Not long ago, I took the kids to see Svengoolie at a Chicago theme park called Santa’s Village (story to be covered in a future post). After the appearance ended, I decided to expand on the night’s theme by stopping off at my friend, Brian Bernardoni’s place. The kids (tired and wet from standing in line at Santa’s Village), tolerated the pit stop though I could tell they were irked. By the time the night was over, however, Brian would have successfully turned those frowns upside down by providing them with a welcome finale! Like myself, Brian’s a huge fan of Svengoolie and, like many other fellow Goolies, expresses his fandom in his own creative way.
For the past few years, Brian has entertained trick-or-treaters in his native Justice, Illinois with his amazing Svengoolie-themed yard haunt. This past year I’d seen a few pictures and heard of its splendor while looking forward to day I could experience it firsthand.
As this was my first visit to Brian’s house, I relied on my GPS for navigation…until reaching his street where I’d have NO trouble figuring out which place was his.
The kids and I stepped out of our van and gaped at all of the great tombstones featured in the makeshift cemetery he created on his front lawn. This was surrounded by macabre gates fashioned with sticks and vines with large columns highlighting its entrance. Suddenly we heard a voice from the darkness say, “Mr. Fuentes…”
It was Brian (thank God) who came into view while welcoming the kids and I.
Many of the graves paid homage to horror movie greats such as Bela Lagosi and Boris Korloff.
What I really liked was that Brian also incorporated local horror, such as “Creature Features” while the ghost of Resurrection Mary hovers above.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Resurrection Mary is Chicago’s “woman in white” and a tale I remember my mother telling us when we were kids. Since the 1930’s, there’s been nearly forty “substantiated” reports of this phenomena; all sharing a common theme. An unsuspecting driver cruising near The Resurrection Cemetery (located near the Bernardoni residence) picks up a young, female hitch-hiker wearing a white party dress who politely requests a ride to the cemetery.
Once the driver reaches their destination, the woman disappears.
As we passed Brian’s cemetery, we headed up his driveway where we witnessed his interpretation of arachnophobia with giant spiders sucking the juices out of its human prey. There’s plenty of spiders seeking their own victims; the most menacing of these a proverbial giant observing us from the roof.
Also threatening visitors is a life-size zombie and two demonic babies who all appear to enjoy the same cuisine.
After entering a side door, we find ourselves in the lab of a mad scientist! The scientist cackles and taunts Brian’s guests as a brain pulsates under a specimen jar.
While I don’t remember if the deranged doctor ever formerly introduced himself, I can only assume his last name is “Frankenstein” as indicated by the presence of his most famous creation and its reluctant “Bride.”
Assuming you make it past him alive (and with your brain and eyeballs intact) you’re then ready to enter the mock set of national horror host, Svengoolie (prior to the addition of his new coffin). This set features many of the same embellishments that the host has used over the years including a full-size replica of his original coffin.
Brian’s a family man who’s obviously learned that kids (including us big kids) prefer interactive experiences over visual ones. Guests at Brian’s haunt are encouraged to step inside the coffin and receive the full Svengoolie treatment! Sitting next to the coffin was a basket of rubber chickens, along with a Svengoolie mask and shield. I thoroughly enjoyed deflecting rubber chickens that were pelted at me by my daughter, Jade (who probably wished she’d had these projectiles to throw at me while we were at Santa’s Village).
Since his show returned to the airwaves in 1995, Sven has featured many “assistants” during his mail bag sequences. Personally, I’ve always favored WZOO’s “Wacky Dactyl” but, for the last several years, it’s been a prehistoric chicken named Kerwyn that’s proven to be his most popular. Not one to skimp on the details, Brian created his own Kerwyn as well as a Svengoolie dummy, “Fraido,” fashioned from a Groucho Marx dummy just like Sven’s was.
One item that can’t be found on Svengoolie’s set (nor anywhere else but Brian’s garage) was a piece of horror history that was NOT from Chicago. Sitting in the corner was an actual, authenticated rocking chair used by New England’s infamous, accused axe murderous, Lizzie Borden! I’m not sure how this piece evaded a museum and made it into Brian’s garage but it was an amazing acquisition and one that required him to physically pick up from Massachusetts.
The tour ended and the kids were glowing. Brian proved himself to be the perfect host by giving the kids and I each rubber chicken key chains (which you’d have thought a seasoned Goolie like me would have already had but didn’t). As soon as we snapped on our seat-belts my nine year old chimed, “That was awesome!” while his sisters agreed. The house was later featured on Halloween (today) during the “You & Me in the Morning Show” while Svengoolie watched from the station…
If you live in the Chicagoland area and love Svengoolie, then you should seriously consider braving the Chicago weather and visiting Brian’s haunt tonight. Just try and find yourself a driver…and then disappear once you reach Brian’s cemetery gates.