For “Creepy” Chris Bartram and his wife, Catherine “Scaredy Cat” Bartram, Halloween starts around mid-May.
That’s when the couple — who annually transform their entire Springfield property into a free haunted Halloween walk open to the public — attend trade shows on how to do so professionally and safely.
“That’s when we enjoy Halloween the most,” said Catherine. “In May we get to travel and relax and see what others are doing to prepare for Halloween.”
But come August, the Bartrams start unloading the two 10-foot by 20-foot tents in which they keep their spooky materials and mechanized props — many designed and hand-built by Chris — in order to begin setting up the framework for the Halloween haunt.
Evolving every year since its inception in 2006, the haunt this year consists of a guided walk through the Bartrams’ property consisting of graveyards, haunted mineshafts, zombie-laden toxic dump sites, field hospitals, the office of a crazed mad physician, and a morgue. All look professional, and all have shocking surprises for guests.
The walk can average between 10 and 20 minutes, as guests wind and scream their way through the labyrinth of horror.
“We generally work 10 hour days every weekend from August up until the last week in October getting ready for this,” Chris said. “It’s truly a labor of love.”
Dubbed the “Creepy Nights on Calamo” after the street on which they live, the haunted walk has become a local destination for Fairfax County families who want to experience the true Halloween spirit that Chris Bartram says has become hard to come by in the modern age.
“Growing up in the ’60s in suburbia, Halloween was a wonderful time for kids,” Bartram, 51, said. “Back then, Halloween night was a four-hour adventure, walking miles and coming home with several bags of candy. Today, with trick-or-treating organized in shopping malls and out of the trunks of cars, it has gotten weird for kids, and less enjoyable in my opinion. We wanted to do something both fun, and frightening, to let people know that the true spirit of Halloween is still alive and kicking.”
“In 2007, the haunt began incorporating several gruesome home-built skeletons, corpses, zombies, devil-dogs and other props with electronic controls, pneumatics, and multiple sound devices including a custom choreographed light show broadcast on FM radio, and it has only grown from there,” said Catherine Bartram. “We make it scary, but we are not gory, and we keep it family oriented ... sort of. Parents seem to enjoy it more than kids sometimes, but it is really for everyone except maybe very small children.”
According to Catherine Bartram, the event has also become the one time of year that her Springfield neighborhood comes alive. “People come out and socialize and meet each other,” she said. “It brings everyone together. And whether they are laughing or screaming, everyone is enjoying themselves.”
Neighbors agree that the elaborate haunt is something to look forward to each year.
“My youngest son Chaz is 18 and he still looks forward to it every year,” said the Bartrams’ next-door neighbor, Sharon Leiss.
“Heck, I’m 29 and I am looking forward to it as well,” added Sharon’s oldest son, Sam Leiss. “It’s so cool that it is right here in our neighborhood and you don’t have to drive an hour to see it.”
According to the Bartrams, up to as many as 500 people come through the haunt each year, and no one is charged admission. Instead, those wishing to walk through are encouraged to bring canned goods, which are then donated to Springfield-based food pantry ECHO.
“Chris has been collecting canned goods for us in October for years and it is greatly appreciated and needed,” said ECHO Executive Director Meg Brantley. “It is a great time of year for it. There is always a great amount of need as the weather begins turning colder, and we greatly appreciate his efforts and the donations. He is very unassuming and doesn’t want fanfare for what he does, but we really are grateful.”