Grimm Manor and Happy Valley Cemetery
There were virtually no Halloween trick-or-treaters when Richard "Rick" and Sue Davis moved into the old “Viets Homestead,” as people called their house, in 1993. Located across from the Williams IGA (now Dollar General), Shevies Pub (now Vienna Ale House), Brothers Pizza, and Viets Chevrolet (now Brothers Motorsports), there simply were few families with children nearby. This was the way it would be for about eight years.
Rick Davis was long-time fan of amusement parks and co-founded in 2000 the Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts (www.dafe.org). About that time a contact at Kennywood Park informed him that the Park was scrapping some old ride figures. A deal was struck and he brought home a few loads. He had no idea what to do with them.
A sleeping old man first found his way to the front porch “temporarily.” For those who know the Davis house, you quite likely waved and said hello to him at some point. Many people were surprised to learn that he was not real. (The police responded at least once to calls about the old guy sitting on the porch in the middle of the night in the winter!)
Creating Happy Valley Cemetery
In 2001, he and his wife Sue converted a few of the former hillbillies into Halloween figures. A witch, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, a woman running from Dracula, a guy rising from his grave, and a guy eating a leg comprised the first Halloween scene in our front yard. The lady running was the only figure that wasn’t modified. The guy eating a leg was originally a harmonica player in a hillbilly band. The one rising from the grave was the band’s conductor. The witch was a housewife in a robe and the bride was actually a hillbilly bride in the scene. The motions of another ride figure reminded Davis of Dracula, and he was the inspiration for all of the conversions and was the first figure to be modified. With the addition of this first Halloween scene, trick-or-treaters finally started coming to the house.
In 2002, Frankenstein and the preacher joined the Bride to complete the scene. The preacher was the preacher in the original Kennywood scene as well. That year, Davis donned a simple Grim[m] Reaper costume and stood motionless with the other figures in the yard. Unlike today, there were no lines of trick-or-treaters waiting; they were few and far between.
As the children waited on the front porch to receive their candy, Davis would silently move behind them striking the same pose that he had in the yard. The parents watched with delight as the kids turned to leave, seeing him, and then screaming as they flew off the porch.
The year 2003 was also the first in which the 1970 Miller Meteor hearse made its appearance. To keep the kids guessing, the Grimm Reaper again appeared, as a still figure, as he assumed a new role in the yard.
The first few years, he noticed children tripping over the spotlights—not the cords, but the lights themselves! In 2004, the Gothic-style fence went up in the yard for the first time, surrounding only three sides, in an effort to keep the kids out of the yard. They soon discovered that the dads would bring them in any way to walk around!
This was the year the cemetery appeared for the first time. Tombstones started popping up. This was also the first year fog was created for the yard. The Egyptian god Anubis made its first appearance as did a “ticket booth” with a mysterious image that floated inside. (It seemed to baffle adults more so than the children.)
The only additions for 2005 were a couple of skeletons and some rope lighting to create a path around the cemetery.
For 2006, Sue took on the task of creating a scene with the additional skeletons that moved into the cemetery. Two skeleton kids on a teeter-totter took a spot that year, too. This was also the year that high winds toppled the front fence and broke several tombstones. It was also the year that a few of his friends started getting involved with acting in the yard.
The cemetery was named Happy Valley in 2007, and bats began flying between two trees in the front yard. (Due to constant problems, he abandoned the gag after a couple years.) The skeleton family enjoyed the view of cemetery from a park bench that year as another was trying to escape over the fence. (“Could you give a hand here, my muscles aren’t what they used to be!”) New props this year included a skeleton trying to get out of a jail cell and a cat confronting a giant rat on a wooden barrel. 2007 was also the first year that several scenes had audio for the first time.
Building a Haunted House
The first haunted house appeared in 2007, as an inflatable structure that was installed in the path around the cemetery. They soon learned that the small children were afraid of going into it to get their candy! It was the first and last year for the house.
Davis added a few new props in 2008: a skull throne and a monument that contained the strobe light for the thunder and lightning effect. The very popular animated electric chair was also new that year. Ghouldini Grimm was established as alter ego for Davis during the event.
Despite the failure of the inflatable haunted house, Davis and friends, Rich and Tim Grimm, had been discussing building a small haunted house, off to the side of the path. With several nice days left until Halloween, Davis and the Grimm brothers decided that they could hastily construct a small haunted house in a 10’ x 20’ carport. Armed with a supply of plywood, 1” x 4”s, and some animated props, they managed to build it in just a few days. Davis was personally not happy with what was built, but guests seemed to love it!
In 2009, they started getting serious. There were few changes in the yard – a skeleton picnic scene, the animated outhouse and the end of a path around the cemetery – but the group started planning for the future. This year was the beginning of a haunted house designed to be modular so it could be changed every year. Since its permanent home was not finished yet, they used an even larger carport to create a 12’ x 24’ structure. Gone were the flimsy plywood walls, replace with standard sized panels in two-, three- and four-foot widths. The “drop panel” and the laboratory appeared for the first time in addition to several animated props.
As they were building the haunted house, someone stopped by asking if they entered the contest. Contest? They learned that WKBN was looking for the area’s “Most Spooktacular Haunted House.” After emailing them a few photos, Davis received a phone call saying that they knew about the place, but didn’t know how to contact them.
On a Thursday morning at 6 AM, WKBN’s Greta Mittereter arrived to tape the “live” spot for Friday morning’s morning show. Davis was congratulated for having the first, and probably last (which turned out to be true), Most Spooktacular House.
With the new garage built, they had more time to plan and build the haunted house in 2010. For the first time they could ignore the weather. The haunted house also received a name. After pondering it for a while and taking suggestions, they decided that it should be the opposite of Happy Valley. Grimm Manor worked well in two ways: it completely contrasted Happy Valley and it served as a tribute to Davis's two best friends, Rich and Tim Grimm, who devoted many hours over the years helping be create the haunts.
The spring and summer of 2010 was VERY busy, as they needed to construct not only new wall panels but also a façade—not to mention the time needed to assemble the walls, set up and light the scenes, and determine the sounds and music for everything. That year, a rousing game of croquet kept the skeletons busy in the cemetery with the exception of one walking his dog.
WKBN returned to actually do a live spot this year, but problems getting a signal back to the station nixed that. Instead of doing four promos (two for WKBN and two for their Fox sister station) and two live spots, they only had time for one promo and one “live” segment. Greta Mittereter also exposed a few “surprises” on TV, giving those that watched a heads-up before they visited.
The Fire Chief, Richard Brannon, appeared just before they opened Grimm Manor. Apparently, the recent “fame” had attracted some attention. As Brannon was discussing Ohio’s fire rules, Davis was pointing out that they had emergency exits, fire extinguishers, low voltage lighting, and radios. More importantly, the haunt was (and still is) less than 1000 square feet, the point at which sprinkler systems are required. The chief left happy. Davis has invited him to inspect the haunted house each year since, not to mention providing a diagram showing the layout with exit and fire extinguisher locations.
Each new actor at Grimm Manor receives a safety briefing and tour of the haunt before they can do anything else.
Many of the improvements in 2011 occurred behind the scenes in the areas of sound equipment and wiring, including a radio-controlled switch that could kill all audio and special effects in the haunted house in case of an emergency. As usual, the layout of the haunted house would change: the entrance offered a choice of going left or right, to safety or doom. In actuality, both paths led to the same place: an Egyptian room, appearing for the first time. The “Kids’ Room” was new that year, too, with plenty of monster children and their nanny.
The skeletons in the cemetery in 2011 were in a hot and heavy poker game while in the background the young boy was trying to rescue his cat from a tree.
Unfortunately, they had never counted how many people that have visited each year, something that they started doing in 2011. Over the three days, 748 toured the Manor in 2011.
2012: The Year of Zombies and Storms
For 2012, two of the skeletons joined the wedding scene as best man and maid of honor in Happy Valley Cemetery. The massive storm that destroyed much of the Atlantic coast also wreaked havoc on Happy Valley. High winds toppled the front fence for the second time in five years, breaking tombstones and damaging one prop. The damage was repaired in two hours, but the prop was beyond repair.
This was also the year of the zombie. Zombies overran the Manor and could be seen popping in many of the scenes. A radio message gave visitors a warning as they entered.
Two surprises greeted guests this year. The first was the zombie at the window (becoming a bit more high-tech this year, a video of zombies banging on the “window” was playing on a disguised flat screen TV.) This seemed to interest adults more than the kids.
The second surprise was the casket room. Guests entering found two wooden coffins and a full-sized casket with an animated prop. They soon realized that the room had no apparent way out! “This room, such as life, only has one way in … and one way out!” The upright coffin was a secret passage into the next room, and the next fright.
Interestingly, the casket room baffled most adults, but children seemed to know instinctively to push through the back of the coffin. Several male adults walked into the casket and turned around expecting something to happen. While that would have been interesting, they just ended up standing there. Several groups, either not listening or not believing their host, turned around and returned to the first room, finding an opening in the wall—which led to a dead end. (It was a place for an actor to hide.)
Unfortunately, all the work they put into the haunt for 2012 went unnoticed by many people. The storm kept many people at home on Saturday and Sunday. Thankfully, Halloween night was much better. There were around 300 fewer guests that year for the three days, about three-quarters of them coming Halloween night for a total of 475 souls entering Grimm Manor in 2012.
Grim Manor 2013:
Over the two days that the haunt was open, 212 people toured Grimm Manor.
Grim Manor 2014:
The haunt was open for two days in 2014 with 204 people touring Grimm Manor.
Grim Manor 2015:
In 2015, Grimm Manor was back to being open for 3 days with 639 people entering the haunt.
Grim Manor 2016:
The attendance for 2016 was 879 brave souls.
Grim Manor 2017:
644 people entered the haunt in 2017.
2018: Alien Encounter
Alien Encounter was the theme for 2018. An alien autopsy was performed in the laboratory. A total of 567 folks toured the Manor that year.
2019: Fun House & Clowns
Laffin' Sal made her debut scaring guests. 758 people visited Grimm Manor.
2020: Happy Valley Cemetery
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the indoor Grimm Manor haunt was not open in 2020, but the Happy Valley Cemetery was set up as usual. New in 2020 were a trio of singing pumpkins and a twelve foot tall skeleton.
2021: The Return of Grimm Manor
The indoor haunt returned in 2021 and featured a room that established a backstory for Ghouldini Grimm. Also featured at the 2021 event was a swamp room, with visual effects created by the strategic use of green lasers and a fog machine. 755 people entered Grimm Manor.
2022: Room of Doors
Grimm Manor featured a "Room of Doors" that had 8 exit doors in the room, 7 of which led to dead ends or re-entry into the original room, creating a small maze for guests. Another room in the haunt featured a homemade pipe organ with a headless man (and sometimes a zombie) playing it. In another room there were skeletons racing slot cars. Many of the other areas were themed with skeleton scenes. 881 people entered Grimm Manor making it the highest attendance to date. The Happy Valley Cemetery was a little smaller in 2022 due to the newly installed sidewalks in front of the Davis homestead and other homes on Warren-Sharon Road, but it was likely unnoticed by guests.
Contributors: Rick Davis, Owner and Creator, Grimm Manor and Happy Valley Cemetery
& Christine Novicky, Grimm Manor Actor