From the outside, Jeff Hartz’s home on Dover Center Road seems ordinary. The light-blue, cottage-style house sits across from St. Raphael Catholic Church.
One step inside, however, takes you into a strange world of zombie photos and skeleton decor. Even his television is surrounded by miniature statues of classic horror icons Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Creature from the Black Lagoon
“It’s always Halloween in here,” said the longtime Bay Village resident, pointing to a Ouija board in the dining room.
Hartz does more than talk about Halloween ghosts and ghouls. He is president of The Cleveland Haunt Club, an organization composed of “Home and Professional Haunters,” vendors, Halloween enthusiasts and horror fans “as well as anybody into the Spooky side of life,” according to its website. The group was formed in 2015, and met for the first time in January 2016.
The Haunt Club’s Facebook page has more than 2,000 members and is in full fright mode right now, posting all the area haunted houses and cool decorations. The club also decorated the Boo by the Woods haunted trail in Avon Lake’s Kopf Family Reservation.
On Halloween, Hartz and other club members will host a haunted trick-or-treat walk on Elmwood Road in Bay Village. They have coordinated several horror displays.
“We decided to form this group based on my experiences with a club out of Michigan called the Motor City Haunt Club,” said Hartz, the Avon Lake animal control officer. “I went to a couple of their meetings and told them that I was stealing everything they were doing it and taking it back with me to Cleveland.”
In August, the club hosted a haunted garage sale at Bay’s community house that offered Halloween-inspired artwork from 45 vendors.
An average of 50 people attend the club’s monthly meetings at the American Legion in Avon Lake, enjoying presentations by prop makers, horror authors and paranormal investigators. The club also hosts classes year round for those interested in learning how to make horror-related props.
“It’s amazing what talents some of these people have that you wouldn’t even know about if you weren’t a part of this club,” said Christine Kiessling, club vice president. “It seems like there’s always new members joining to share their ideas.”
Hartz doesn’t restrict his love of all that’s spooky to the Haunt Club. He also runs a horror website from his basement/art studio called Zombie-works.com where he sells custom-made zombie preparation kits, custom tombstones and signs. Hartz has also worked with local musicians to create two ambient spooky soundtracks.
“I was always fascinated by the creative end of horror and being able to be artistic. I was always an artistic person,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in something that allowed me to use my hands and create things.”
Hartz remembers growing up watching horror movies and watching hosts like “The Ghoul” and “Hoolihan and Big Chuck.” He remembers drawing Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster for a chance to see them on TV. Come Halloween, Hartz would decorate his yard by creating dummies and headstones from things laying around the house.
“My parents always encouraged it and encouraged me to be creative,” he said. “My dad would take me to haunted houses when we were younger too, so I was involved with this from an early age and was always fascinated by it.”
Now in his 50s, Hartz still celebrates Halloween with his friends like it’s the only holiday of the year.
“Halloween is like our Christmas,” he said. “Every day is Halloween to me and a lot of my friends. I wish we could have that feeling we do on Halloween every day. It’s happy, it’s creepy, it’s spooky, it’s fun. It means joy.”
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