table.
“It’s all just for fun, and as long as it looks good, anything goes,” Williams says.
Keeping up with the Addamses wasn’t always her M.O. While Williams admits that Halloween has been a favorite time of year for her since she was young, it wasn’t until Anesi was born on the holiday in 2008 that it acquired an entirely new meaning. Her son was her October surprise, arriving a week earlier than expected. He was born shortly after 3 p.m., and by the early evening Williams was helping her other children get costumed for trick-or-treating without leaving her hospital room.
To celebrate and commemorate the moment, Williams started spooking up her space in 2009, beginning with just a few coffins in the yard. The decorations that once fit in a single tote now occupy dozens of them and a good portion of her shed.
“My son’s birth definitely made the holiday more special,” Williams says. “We throw a big party the Saturday before Halloween with over-the-top themes like Fear Factor, where the kids competed and ate real worms.”
After a decade of big scares and even bigger celebrations, the family has only encountered one incident that spooked even them. Last year, a man walking by one afternoon tried breaking into their home after taking one of their “Enter If You Dare” signs a little too literally. Sporting Fireball whiskey in his pocket, he began ripping down the décor when he couldn’t get inside and was quickly arrested and charged with trespassing and destruction of property.
Neighbors, friends, and even the Aksarben Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association encouraged Williams to keep her makeshift graveyard and continue the festivities. Not one to disappoint, she plans to go bigger than ever this year, toying with the idea of creating a walk-through haunted house on her property for Halloween night.
“My mom was more traditional and didn’t decorate when I was growing up,” Williams says. “I sort of got deprived of it, so once I got the chance to do it, I just ran with it and haven’t looked back.”
When it comes to Halloween, there can never be too much of a good thing for Williams. Once Nov. 1 rears its chilly head, she begins to suffer from self-diagnosed Post Traumatic Halloween Syndrome.
“Nobody does Halloween like we do,” she says. “So, the day after it all comes down, it feels like we just moved because the house is just so empty and sad.”
Not to fear. The next one is only 364 days away.
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.