How One Oregon Couple Creates the Ultimate Halloween Display

Now in its 20th year, Milwaukie's Davis Graveyard is a creepy-wonderful, nationally known destination.

With Sam Pape and Chris Davis September 11, 2018 Published in the October 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Jack Dylan

"When most people house-hunt, they look for price, location, floor plan, etc. Halloween comes as ... well, an afterthought. Not us. We picked our house (and yard) in Milwaukie based on Halloween.

It started when I was little. Living in Southern California, our family never did much for Halloween. But one year we went to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. I went through six times. In a row. Fast-forward to 2018: there’s a semitruckload of Styrofoam strewn all over our driveway and yard, more than 70 tombstones of all shapes and sizes popping up one by one in our half-acre lot, and a backyard workshop full of caution tape, ghost projections, and LED lights being dusted off for action.

For the 20th year in a row, my husband, Jeff, and I are assembling the Davis Graveyard. Everything is built from scratch—from the crumbling Styrofoam chapel modeled after Scotland’s Ardgowan Castle in our driveway to the Leonard Cohen tombstone (complete with a little bird on a wire in a teeny fedora). Our first Halloween here in the ’90s, it was just me putting out some props—a few tombstones, a skeleton from Spencer’s Gifts. Now, with the help of an amazing volunteer crew, we make our dream of creating one of the country’s largest graveyard displays a reality.

Pulling it off is all about attention to detail. It’s art at this point. We don’t rely on blood and guts. (I’ll leave that to other people.) Our graveyard isn’t scary like that—it’s creepy. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you look sideways and ask, “Did I just see what I think I saw?”

People have come from all over the world to ask how we do what we do, which is why we decided to teach. Now we do workshops across the nation. Halloween love shouldn’t end in our yard. We want people to make their own art. This is really fun, creative, and easy ... frighteningly time consuming, but easy."

As told to Sam Pape

Chris Davis is a graphic designer by day, “evil artistic director” of the Davis Graveyard by night. Open October 1–31, with “full effects” on special dates.
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