Ross resident changes yard into haunted cemetery

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Robb Montgomery lives on a cul-de-sac in Ross Township.

On Halloween night, it literally is a dead end.

Montgomery Cemetery overtakes Montgomery's front yard. Skeletons, ghouls and giant spiders wander his walkways. Frankenstein's monster awaits visitors on his front porch.

Montgomery, 53, began transforming his yard into a haunted cemetery 16 years ago and said it has attracted as many as 2,000 visitors annually.

In 2008, he began charging admission — a nonperishable food item or monetary donation for the North Hills Community Outreach, or NHCO, food pantries, which serve more than 500 local families each month.

This year, the cemetery will be open for visitors from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 31. Montgomery's home is at 9008 Hampshire Court.

“The year we moved here, Halloween was subdued. Robb was dressed as a monster and stood on his porch handing out candy,” explained Montgomery's next-door neighbor, Lora Venturella, 49. “Then it started growing and growing and growing. Now it's like a cemetery gone mad.”

Montgomery, a professional stage manager and technical director, expanded his Halloween tradition by constructing haunted buildings throughout his yard — including a crematorium with a propane fire cannon that shoots flames through the roof.

He added eerie lighting, creepy sound effects and fog machines.

Montgomery created elaborately animated monsters by welding metal, coding computer chips, installing electronic sensors and gunning air compressors to activate the creatures to sit up, reach out or lunge forward as visitors approach.

Using his expertise in makeup and costuming, he has transformed live actors into horrifying zombies.

Some years, he has spent up to 300 hours putting Montgomery Cemetery together.

“I begin planning for Halloween in July,” he said.

Visitors come from as far as New Castle and the South Hills to work their way through a myriad of sinister scares and surprises in an attempt to reach Montgomery's front porch, where Frankenstein's monster awaits with handfuls of candy to share.

Montgomery recalls one year in which a father had to coax his young son. “He kept telling his son, ‘It's OK. Frankenstein won't hurt you. Frankenstein's not real.' But when they reached the porch, Frankenstein stood up and spooked the dad so badly, he screamed and started running. Frankenstein chased him all the way up the street!”

Montgomery shares the cul-de-sac with eight other households. “Six of them are very supportive of what I'm doing; one family tolerates it; the last family wishes I'd simply make a monetary donation to the food pantry and be done with it,” he said.

This year, he is adding three 6-foot-by-12-foot trailers to his display. One will be a haunted pirate ship; another will be a mass of spiders and webs; the third is a secret.

Also a secret is how much money Montgomery has spent on his project through the years. “I've collected and created a lot of stuff,” he said “I've accumulated three cargo trailers full of equipment, props, scenery, costumes and animations.”

His efforts raise about $1,000 worth of food and monetary donations for the food pantries each year, according to Jen Drayton, development manager at NHCO.

“Robb is very talented. He provides a real mix of creative stuff with nifty tricks to really spook you. I think it's great that he shares this talent with the community,” said Drayton, of Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood. “He's such an example of how you can use something you love doing to reach out to others in need.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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