With Halloween just around the corner, I thought that I would share one of my favorite things about Everglades City during this season. Each year, Margaret Johnson, her daughter Amanda Ayres, and Amanda’s husband, Freddy Ayres, put together the most spectacular and creepy haunted walkthrough that the area has ever seen! Their event is called the Haunt on Allen Avenue, and it is the perfect mixture of spooks and scares.
Margaret is the wife of Phillip “Speedy” Johnson, an Everglades native who formerly owned Johnson’s Stone Crab and Seafood Market. Today, the Johnson family owns Speedy’s Airboat Tours, a bright yellow building that sits along the Barron River. For years, Margaret has shared her love and talents of crafting, baking, and designing with the locals in the area. She has created some of the most spectacular wedding, birthday, and graduation cakes; and even hand-sewed a replica of my mother’s wedding dress for a little girl at my parent’s wedding. The dress looked identical to my mother’s gown, down to the exact lace and beads. Her daughter Amanda and granddaughter Candance share the same creative talents, and they all have in common their love for Halloween. It was the combination of these talents and their favorite holiday that sparked the idea for the Haunt on Allen Avenue.
It all began in 2013 after Freddy and Amanda Ayres purchased the plantation-style house on Allen Avenue. The two-story home holds treasurable memories for their family as both couples, Speedy and Margaret, and Freddy and Amanda, were married under the same archway inside. Shortly after they moved in, Freddy and Amanda agreed that they wanted to decorate for their favorite holiday—Halloween. After pitching the idea to Margaret, their excitement led to a spooky walk in their backyard for the locals and trick-or-treaters. “It’s something for the kids to do,” Freddy said, “There was not a whole lot down here for people to do during that time [Halloween], so it was something extra.”
As the years progressed, the walk became more and more immersive with Halloween decor of all sorts. Unfortunately, when Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, the Johnson and Ayres lost a good majority of their Halloween decorations. “We had piles of decor on the side of the road outside our house,” Freddy said before laughing, “But seeing the volunteers and guys picking up the hands and other stuff was funny.”
The setback of Irma didn’t stop them from celebrating the holiday. The family decorated their truck with a giant spider and smaller ones scattered around it for the “Trunk or Treat” event held for the kids.
This year, the theme for their haunted walk is “Pirates” and the family has been working diligently on the project since September. As you walk up to the yard, you’re greeted by an array of hand-carved pumpkins, a 12-foot skeleton with shifting eyes, and their black cat named Skid-Mark. The pumpkins each have a theme, and all are lit up inside with orange and other colorful lights. Margaret hand-carved each one of them. The ones with complex designs took up to 15 hours to carve. “We started out with a couple foam ones, and then we had real pumpkins, but they rotted instantly.” After a few years of using real pumpkins, Margaret decided foam was the best and most useful alternative. Not long after switching to foam, she discovered a website called StoneyKins, which gave her thousands of pumpkin carving patterns to use. Altogether, there are 101 pumpkins on the display.
While Margaret crafts the pirate decor and edits their video projections, Freddy and Amanda work on building the pirate ship placed on the front of their home and the murky swamp that leads to the voodoo hut. They both use their days off, as well as their time after work to build. Only a few times has their work turned into a midnight occasion where they’re working until one in the morning on the project. “Amanda is like a set director,” Margaret enthused. “She can envision this stuff, like Hollywood quality horror or Halloween Horror Nights, and she creates it.”
Amanda’s visions and creations for the Haunt on Allen Avenue leave her mother amazed. “I walked in there the other day, and I was like, ‘Oh my God! This is looking so awesome!’” Margaret gleamed, “I know what she’s doing, and I was still blown away with it!”
The amount of time and effort that the Johnson and Ayres family puts into the Haunt on Allen Avenue each year is unbelievable. Their talent mixed with their love for Halloween creates one of the most entertaining events of the season! So, if you are looking for something to do on the night of Halloween, come down to Everglades City and check out the Haunt on Allen Avenue. The event is free for all ages and goes on from dark until 9:30 PM.