In Mooresville’s Wellesley neighborhood, spooky, scary skeletons are a child’s delight in the front yard of a home that bills itself “Nightmare Manor on Bushney Loop.”
The family that lives there spends weeks preparing its yard and home for Halloween, but it isn’t just for the fun of spooky displays and decor. Instead, the family turns its house creepy for a cause.
Meg Garafolo, her husband, Kyle, and their two sons, Jake and Josh, look forward to participating each year in “Skeletons for St. Jude,” which since its inception in 2020 has become a nationwide movement to support St. Jude’s Research Hospital in its efforts to help children fight cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Meg said she and her family — including her dad and twin sister and her family — all moved to Mooresville from Chicago in 2022. “In our old neighborhood, we always had competitions for house and yard decorations,” Meg said. The winner of the best-decorated house would receive a pot of money … until one day they decided they should raise the money for charities.
That’s when Meg found Skeletons for St. Jude (SSJ).
Since her entire family is involved in healthcare, the mission of SSJ felt like a perfect fit. And it was also personal; Meg said their cousin was diagnosed at three years old with neuroblastoma and passed away at five. “So childhood cancer has been in our family,” she said. “Watching our aunt was heartbreaking and devastating.”
Participating in SSJ couldn’t be easier. Homeowner-haunts decorate their yards and homes for Halloween and include a sign in the yard with a QR code. Visitors can stop by, enjoy the decorations and scan the sign’s QR code to make a donation directly to St. Jude. Meg said her family also accepts cash donations on-site.
Besides driving by, she said families can stop in and walk through the tunnel that the family built in the yard. Meg said Tractor Supply donated all the pallets to build the tunnel last year. She said her family’s Halloween display grows every year. “Each year we try to add one new, large element,” she said. “It’s so much fun. We’re about at the point that we need a storage locker.”
She said the fun is age-appropriate. Kids don’t have to walk through the tunnel for a treat, and the family also sets up a tent and has non-candy treats for kids who may have food allergies.
Skeletons for St. Jude all started with a home in Holly Springs, N.C. Homeowner Jeff Robertson’s skeleton Halloween display caught the eye of a local TV station, and Robertson took advantage of the opportunity by placing a St. Jude fundraising sign in his yard. People visited the display the first year, including a 2-year-old girl who was undergoing cancer treatment. Robertson collected $8,195 for St. Jude that year.
In 2021, a partnership was formed with St. Jude, and Robertson took to Facebook. More than 400 homes registered with Skeletons for St. Jude, and $151,396 was raised.
By last year, more than 625 homes were involved, and $214,000 was raised during Halloween, bringing in an overall collected total of $371,741. The goal for 2023 is 1,000 participating homes, and they hope to cross the $500,000 mark for total collected donations through SSJ, which has become the second-largest fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The overall total raised to date is $473,901, and two weeks remain before Halloween!
Thanks to partnerships and donations, including those through Skeletons for St. Jude, families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food; the research hospital believes that families should worry only about helping their child live.
Treatments invented at St. Jude since it opened more than 50 years ago have helped push the overall child cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent.
Meg said her family’s skeleton display has provided the opportunity for them to meet many new people. Last year, the NC Queen of Hope — a 12-year-old cancer survivor who competes in pageants — visited Nightmare Manor on Bushney Loop. Her pageant platform, said Meg, is raising awareness of childhood cancer with all donations going to St. Jude.
The display also caught the attention of Cameron Sloop of Bright Now Lighting, who reached out to Meg on Facebook. He said he and his family had gone through St. Jude and he wanted to donate time and equipment to light up the Nightmare Manor house.
“People are constantly streaming by,” Meg said. One school bus driver, in particular, is “completely dedicated to stopping by to see the new additions.” To return the love, the Nightmare Manor on Bushney Loop cast and crew set up a skeleton holding a sign that reads “Hi” to the students on that particular bus number.
Nightmare Manor on Bushney Loop — located at 152 Bushney Loop in Mooresville — is now open for visitors. Hours are usually around 5-10 p.m.
The St. Jude fundraiser will stay open through July 2024. But if you happen to stop in to see the display of skeletons at Nightmare Manor, consider a “reverse” treat-or-treat gift by donating to St. Jude through the QR code posted in the Nightmare Manor yard (also posted below), or give a cash donation to the family while you’re visiting. It’s such a beneficial way to pay forward the joy that Meg and her family bring the Mooresville community for the Halloween season.